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…

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…

Sometime during the late summer, or perhaps the early fall, of the year 79 C.E., Mount Vesuvius erupted near Naples. The result was instant death for the people, plants, and animals in the Roman town of Pompeii, which is about five miles from Mount Vesuvius. A Volcanologist named Giuseppe Mastrolorenzo recently (2010) published a definitive study of death in Pompeii. The living things, he concluded, died from the intense heat of the volcanic blast. Basically, they were flash fried. In one of the multiple pyroclastic surges produced by the eruption,“temperatures outdoors — and indoors,” wrote Mastrolorenza, “rose up to 570°F and more, enough to kill hundreds of people in a fraction of a second.”

The ash and the volcanic mud came a little later. Pompeii was buried under this ash and volcanic matter, preserving the town in the instant in which it had been flash fried. The world then gradually… More…

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…

Miguel de Unamuno’s earliest memory was of a bomb landing on the roof of his neighbor’s house during Spain’s final Carlist War. The philosopher and poet was born in conflict. Unamuno was a Spanish patriot and one of its most outspoken critics; a Basque who was also a Spaniard; a child who wanted to be a Catholic saint; a philosopher who was suspicious of philosophy.

Miguel de Unamuno woke one night in 1897, tormented by dreams of falling into nothingness. Just a few months earlier, Unamuno’s infant son Raimundo had contracted meningitis. Raimundo’s illness disabled him physically and mentally. He was not expected to live long. Miguel de Unamuno believed that this tragedy was his fault, divine punishment for turning away from his childhood faith and embracing scientific rationalism. That night in 1897, Unamuno’s wife Concha found her husband sobbing. She held him and called out, “My child!” Years later,… More…

There are mistresses, and there are homewreckers. We often believe that the only thing distinguishing one from the other is revelation. The mistress is the hidden, secret lover, but the homewrecker is the same woman splashed on every tabloid cover with her baby — his or not — suddenly labeled “love child” in alarmingly large and yellow type.

All About Love: Anatomy of an Unruly Emotion by Lisa Appignanesi. 416 page. W.W. Norton & Company. $28.95. Mistresses: A History of the Other Woman by Elizabeth Abbott. 528 pages. Overlook. $30.

Secrecy is the mistress’s goal — a removal not only from the covers of magazines but also from the way we wear our marriages in our jobs and social circles and community. But the homewrecker wants this exposed chaos and splintering. And the tabloid culture is all too happy… More…

I always seem to fall for unavailable guys. What can poetry tell me about unrequited love and the (long) wait for the real thing? — S


Sometimes I catch a scent of that guy’s cologne — my mind takes off down some turbulent trail I’m ashamed to be on, even for a brief moment of nostalgia, since I am married now. It sounds like you need to pick up a copy of Kim Addonizio’s What Is This Thing Called Love.

“So What?”

Guess what. If love is only chemistry— phenylethylamine, that molecule that dizzies up the brain’s back room, smoky with hot bebop, it won’t be long until a single worker’s mopping up the scuffed and littered floor, whistling tunelessly, each endorphin cooling like a snuffed glass candle, the air stale with memory. So what, you say; outside,… More…

I missed the moment when shop window displays changed from Santa red to sexy scarlet:  a fabulous froth of lace and slinky silken negligees. Most of the neighborhood still has Christmas lights up, but all the stores are pushing Valentine’s Day. In spite of the omnipresent window displays and advertisements, I’ll bet millions of men will forget Valentine’s Day. It could be chromosomal. Or maybe forgetting is a pose, a form of resistance. If men looked at Valentine’s Day like a second Halloween, it might be more fun.


That’s what I’ve decided to do, and it works for me.

Why not? After all, stores are filled with candy, and, while it’s not exactly the same as trick-or-treat, with a little imagination the evening of February 14 can be perked up to the next level with costumes. Just try… More…

I was like a stranger in a strange country who was welcomed, who felt at home, who shared festivities, births, marriages, deaths, banquets, concerts, birthdays, and then suddenly became aware that I did not speak their language, that it was all a game of courtesy. — The Diary of Anaïs Nin

The Chapín is getting married. (Chapín and chapina are words that Guatemalans use to refer to themselves — as opposed to gringo and gringa, which refer to people from this country.) I always imagined that would come as the most devastating news of my life. But the e-mail he sent me, nearly six years to the day we first met, arrived just as I was starting a new job as a college writing instructor. I was too busy figuring how to teach the structure of a good story to worry about the Chapín.


I have a rare form of cancer. I only have a few months left. Can you offer any consolation? — Yuki M.

I will try. I don’t know if you’re afraid or not, but I would be, and maybe what you’re afraid of is not dying, but rather love. I guess that does sound a little far-fetched, but when you look at it another way, it’s the only thing that makes sense.

Crater Lake

There was a war between good and evil. We decided to call the body good.

That made death evil. It turned the soul Against death completely.

Like a foot soldier wanting to serve a great warrior, the soul wanted to side with the body.

It turned against the dark, against the forms of death it recognized.

Where does the voice come from that says… More…