At first I couldn’t tell if it was the heat or the banjos that had woken me. All through the night, music had flared up around my tent — guitars, fiddles, double basses — sometimes close, sometimes off in the distance as if in a dream. And now I thought I might be dreaming too, of banjos plunking like raindrops, their notes crisp and clear and falling around me. But the playing continued, and I opened my eyes to realize that the tent was bright and thick with humidity, and the pillow beneath my head was soaked with sweat. The temperature was unbearable. I had pitched camp the previous afternoon without thinking to look for shade, and now, in the glare of the morning sun, my tent had transformed into a sauna. Cursing and wiping my face with a shirt, I fumbled with the flap and lurched outside.

The field was packed. Twice as many tents had appeared since I’d gone to sleep, stretching down the hill out of sight. One huge canopy was pitched right next door, and the music that had woken me was coming from a small group sitting underneath, instruments in hand. One of the women glanced over, waved cheerfully, and called out, “Morning!” before inviting me into the shade. She set down her guitar and introduced herself as Nickie. Then she held up a mason jar and asked if I’d like some moonshine. “Pink lemonade moonshine,” she clarified. “Homemade.”

More… “The New Old-Time”

Will Preston is a writer, journalist, and critic. His writing has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and has appeared in publications across North America, including Smithsonian Folkways, The Common, The Masters Review, and PRISM International. A native of Virginia, he now lives in Portland, Oregon, where he is at work on a book about Appalachian old-time. Visit him at Will Preston.


Lately, I’ve been waxing romantic about traffic accidents. It has something to do with all the news about driverless cars, also known as autonomous vehicles, or AVs. Since 2015, when Tesla released its Model S, which could park on its own and drive solo on highways, car and tech companies have been hotly competing to achieve the next breakthrough. Now I hear that, by 2020, Google will release a car that has no steering wheel or pedals for accelerating and braking. This prospect sounds terrifying — until you consider that 90 percent of traffic blunders are attributed to human error. With AVs, the techies proclaim, such error will go the way of the Dodo. We are entering an era of Utopian travel, “the accident-free society.” More… “The Accident Free Society”

Jen DeGregorio’s writing has appeared in The Baltimore Review, The Collagist, PANK, Perigee (Apogee online), The Rumpus, Third Coast, Spoon River Poetry Review, Women’s Studies Quarterly, Yes Poetry and elsewhere. She has taught writing to undergraduates at colleges in New Jersey and New York and is currently a PhD student in English at Binghamton University, State University of New York.


I wanted to buy a bilaawe, a traditional Somali knife. The shopkeeper wanted me to buy a bowl with two figures carved into ebony. The woman leaned over the edge of the bowl, her back arched, her breasts high and pointed and firm. The man also leaned back and his penis arced up and over, into the woman.

“Buy this, my sister,” the vendor insisted. He cupped the bowl in his hands and shoved it into my face so I could no longer see the man with whom I’d been bargaining for the bilaawe. I blinked, uncertain at first of what was in front of me. Slowly it came into focus. The breasts, the penis, the Djiboutian man holding it. His cheek bulged with khat, green leaves lodged between his teeth.

Rachel Pieh Jones is a writer raised in the… More…

A marriage may be between two people, but weddings tend to be between the couple and everyone else. Wedding guests called upon to bear witness to the ceremony, and to shower a new couple with verbal and financial blessings, can shape the proceedings and meanings of marital rites as much as the bride and groom do. I’ve played a number of performative roles in the weddings of loved ones — bridesmaid, maid of honor, toast-giver, poetry-reader, choreographer, and stage manager — and from the wings, I’ve observed how often the friends and family of the new couple feel entitled to weigh in on what is and is not done properly. Personally, I lucked out: My own parents’ rules for the ceremonial passage into a hallowed state of matrimony were simple and few.

Rule 1: Don’t get married until you’re 30.

Rule 1b: But you don’t have to get married ever,… More…

The entry for ‘Television’ laconically states that, “In its first decades television did not share cinema’s appetite for the classical world.” This comes from a new publication by Harvard Press called The Classical Tradition. The situation for television changed in 1967 as “the future of the ancient world [was] resolved in an episode of Star Trek when the crew of a 23rd-century spaceship destroys the last surviving Olympian god on a distant planet.” Wonderfully laconic, once again. The entry for ‘Sparta’, by the way, the place from which we get the term ‘laconic’, begins with the sentences, “Sparta, for better or worse, is a brand, not just a name. Whenever we casually drop into our everyday conversation the two little epithets spartan and laconic, we are, unwittingly, paying silent tribute to our Spartan cultural ancestors—or rather to the Spartan ‘tradition’.”

When historians compile lists of the stuff that helped make America America, they don’t even rank the DeMoulin’s Patent Lung Tester alongside even relatively minor inventions like the cotton gin, the telegraph, and the automobile, much less epic game-changers such as instant coffee and air conditioning. Surely this is an oversight.

Catalog No. 439: Burlesque Paraphernalia and Side Degree Specialties and Costumes. Introduction by Charles Schneider; appreciation by David Copperfield. 240 pages. Fantagraphics Books. $22.99.

The DeMoulin Lung Tester was a plain, serious-looking box with a nickel-plated mouthpiece and a calibrated dial on its face. Its ostensible purpose was to measure a man’s lung capacity, the bulky antecedent to today’s spirometers. Its real purpose was to measure a man’s ability to maintain his composure after being made the butt of a joke. When an unsuspecting… More…

I watch an 18-month-old girl hold tight to her father’s hand as she waddles over to the decapitated goat. Blood, oozing from its neck, has coagulated; flies land furiously on the bright red stump where the head once was. The little girl stops to stare at the carcass a few inches away from her feet. I’m transfixed by her little white shoes, the blood, and the motionless, hairy carcass. Her father is busy on a cell phone, talking distractedly while the little girl swerves slightly, catching her balance.


*Warning: This slideshow contains graphic images.

It’s a busy sacrifice day at Ganesh’s Surjya Binayak temple in Bhaktapur, Nepal. Barefooted women in red saris, young men and women in jeans checking their cell phones for messages, and children in their Sunday best all line up… More…

Wherever you go, it’s the same song.

Happy birthday to you Happy birthday to you Happy birthday, dear (name) Happy birthday to you!

Today has the possibility to be many things: a day of triumph, a day of mourning, a judgment day, a holiday. But we know with certainty that, for all the things today is, it is also a birthday. Which means that today is an occasion for the Happy Birthday song. You may, and likely will, hear it, today. In a bar after work: the Happy Birthday song. At the zoo: the Birthday Song. At school: Birthday. In prison: Birthday song. In the English-speaking world, we sing “Happy Birthday to You” more than any other song. It has also been translated into Finnish, French, Cantonese, Arabic — “Happy Birthday to You” is an international hit. It may be the modern world’s greatest hit. Maybe the greatest hit ever;… More…

I’ve long been inclined to read stores the way I read texts. The nature and display of merchandise, the style of salesmanship, even the pricing are all signifiers in what, at its best, is an esthetic as well as a commercial spectacle. Some stores create a kind of embrace that is both familiar and strange — rather like a good poem.

In recent weeks, I find myself returning to a store called the Painted Cottage. It’s a furniture store that sells armoires, vanities, ottomans, and armchairs. The pieces are not expensive — rarely does even a large piece exceed $1,000. This is because all the furniture is secondhand, found in junkyards or purchased from estates, then refurbished by the store’s staff. Despite the humble origins of the pieces, the results are delightful: Nails, whitewash, and hand-painted flowers transform a broken-down dresser into a Country French chiffarobe; chintz upholstery turns a… More…