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No one would ever peg Betty Wright’s funky 1972 hit, “The Clean-Up Woman” as a heartbreaking ballad. From its first emphatic chords on an electric guitar, followed by Wright’s soulful delivery, the song is one to rock your hips — not rock your heart. Wright sings about taking her man for granted and then losing him to the woman who swoops in to clean up the pieces of the neglected fellow’s ego. Indisputably, it is a song about loss; it is also a top-40 tune with an insistent beat that makes it nearly impossible to keep from dancing.

But dancing was the last thing on my mind on a recent afternoon when I finally left my classroom to go home, the sun dazzlingly low in the winter sky. I slid a shiny disc into the CD player, and the small space of my car welled up with that bright rhythm and Wright’s snappy delivery. Suddenly, I was shaking with sobs I had been holding back for months. More… “In Chapels of Music and Steel”

Melanie McCabe’s most recent book is His Other Life: Searching For My Father, His First Wife, and Tennessee Williams, which won the University of New Orleans Publishing Lab Prize. She is also the author of two poetry collections: What The Neighbors Know and History of the Body. Her essays have appeared in The Washington Post, Shenandoah, Sweet, and other journals. Her poems have been published in The Georgia Review, The Cincinnati Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Southern Poetry Review, among others.

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The writer R.K. Narayan was not prone to supernatural thoughts. He understood as well as anyone why The English Teacher — his 1944 novel about a grieving professor who learns to communicate with his recently deceased wife through trance writing — would inspire bewilderment in his readers, and even rage. In the first half of the book (the “domestic” half), a benignly self-absorbed English teacher of thirty, Krishna, living in the fictional Indian town of Malgudi, decides to devote himself more fully to his wife and child. In the second half (the “spiritual” half), the happy domestic picture dissolves into — as Narayan wrote in his memoir My Days — “tragedy, death, and nebulous, impossible speculations.” Readers might feel, wrote Narayan, as if they had been baited into the second half by the first. But he hoped readers would find an explanation knowing that, of all his novels, The English Teacher was the most autobiographical.
More… “In the Ground”

Stefany Anne Golberg is a writer and multi-media artist. She has written for The Washington Post (Outlook), Lapham’s Quarterly, New England Review, and others. Stefany is currently a columnist for The Smart Set and Critic-in-Residence at Drexel University. A book of Stefany’s selected essays can be found here. She can be reached at stefanyanne@gmail.com.

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Here in the crowded retina clinic, we’re waiting to have pictures taken of our macula with marvelous cameras, the backs of our eyes are about to be zapped with lasers or, like me, our central retinal veins have occluded — fancy term for a blood clot — and the retinas have swollen. The result is blurred and distorted vision. Luckily, only my right eye is afflicted.

I’ve already read the chart — could barely make out the large E at the top — and have had dilating drops put into my eyes, so now I’m waiting for my pupils to become pie tins, big enough for someone to look all the way into my soul.

Albert DiBartolomeo is the author of two novels, several short stories, numerous commentaries for the Philadelphia Inquirer and other publications, and has written for Readers Digest,… More…

Something horrible happened. Horrible things happen all the time to everyone, but it’s still a shock how one phone call can obliterate your future and slam you into a dreadful present tense. I was taken in, I was cared for, and somehow I lost time — days. Vaguely I can recall moments where I wandered into my friend’s kitchen to make a cup of tea, only to find myself 20 minutes later in a puddle on her floor. Or I would wake up mid-panic attack, not quite sure where or when I was.

Life Is Meals by James and Kay Salter. 464 pages. Knopf. $22.50.

In those first few days, the only times I was grounded and sure of my surroundings were those moments when I had food as an anchor. Without it, I flew around… More…

Harry Houdini’s escape trunk stands in the Jewish Museum like a coffin. “Embedded in Houdini’s ventures were competing ambitions,” says the wall text in the museum’s new “Houdini: Art and Magic” exhibition, “he simultaneously courted mortality and the triumph of life.” There’s a lot of metaphor in a trunk: adventure, travel, excitement, secrets. Houdini turned his trunk into a symbol of resurrection. Houdini’s audiences couldn’t know what tricks went on inside that trunk after he had allowed himself to be locked in and the curtain was closed. But some part of them believed that when Harry Houdini burst free, undefeated and smiling, he had shaken hands with the Grim Reaper and spat in his eye. Harry Houdini met death and came back to tell the tale.

My friend’s son just died. He was only 10 years old. It happened so suddenly that my friend can barely understand her grief or how to cope with it. I want to help her, but I don’t know how. Sadly, I don’t think words can help in this situation. — Kay

 

Maybe some time needs to pass, but I think one day you’ll see that words can console in even the saddest situations. Right now, for your friend especially, the world is simply too cruel — it can’t possibly offer anything redemptive. And she’s right: The world is not just, and she should grieve. She should not be scouring books of poetry for something that will help her cope, and neither should you, not right now. What you can do as a friend is give her space to… More…