They come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some of them are slim and easily recognizable as such, they can look clumsy or elegant, others are shaped like a flying saucer. In our advanced age, some of them even have a brain and — almost — a life of their own. Although at some point they also need a human hand, so they can start work: vacuum cleaners.

The food of vacuum cleaners is dust which, as any electronic microscope reveals, also comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, both organic and inorganic: dead skin cells, paper fibers, dust mites, synthetic fibers, grains and pollen, and in some cases coal dust, asbestos or other harmful particles. The best way to see airborne dust is to observe a room flooded with light. It’s more fashionable these days to talk about microbes that live all over our bodies, bombard us with their genes and are even a part of dust. This is where scientists are on the front lines of discovery. But let’s stay with plain, classic dust for a minute or two. More… “Dust Never Sleeps”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.


I am trying to simplify my life and am especially ridding myself of extraneous “stuff.” Can you help inspire me with a poem? — Ella


I empathize with you, Ella, as I’ve been trying to do the same thing for quite some time. I’m one of those people who likes to save every ticket stub, receipt, and postcard — as if these things will somehow compensate for my poor memory — which necessitates memory boxes and scrapbooks that pile up year after year, and if I don’t have the time to put them into a scrapbook or memory box, they stay crammed in a corner of my desk competing for imperative with the pile of bills I need to pay. So, I understand, and even if your “stuff” is different than my “stuff,” we both could learn a great deal… More…