It’s on the cusp of sweater weather and about to thunderstorm and I can smell someone grilling hamburgers down the block. If I lean over and stretch I can rest my chin on the windowsill like a puppy and take it all in. Today is the best today ever.

Tonight's a nice night for staring out the window and letting a dark chorus of insects displace my thoughts. Closest I can get to the sound of waves breaking, from here.

Some days a slice of toasted rye bread is a beautiful thing, and the butter carries with it all the comfort and safety of your childhood home.


I’ve been having a weird few weeks where I wish I smoked cigarettes. I don’t actually want to smoke them though—just hold them between my fingers. They seem kinda perfect for a variety of situations I’ve found myself in lately: Fidgeting. Gazing out the window at the snow. Sitting around in underwear and a tank top singing along to the same Pearl Jam song thirty times in a row, daydreaming about the late-night dregs of some backyard party when the stragglers are all sitting around a table not eating the last of the food, and there’s a string of little white lights in the background. Maybe some bats in the sky. Flecks of ash and ember.

“Though I sometimes mocked the scented-candle-pushing brand of happiness building, I discovered that there is something nice about working in an office with a candle burning. It’s like seeing snow falling outside the window or having a dog snoozing on the carpet beside you. It’s a kind of silent presence in the room and very pleasant.” —Gretchen Rubin in The Happiness Project

For years I’ve avoided candles even though I really like them. They seemed too much like a cliche of a late-teenage girl trying to be bohemian—especially if I had a candle burning while I was writing. But I got a candle for Christmas this year and I’ve been lighting it at night, and I miss my dog, and there’s been so much snow falling the past few weeks. A kind of silent presence. What a redemptive description.

“I have never seen an expression as full of wonder as Lou’s as he died. His hands were doing the water-flowing 21-form of tai chi. His eyes were wide open. I was holding in my arms the person I loved the most in the world, and talking to him as he died. His heart stopped. He wasn’t afraid. I had gotten to walk with him to the end of the world. Life—so beautiful, painful and dazzling—does not get better than that. And death? I believe that the purpose of death is the release of love.” —Laurie Anderson, on her marriage to Lou Reed. I had gotten to walk with him to the end of the world. Beautiful.

There was a time when I was young and artsy and a borderline back-to-the-lander. In seventh grade I used to wish I could change my name to Shenandoah. As if so many other changes would follow from that. — Though who knows. Maybe they would have.

To be barefoot and step on a warm patch of rug where the sunlight didn’t used to fall even a few days ago: I got your picture on the back of a 45 / a placeholder till you take up mine.

One of those days. My heart and my hands want to write but my brain says “..........”

One of the things I miss about living in West Philly is how it was OK to bring your own Pyrex containers when you got takeout.

Poetry critique before work this morning. I make a note about a line and wish I had gone through a songwriting phase when I was younger. The window’s closed, but I’m pretty sure the air outside smells like I should be wearing a sweater. If mornings could be people I would sit out on the front steps next to this one and drink tea, and it would drink coffee, and we’d stare out at nothing particular for a few quiet minutes before we each stood up to start our days.

“Most of what makes a book ‘good’ is that we’re reading it at the right moment for us.” —Alain de Botton

Just found the cutest little library ever. It’s in an old house, impossible to find, and overflowing with books and fliers. Like a West Philly bookshop except there are no cats and almost everything is free.

My roommate’s friend is visiting from Romania. She had tequila for the first time last night, and said it was “like dancing with a partner you can’t see.” I like her.

Jeans. Hoodie. Chilly summer air. Tea. Little scrap of perfection.

In a universe I like a little more than this one, I am sitting at a table on a backyard patio with a glass of wine, and an umbrella so I don’t get burned, and Only Living Boy in New York is playing in the background. Half of the time we’re gone, but we don’t know where.

“That a partner ‘gets’ you, this is what above all cements love: love as accurate (but still benevolent) interpretation.” — Alain de Botton.

I spent too much of this weekend inside. It’s like summer has lost its temperature.

“It was like the moment when a bird decides not to eat from your hand, and flies, just before it flies” — Part of Eve’s Discussion by Marie Howe. I love this poem.

I just learned that Clement of Alexandria called Plato the Attic Moses. That’s such a great phrase.

Nothing brings me back to senior year of college the way balancing a cup of tea on a windowsill does. <3

The kind of day where you feel like if your life were a movie the soundtrack would consist of a single cricket chirping once in a while.

