Recently by Harriet Levin Millan:

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Last Halloween, my husband opened our closet door and reached for the topmost shelf where he keeps his Zipperhead mask.

“Not again,” I said.

He ignored me as he is often wont to do and pulled it on over his face.

My husband had worn this mask all through the 90s and now, in 2015, looked forward to going out in public in it that very evening. The rubbery skin covered my husband’s face. A half-opened zipper to match the one painted on the store’s façade next to the gigantic metal ants, stitched through the mask’s forehead and nested in the mask’s crown of red, kidney-shaped brains. He opened a flap and beneath it found two switches. He flicked them on and the exposed brain particle lit up with tiny dancing lights. My husband also dug out his black Dr. Martens and a Zipperhead T-shirt. Punk is long dead. My husband sold Zipperhead in 2000 to Rob and Steph, his two top employees who were married to each other. They ran it as Zipperhead for several years, then relocated it around the corner in a smaller space, and renamed it with a touch of levity Crash Bang Boom.
More… “Philly’s Flagship Store”

Harriet Levin Millan‘s debut novel, How Fast Can You Run, based on the life of “Lost Boy” of Sudan Michael Majok Kuch, forthcoming October 28th 2016, has been selected as a Charter for Compassion Global Read. She’s the author of two books of poetry, and a third to appear in 2018. Among her prizes are the Barnard New Women Poets Prize and the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay di Castagnola Award. She holds an MFA from the University of Iowa and directs the Certificate Program in Writing and Publishing at Drexel University. Click here for more essays on The Smart Set.
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PAPAL WORK
As another Pope comes to the U.S., many are seeking ways to make money from his visit. Last time, I was (reluctantly) one of them.
BY HARRIET LEVIN MILLAN
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It’s 1979, and it’s Pope John Paul II’s visit to Philadelphia, and I’m standing next to Alexander Calder’s river god fountain at Logan Circle, next to the male figure grasping a bow. Buried in my backpack are hundreds of freshly minted coins. My father, who owns a company that makes commemorative medals, struck them earlier that week. Pope John Paul II’s bronze image is sculpted on the front, and my father has asked me to sell them at the special Mass the Pope is conducting on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

I’ve just graduated from college. Having majored in English, I’m unemployed, living at home, and about as miserable as a 22-year-old can be. My boyfriend doesn’t call me as often as I’d like and I spend too many nights hunched over the pink princess phone on my night table willing it to ring. When my father passes by my door, he yells at me for waiting around for a boy who is obviously not interested in a serious relationship. The truth hurts, and around 9 PM when my boyfriend still hasn’t called, I’m too distraught to do anything but sleep.
More… “Papal Work”

Harriet Levin Millan‘s debut novel, How Fast Can You Run, based on the life of “Lost Boy” of Sudan Michael Majok Kuch, forthcoming October 28th 2016, has been selected as a Charter for Compassion Global Read. She’s the author of two books of poetry, and a third to appear in 2018. Among her prizes are the Barnard New Women Poets Prize and the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay di Castagnola Award. She holds an MFA from the University of Iowa and directs the Certificate Program in Writing and Publishing at Drexel University. Click here for more essays on The Smart Set.
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I was disappointed not to go to the town of Limbe with Clement. In Haiti, Clement Benoit II is to books what Paul Farmer is to medicine. He waited for me in the open air lobby of La Plaza Hotel in Port-au-Prince while I tried to make up my mind. This was the second year in a row that I had met with him at La Plaza and he offered to take me to Limbe, his birthplace, and I had to decline. Both times, a State Department alert warned against traveling to Limbe because of riots. I’d seen similar warnings concerning Port-au-Prince and ignored them, but Limbe was three hours away.

An author who has published several poetry books, including Tach Soley, a book of poems written in Creole, Clement works tirelessly to give people access to books. His work involves establishing small libraries and delivering books on horseback to people who live in isolated rural communities. His biblio cheval, library horses, are part of his vision for raising Haiti’s literacy level, which, according to the CIA World Factbook is 52.9 percent, way lower than the rest of the Caribbean.
More… “Biblio Cheval”

Harriet Levin Millan‘s debut novel, How Fast Can You Run, based on the life of “Lost Boy” of Sudan Michael Majok Kuch, forthcoming October 28th 2016, has been selected as a Charter for Compassion Global Read. She’s the author of two books of poetry, and a third to appear in 2018. Among her prizes are the Barnard New Women Poets Prize and the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay di Castagnola Award. She holds an MFA from the University of Iowa and directs the Certificate Program in Writing and Publishing at Drexel University. Click here for more essays on The Smart Set.
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...a lifeline.

He swiveled around on his bar stool and leaned close to me and put his hands down my shirt. They gave off little sparks. I leaped off my stool like someone escaping flames.

