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Attending

I can’t tell you why I rented the theater downtown, other than that it was inevitable, like the notes of a song. Facing the rows of empty velvet seats, I felt the thrust of potential. At night, doctors stood on stage telling stories—not of helicopter rides and loss of blood, but of waffling, of wanting, of grappling with themselves. The audience arrived like spirits, craving not entertainment but something more fundamental and urgent. I sat backstage, eyes closed, living and dying in every pause, every ripple of laughter. This—a live storytelling event by those in health care, for those in health care—was the first thing I had ever originated, one that came from the roiling place inside of me and not a script.

 

<p><i>If All the World and Love Were Young</i>. By Stephen Sexton. Penguin Books UK, 2019. 125pp. PB, £9.99.

Lived Experience

Walt Whitman read of his brother George’s injury at the Battle of Fredericksburg in the New York Herald on December 16, 1862. Fredericksburg was but one battle among many, though it lasted five days, and nearly ten thousand Union army soldiers were injured there. Each day, another long list. Whitman left New York hurriedly to find his brother, knowing that many of his readers scanned the same paper each day for the same worrisome reason. Many scanned every paper, everywhere in the country. To be alive in that moment—not just to be a person named Walt Whitman, but to be a person at all—was to know the public, social, and emotional burden of war.

Fort Reno Park, Chesapeake St. NW. Photo by María Luz Bravo.

Literary Life in a Plague Year

It is rare to walk through empty streets in downtown Washington, DC, in broad daylight. Yet this past spring, when it seemed as if every living thing had leapt into a void, I learned that what you see and how you see it changes in a relatively unpeop [...]

<i>Tiger King</i>. Directed by Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin. Netflix, 2020. 8 episodes

The Art of Watching

Early in January, a few days into the New Year, I sat with four students on the ninth floor of a Twenty-Third Street Manhattan building. I have two dominant memories of our week together: The first is of the forbearance with which they withstood my raging head cold; the places they found to look while I filled tissue after tissue, stuffing various pills, sprays, and lozenges into my face, inflicting on them a six-day wrath that should have been mine alone. Grumpy and overmedicated, midweek I told a colleague, because she asked, that I felt like a jungle cat was sitting on my face.

Everything Splashes and Sinks

He lost his religion in church. Twelve years old and Nimi knew there was no God. His mother had left them by then, just like his father, though she had left for a better reason.

Degrees of  Loneliness

“No man is an island, entire of itself.” So observed John Donne, memorably, in 1624, a year before bubonic plague beset London, killing some forty thousand people. No man is an island—unless isolated, a cognate word whose currency manifests in the term self-isolation, the act of removing oneself from public life until, in this instance, the current plague, a virulent strain of coronavirus, has lifted.

Who Is This Guy?

Now that I’m dead too, just like the living dead on TV, 
fat chance that the merely living will be saved 
by doing what they did when I was merely living— 
nailing their doors shut against me, 
hurricane-proofing the windows, 
positioning snipers at the embrasures.

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