Posts Categorized: Nonfiction

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Online Feature: “Metamorphosis: Six Studies” by Eleanor Stanford


after Maria Sibylla Merian


What’s your urgent charge, if not transformation?

1. Ornate lory on branch of peach tree


After my second son was born, I slipped into a severe postpartum depression. I remember nursing the baby, staring blankly out the window at a cold gray April that refused to warm.

My best friend, who was living on another continent and whose first baby had been due the same day as my son, had lost her child suddenly—a full-term stillbirth—without explanation. I felt both lucky and ungrateful, unable to appreciate what I had and unable to console my friend.

There was a peach tree outside our bedroom window that, despite the cold, spread its fragile petals over the narrow city street.

One day, I watched a small green parrot land on a branch. It must have been an escaped pet; as far as I know, there are no wild parrots in Philadelphia. But in my melancholy state, I just stared, barely registering the strangeness. I saw it as a sign. A sign of what? I can’t remember now. Surely something dark. Dislocation? Alienation? The embattled natural world and its inevitable destruction? Something like that.

Later, I saw a reproduction of a painting by the seventeenth-century naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian: Ornate lory on branch of peach tree. I felt an uncanny flash of recognition when I looked at it, this precise rendering of the beauty I had been unable to see when it sat in front of me.

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Online Feature: “A Dark and Simple Place” by Adrienne Perry

When Uncle Richie finally moved out, he left Cheyenne and headed south for Greeley, Colorado. Richie wasn’t known for fresh starts, but Greeley promised dividends he hadn’t touched in years: a room of his own, steady work, lunch breaks. Maybe a union. He got a job at Monforts meatpacking plant—Monfort, actually, but Richie pluralized it.

In the early nineties, Greeley was anathema to me, as bad a hick town as Cheyenne, my hometown. Greeley had a trademark funk that blighted its squat banks and convenience stores. A little hopeless, the place made me feel, with that sad-angry smell seeping out of Monforts’ boxy white buildings and the machines inside them that transformed lowing livestock into stroganoff meat. Work in a slaughterhouse—that was hard for me to imagine, and I couldn’t picture Richard Riles suiting up over his Bart Simpson t-shirt and ripped Levi’s, his graying Afro pressed against a cheap shower cap. He didn’t have the constitution.


Meatcutting Testbook, Part I.*

It is recommended that this book be kept
in the instructor’s file
and each test be detached
and given to the student
as he or she becomes ready for it.

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Online Feature: “Hip Joints” by Joy Castro

In the late afternoon of the twentieth century, after Vietnam and before Anita Hill, in the Appalachian highlands of rural West Virginia, it was senior year, and Madonna and the Police filled the airwaves: “Like a Virgin,” “King of Pain.”

Every noon, I drove the six miles from East Fairmont High School to the little machine shop tucked on a winding back road. I’d park in the gravel lot and let the car battery run the radio while I ate my brown-bagged tuna sandwich and stared out the windshield.  My classmates at East Fairmont were dissecting little dead animals and solving for y.

I was done with all that; I was impatient; I had all the credits I needed to graduate. I took morning classes so the state wouldn’t charge me with truancy, and then I left for work.

“I machine artificial hip joints for 3M,” I would say when people asked.

It was tedious, it was eight hours every weekday, it was just the whir of machines for company, the other workers attending silently to their own stations.  But at least it wasn’t McDonald’s or Dairy Queen; I didn’t have to wait on people from high school.  And it beat minimum wage by a couple of dollars an hour.  Sixteen years old, forty hours a week:  I felt lucky.

The titanium hip joints were pocked with small regular holes; they looked like halves of silver Wiffle balls.  Titanium:  strong and light, sleek and durable, a perfect metal for aerospace engineering or replacing the worn interiors of human bodies.  I’d imagine the gloved hands of surgeons inserting the shining silver balls into the dark slick privacies of the pelvis.

In the shop, the machines were huge teal cubes, large and clean, twice as tall as I was, with hot moving steel parts at their hearts where I put my hands to lock down and then remove the half-balls. The machines all had red warning labels that showed how you could die or lose a limb.

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Online Feature: “The Usual Spots” by Ira Sukrungruang


Every morning, the dogs look for Katie in the usual places. When I open the bedroom door, they burst through the house in tongue-wagging hopefulness. Perhaps the one they truly love has returned from whatever mysterious place she disappears to most of the week. I wonder what that place is to them, wonder if they have created a second life for her, where she wakes and loves and pats other dogs. Are these the dreams they have when they snarl and twitch and sometimes howl in their sleep?

The morning always brings hope, and it is a mad dash into her empty office, then a rumble down the basement stairs, and finally a quick peek out the front windows where she would spend time filling birdfeeders or watering the flower beds. Once they have confirmed that she is not back—not yet—they do not despair. Never despair. They rush out the dog door to tend to morning routines, while I fill their bowls with food.

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Online Feature: “Up in the Trees” by Courtney Zoffness

I can’t sleep. My furnished apartment in Freiburg, Germany, has a TV that broadcasts a single channel, in German, and since I’m too tired to read but too wired to rest, I tune in for half an hour. I speak nicht Deutch—just a little Yiddish—but can still make out the tail-end of a news program on an Auschwitz survivor, replete with images of rawboned prisoners and the eminent entry gate (“Work shall set you free”); a preview for a film called Female Agents in which be-lipsticked vixens gun down unsuspecting Nazis; and the start of a sitcom called Tel Aviv Rendezvous in which a guileless guest shows up at a Shabbat dinner with nonkosher wine.

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