Jasmine green tea, introduction to machine translation, and the soft sound of clothes tumbling in the dryer.

I didn’t have much appreciation for this collection of John Cheever stories. Then I discovered it could also be used as a sleep aid.

Wow. I didn’t know Jack London was an active socialist. I just associate him with the late nineteenth century Yukon. Very interesting.

Rt 22 is such a strange mix of BMWs and Camaros. The 7-11 I stopped at was definitely in Camaroland.

teenage fireworks
seen through the trees, background sparks,
foreground lightning bugs

The Handmaid’s Tale is the second book I’ve read this year with the word “ectoplasm” in it. And it’s only May. I think from now on I will write ectoplasm in big letters on the last page of any book that hasn’t already used the word.

What did one math book say to the other? — “Leave me alone. I’ve got my own problems.”

The word “ectoplasm” appears in Rayuela more often than one would expect from a novel written by an Argentine in Paris in 1963.

8. One Sugar

I wasn’t a coffee drinker until I met J. He worked at a health food store, and his routine was to stop for a coffee and an egg-and-cheese on a croissant from Dunkin Donuts every day before work. He drank coffee in the car while we were running errands or coming home from dates. He’d have me pick some up on my way to his apartment. His order was a medium French vanilla, extra cream and one sugar. It became my order too. Partly because I liked it, but more because it was something of his that I could share. After we broke up for the first time I drank Dunkin Donuts more and more often, because it reminded me of him. It was true comfort food. It was the warm, soft, dependable thing in my life when I had no one else.

My order changed over time. I switched from mediums to smalls. We got back together and broke up and got back together. When I began to notice an occasional bologna-and-cigarette aftertaste I switched my order to cream and sugar to mask the inconsistent flavor. It was sweeter than I liked, but more reliable. We moved in together, got engaged, and eventually got married. I moved around: cream no sugar, then dark and sweet, then black, then back to cream. Now we’re splitting up again. I think I might quit coffee for a while. It’s an indulgence and a psychological bad habit. Maybe as I wean myself off caffeine I’ll be able to turn not drinking coffee into an anti-ritual. A reminder that I don’t need coddle myself all the time. That I can just feel the heartbreak, for as long as it takes, and move through it, and eventually move on.

7. Heaven Can Wait

Nothing happens in this vignette. It’s 11:30 pm. I only have half an hour left to make my deadline. I’m sleepy from the redeye I took from Las Vegas back to EWR this morning. I’m curled in a recliner in my parents’ living room, writing, fixated on the different ways there are to fall asleep in this house. The one that comes to mind is a memory of my dad laying on the carpeted floor of the den on Sunday afternoons, when I was very young. The sun came in through the sliding glass doors. My dad stretched out on his back, with his arms behind his head, big headphones on. He listened to albums on vinyl or reel-to-reel as he fell asleep. Creedence Clearwater Revival. Meatloaf. I remember his sleeping-bear presence those afternoons. He would have been about as old then as I am now, maybe a year younger. He would have been so tired, and the sunny floor would have felt so warm. His kids could wait an hour, could just give him this hour to himself. Everything could wait. Even heaven, in Jim Steinman’s words. Even heaven could wait.

6. Clemency

L suggested that I write about the kinds of lunches my mom used to pack for me when I was young. The kinds of lunches she used to pack didn’t stand out all that much. They were what we all considered normal in the mid-80s: a sandwich of some kind with the crusts left on, a drink box, and a snack. Little Debbies or a small bag of Fritos. Unremarkable stuff. It wasn’t what was in my lunch box that mattered to me as much as the box itself. All the cool kids—at least the ones who didn’t go up on the hot lunch line—all the cool kids brought their lunches in brown paper bags that they threw away when lunch was over. I and the few other unfortunate third graders whose parents just didn’t know what it was like were stuck carrying our lunch boxes around on the playground all throughout recess. This was after the lunch box had ceased being an object of anticipation at the start of each school year, and much before it took on its quirky retro status. I begged my mom, for a time, to let me bring my lunch in a bag. She didn’t want to keep buying bags all the time. It was wasteful. I’ll use the same bag a bunch of times, I promise, I’ll fold it up and bring it home again. I never thought to offer to pay for them with my yard sale money. I never thought to “accidentally” forget my lunch box on the playground a few times. And I never appreciated those cold winter days when we few dorks ate hot tomato soup from our thermoses, with crushed-up Saltines, while all those lucky kids lifted the corners of their white bread and looked dubiously at limp slices of bologna. Those days when the weather was too, as the principal called it, inclement to go outside.