“What the fuck are you doing? I’m married?”

“So what?”

He obviously had no respect for the institution.

Harriet Levin Millan‘s debut novel, How Fast Can You Run, based on the life of “Lost Boy” of Sudan Michael Majok Kuch, forthcoming October 28th 2016, has been selected as a Charter for Compassion Global Read. She’s the author of two books of poetry, and a third to appear in 2018. Among her prizes are the Barnard New Women Poets Prize and the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay di Castagnola Award. She holds an MFA from the University of Iowa and directs the Certificate… More…

And not just into apartments

It was the house. Bats flew in. The basement was crawling with snakes. The day I stumbled down there in the dark holding a laundry basket, my heart froze. Conversely, the stove was electric and not very good at maintaining a temperature. I was always burning things. The house caused multiple losses. If I were asked to imagine the attributes of the lot it was built on, I would describe the mound of an old baseball field, sullen with weeds, where the most frequent pitches were change ups thrown at seventy-five miles an hour. It didn’t have leaky faucets or peeling floor tiles. We had a really good landlord. It was in the middle of the block. It was free standing. We didn’t know any of the neighbors, which isn’t atypical for people who don’t own dogs or walk them past neighbors patrolling the grass, at their very most wretched…. More…

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When I read Marguerite Duras’s semi-autobiographical novel, The Lover, I was twenty-four years old, just finishing my MFA in writing and wondering what I would do next with my life. I stared at her cover photo on the book jacket. She was seventy, wrinkled, yes, yet more so than any human being I had up until that point laid eyes on: wrinkles marking her face in every direction, while tough like elephant hide. I was horrified; panicking I consulted my mirror for telltale signs of aging. There were bags under my eyes from staying up late or drinking or a combination of both. I checked my driver’s license photo where I’m smiling. Were they laugh lines or crow’s feet? Like all women just ending a marriage, I was suddenly single, yet I was on the clock. I couldn’t believe that I had wasted all that time — four years dating, getting… More…

All in the service of art.

I sat alone in Hillcrest Cafeteria picking through a salad, when I happened to turn in the direction of the table not more than five feet away. A guy I had seen around the graduate sculpture program held a tipped glass of ice water, about to spill it over his girlfriend’s head. I was horrified. Sure, the temperature outside was torrid, but did that mean she wanted to be dunked over the head with a glass of water? What did she do to deserve it? Something threatening? Kinky? Or maybe nothing out of the ordinary. Maybe he typically sucked orange juice from her fingers as she opened the peel, licked the milk mustache off her lips, reacted out of passion several times in a day. She’d been standing in front of their table with a tray filled with macaroni and cheese, pizza and French fries. He tipped over the glass,… More…

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I picked up the cordless in Andrzej’s room to telephone my husband that I would not be coming home this night. We’d both had affairs. Brutal honesty seemed like the only way to go forward. “I’m sleeping at Andrzej’s,” I told him.

“You’re what?”

But I wasn’t honest. Andrzej and I had planned to go to Chicago for the weekend. We boarded a bus and checked into a hotel and took pictures of each other in front of the baby orangutans at the Brookfield Zoo. When he wasn’t looking at me through the lens of a camera, he was gazing into my face. I loved the attention he gave me, the way he savored my opinions, as he followed my instructions on how to position his tongue to create open vowel sounds in English. We ate steamed lamb with cabbage and rode the elevated to a punk rock club in… More…

In Iowa City.

We were like Thisbe and Pyramus in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, saying goodbye through a chink in the wall, only this was an ever narrowing door that was closing between us, neither one of us having the heart to turn around.

Ahem had asked me to ride in the university’s van with him to the airport in Cedar Rapids, and I didn’t want to. It was too much. I knew I’d make a scene, if not in the van, then out on the tarmac where I’d try to stop his plane or smuggle myself aboard. Buying a ticket and flying back with him to Indonesia never occurred to me. At least I credit myself with that. I was stupid and naïve and continued to be stupid and naïve for the next year while I schemed for ways to see him again, but I knew enough not to return with him from… More…

South Sudanese line up to make a decision.

“If you were going to be in the country another day I’d have arranged a press conference,” said the Information Minister. We were to depart the next morning — anyone not from Sudan was advised to leave by then. “After that,” an Australian minesweeper told us, “you are on your own.” Perhaps he was trying to scare me, but I had noticed that our hotel, full of drunken ex-pats only the night before, was steadily clearing out.

   

We sat side-by-side on leather couches in the VIP room of the Juba Airport, as Riek Machar, vice president of the government of South Sudan, confessed that translating Nuer poetry into English had been a dream of his. Now he was accepting a book of Nuer poetry given to him by my companion, the American poet and novelist Terese Svoboda…. More…