Posts Categorized: Nonfiction

Article Thumbnail

Fiction Feature: “Lake effect” by Ryan Van Meter

I don’t understand why he calls it a houseboat. It doesn’t look like a house, and it doesn’t look like a boat. What it looks like is a white box with windows cut out of the sides, railings clamped all around, and deck chairs tossed on the roof. The whole thing bobs in the lake, tethered to a dock post by a soggy green rope. Inside, everything is brown. The walls are covered in plastic panels printed with a wood-grain design, as if to remind us that wood floats and it’s perfectly reasonable that we’re loaded on this box for the next six days, instead of at home in an actual house. He, my Dad, is one of three Dads for whom this trip is now an annual thing, the third summer in a row that these college friends have brought along their elder sons for a week of fishing on a giant lake—this year, in Minnesota.

The kitchen in the houseboat is brown tile instead of brown carpet. I’m eleven years old and standing in front of the sink, washing every dish from the cupboards. The Dads and the other Sons are sitting on the slick white top of the boat, a deck on the roof above me. The sunset is beautiful, they keep telling me, but I keep doing the dishes, which is taking a lot longer than anyone would have guessed. We’ve already unpacked, already uncoiled the rope linking us to shore, already buzzed out across the water, turned off the engine, and started our slow drift around the lake in whatever direction the waves and wind push us.

Even though I’ve endured two previous trips, something about this houseboat idea unsettled me as soon as I heard about it. Maybe the intimacy of all of us aboard one small vessel, three Dads and three Sons in too close quarters? When my Dad announced our plan, I tried suggesting how disastrous my habit of sleepwalking might be on a houseboat, the way I could silently slip into the dark water before anyone noticed I wasn’t tucked inside my sleeping bag anymore. This was unconvincing because, to his knowledge, I’d only sleepwalked once—when I was five and stood in the hallway snoring and peeing in a corner before shuffling back to bed—and because it hadn’t happened since then, he wasn’t worried.

Read more…

Article Thumbnail

Nonfiction Feature: “Common Tongue,” by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

CommonTongue

*

This graphic memoire appeared in Indiana Review 37.1, Summer 2015.

Anna Cabe (Nonfiction Editor): One of my favorite forms in CNF is the graphic memoir, and Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s “The Common Tongue” is a prime example of why. By telling the story of how Buchanan acquired different languages through whimsical, colorful imagery, the scope of what is ultimately a gift — the gift of opened doors— is rendered familiar and magical.

*

Rowan Hisayo Buchanan is the author of the novel Harmless Like You which was a New York Times Editors’ Pick and an NPR 2017 Great Read. She has received a Betty Trask Award and The Authors’ Club First Novel Award. Her short work has appeared in Granta, The Atlantic, and The Guardian.

Article Thumbnail

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.

Read more…

Article Thumbnail

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.

Read more…

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.

Read more…