4. The Notches

Those summers they’d come spilling out of the car: my three older cousins pent up in a station wagon for the eight-hour drive from Cleveland to Perth Amboy. My brother and I would sit in my grandparents’ tiny living room and keep watch at the window, veiled in lace curtains. When the station wagon pulled up to the curb three spindly figures would come running up the steps. We waved and yelled from far away, but up close we greeted each other by measuring ourselves—how tall did you get?—first face to face and then back to back, in pairs. Then grandpa got out the butcher knife, and everyone fell quiet. One by one he called us over to stand in the kitchen doorway with our backs against the wall. “W—-,” he’d call. “C—-.” Each in turn, each as still as we’d ever been in our lives, as he tapped the knife into the door frame right above our heads. We each got a new notch in the wood. None of them were marked. Each year we knew who owned the one on top but the rest were claimed by memory or lore or sheer insistence as the definitive measures of old and new and of how much we’d grown.

I think of the notches now, not often; of the notchmaker dying and the house having been sold. I imagine a remodeled kitchen and a knicked-up piece of varnished molding discarded on a pile at the curb. I feel the weight and disorder of debris. I want to find, and will never find, the strange safety of being small, of being held against a wall with a hand on my stomach and a knife blade overhead.

3. Dialectic

My college roommate, B, moved to Brooklyn shortly after graduation. She spent her first year there immersing herself in the radical activist scene. One night in August of 2002 I went with her to see a documentary about the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas. The screening was held on the rooftop of a building in Williamsburg; we went in through an unmarked metal door, up four or five flights of stairs and then a narrow metal ladder that led through a small opening in the ceiling and out onto the roof. People milled around, crouching to flip through books, newspapers, and CDs spread out over blankets. Someone sold beer to raise money for either New York Indymedia or an anti-FTAA group. I no longer remember which. I do remember being surprised that no one worried someone might get drunk and fall off the roof. That’s how I was back then. I didn’t buy any beer myself. I was still going through an anticommercial phase, and no matter what the intentions of the person selling the beer, the beer itself was still a commercial product. That’s also how I was back then.

The film turned out to be not so much a documentary about the FTAA as it was a montage of amateur footage of anti-globalization protests in general. Why should the Seattle WTO protest be mixed up in this? There was no focus, no specificity. I learned nothing, and wandered toward the edge of the building that faced Manhattan: that skyline of corporate headquarters, of steel and glass and grace. B came over to me with a plastic cup in her hand. She looked out at the lights across the East River and sighed. God, it really is beautiful, isn’t it.

At my parents’ house, using tools and listening to the Violent Femmes. Suddenly I’m 17 again.

Westley is battling an R.O.U.S. Lots of growling. The dog ran to the TV to watch, and then pounced on her stuffed raccoon.

“A veces van mis besos en esos barcos graves.” Love the sound of this Neruda line. Can’t replicate it in English.

After hours of pacing and restless vigilance, the dog found the perfect hiding spot for her bone. It’s in the middle of the hallway.

Sometimes the dog just stops and stares into the recycling bin for minutes on end.

Thought bubble with black scribble.

Black tea, Fiona Apple, and dried cranberries. Redemption.

Maybe my fate is already in my hands

When I go to the doctor I come up from the subway at 5th and Market. Every ailment, every checkup, I have to walk past Independence Hall and Congress Hall and the Liberty Bell. I pass horse-drawn carriages, a quiet worry, what if it’s skin cancer, weaving among tourists, please don’t be skin cancer. Then I turn the corner onto Chestnut. Suddenly I’m thinking of Jefferson and mosquitoes and gavels and how this block must have smelled like wig powder and manure and who knows what else. Suddenly the world is teeming with lives again, with fortunes and sacred honor. For a few seconds I forget the dread in my belly.

My doctor’s office is in the Curtis Building, half a block off Chestnut. There’s an enormous Tiffany glass mosaic in the lobby. On the way up it barely registers. I walk past in a daze. Nothing sinks in. I can think only of the bad news that might be waiting for me upstairs in the exam room. Maybe I’ve been carrying the bad news around with me for days. Maybe my fate is already in my hands, my left hand, this disconcerting lump that’s appeared at the base of my thumb.—But no, it turns out. No. Not there, not yet. On my way out I stop to look at Maxwell Parrish and Louis Comfort Tiffany’s Dream Garden. I’m too close to see the full scene. It doesn’t matter. All those colors of sunset and hay, the turquoise and the cloudy brown, the foliage spilling forth: I’ll let it all touch me, today, when by some small grace even a few raised bumps of poison ivy seem like leaves of favrile glass.

Nothing beats listening to Rachel’s on a rainy day. Except maybe Rachel’s, a rainy day, a hoodie, and a secret project.

You think you’ve seen everything. Then you look outside your window and in the parking lot there’s a girl dancing with a flaming hula hoop during a lull in a thunderstorm. There’s a drunken group cheering her on, and stray cats in the shadows, and there’s lightning in the clouds.

I never thought I’d see the day the dog would keep her shit together while a fox trotted down the path in front of us with a big ol’ bunny in its mouth.

coffeeshop ceiling—
stamped burlap bags hang down, frayed
fair trade church banners

beside still waters
gnats fill the air like floating
poppy seeds, like dreams

haiku and moonlight
cut through clouds in the Blue Ridge
Mountains: midnight lines

miles and hours gone,
the Shenandoah hills rise
and fall in my chest

Dear dog: No matter how much you investigate that cactus, it will never cease pricking you in the nose. There’s no making peace with a cactus.

broken shells, the beach
at dawn, the Parkway bridge arcs,
the streetlights like pearls

indigo with slate
bay clouds, the Sayreville moon
blue-white, true, home sky

mint gum, cigarettes—
fog rolling off the creek—
your love or your words

he drove off—outside
I walk on burrs and dirty
magnolia petals

Driving through the ghetto on a balmy afternoon, windows rolled down, singing along to folk rock as loud as you please: these places that are neither home nor not home.

Perth Amboy smells like
petroleum and grapevines:
spring of eighty-nine

You know how I know it’s almost spring? Before I could stop her the dog was writhing around, blissed out of her mind, on the recently dismembered leg of a fawn.

Things seen on my block this morning: a custom detailed car that said “Phuoc dat bitch” on the side, and a flier for a dance party with cupcakes and yoga.

Valley Forge in the snow. It was just like being in the Continental Army, but with more puppies and less typhus.

Couple of big snowstorms. The dog asks, “Why bother pooping when you could be working on your ice cave?” Maybe this is the reason she has more friends in the neighborhood than we do.

Took the dog jogging along Forbidden Drive. That place is beautiful in the summer, and differently beautiful in winter: fine, slender icicles hanging off the rocks.

Pumpkin bowling with the dog! Down the hallway. Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like.

Seen on the telephone pole at 48th and Florence: instructions on How to Save the Parrots. Step one was something like, “Tell the biologists they have to help them.” Makes sense.

West Philly picnic: Just saw four people hanging out on the sidewalk, eating dinner straight out of a frying pan.

It’s 79 and breezy. Windows are open. I can hear the shape singers at the A-Space. Nice West Philly night.

Venison defrosting. Springtime mice making noise in the walls. The kitchen is a damn fine spot to be right now, if you’re a dog.

Rough morning. A fire just destroyed the apartment next door to mine. No injuries, and no damage to our place. But my nerves are rattled. And now everything smells like burnt, moldy butternut squash.

Mashed potatoes, sauteed cabbage, red wine, War and Peace: Russian winter in the Philadelphia summer.

Father to his preschool-age son: “Well, he calls himself Sting, but his real name is Gordon.”

In memory of grandma and grandpa: Tonight I opened the last of the bottles of alcohol I took home when we cleaned out their house. It’s a Danish thing called Cherry Heering, and it’s so old it has a tax stamp across the cap.

Recently someone’s been putting bumper stickers up on the light posts and newspaper boxes here: “This is West Philadelphia. University City is a marketing scheme.” More recently, smaller stickers overlap them: “This is Lenapehoking. West Philadelphia is colonialism.”

Missing you
in the middle of an afternoon
that I’ve spent cleaning my bedroom.
Nothing left to do
except fold this unwashed sweater
with your smell between its threads
and push the dresser drawer closed
against the time we spent unraveling.