Writer, editor, teacher, other.

I have a prose poem up at Used Furniture Review this weekend. 

After the tornado hit Tuscaloosa—my hometown—I spent a few weeks there, helping as best I could. And all the while, I knew it was something that had happened to my town and its people. But I didn’t acknowledge that it was, in some ways, also something that had happened to me. 

I said I had nothing to write about the tornado. I kept saying—and believing—that. Then, my first week back home, I was walking the dog and got caught accidentally in a thunderstorm. And I sprinted back to the house while crying, terrified. 

And I realized that even though I hadn’t been there when it hit, it had affected me.

*****

I was in the car when the tornado hit, and my husband was driving, and I had been trying to communicate with people we love to make sure they were safe, and when the tornado actually passed through Tuscaloosa, there was this long interlude where we didn’t hear from anyone. And my husband just kept driving—what else to do?—and I just kept thinking that once again I was riding through the Carolinas and waiting to hear if people I loved were alive or not, and I knew I could not go through that again. I’m not sure I’d call what I was doing prayer. But through tears, I screamed out an ultimatum to the universe, declaring that everyone (and calling some of them by name, just to make sure whoever I was talking to understood) had to be okay. “I cannot lose X,” I screamed. “And Y has to be okay.” And so on. It was a short list. It was a significant list. And though I’m not really willing to make a causal argument about the whys of it all, I’m grateful that they were all okay.

******

A few months later, I ate with friends at a roadside restaurant with paper menus. They had horoscopes on the back of them, and mine said “The universe says no.” I got deeply upset by this.

Eventually, I decided the horoscope was wrong. I believe the universe says yes. It has to. It has. 

My review of what I refer to as the Zenyatta phenomenon is up today at 300 Reviews. It’s nice to see its publication right on the heels of Derby weekend. 

The Kentucky Derby’s a thing in my house. My husband always buys me roses. We always watch the race together. I normally yell loudly at the tv. My horse normally runs somewhere around eighth. 

This year, though, I had a completely different experience. I watched it from Tuscaloosa, my hometown and the place I’d spent the previous week trying to do what I could to help people I love deal with the devastating tornadoes that swept through town. My husband was states away. This year, I was the one buying flowers—I kept bringing them into the house where my sweet friends Brian & Barry live, the house where I helped cook so people could congregate after volunteering or dealing with their own displacement and damages from the storm.

The flowers were frivolous, particularly given the fact that many of my friends spent their days helping people—sometimes attempting to recover belongings from the rubble of their homes, other times, helping them pick out a starter’s supply of new possessions at one of the emergency relief groups working in Tuscaloosa. You might argue that it wasn’t a time for flowers. But I believed it was precisely such a time, believed that we needed to be reminded that some ephemeral things are quite beautiful. I believed that while we confronted all the bad things nature can hold and enact, we also needed to be reminded that it is often very lovely, that we needed to acknowledge that things are not all bad or all good, that life is much too complex and interconnected to be so black & white.

And in many ways, that’s what this review is about—why we should care about things that appear to be completely outside of our own experiences and concerns. 

I should add that I’m not sure anyone who passed through that house over the ten days I was there gave any thought to those flowers, or, if they did, that they thought anything close to what I was thinking about them. And I’m okay with that.

(Also, my horse this year was Shackelford. He ran fourth.)

(Also, in case you’ve missed my previous post, you should check out the stunning TUSCALOOSA RUNS THIS, the book my friend Brian Oliu put together in support of tornado relief efforts. It’s worth your time.)

I have loved this journal since I first discovered it last fall. What’s not to love about a project that unites the spirit of Joseph Cornell with really kick-ass creative nonfiction?

Tonight, I love Shadowbox even more, because its editors are gracious and lovely. I have work forthcoming with them, and they have very, very kindly granted me permission to send one of those pieces to the Tuscaloosa ebook that will be published first. This is so kind of them, and it just proves that Shadowbox combines good writing and good people. This is a combination we need more of.

So go read Shadowbox. Send them some work in their next reading period. Tell your friends. Shadowbox deserves your attention.

So my latest publication popped up today at the lovely DIAGRAM. I thought about not posting this for a while, out of respect for Bama. Who has time—or even the power &/or internet connection—needed for poetry right now? But then I kept thinking about this poem and its origins, and I decided that while Bama might not need my writing right now, it might need my subject.

I discovered the work of filmmaker Brent Green last summer. Those of you who know me & my recent work know that my younger brother Austin died in December. It was tragic and in many ways unexpected.

But he had walked a long road since being hit by a drunk driver in ‘07. Last fall found Austin—and therefore those of us who loved him—on a particularly bleak stretch. In the midst of that time, I saw Green’s art installation and a screening of his latest film at the ASU Art Museum in Tempe, Arizona. And although Green’s subjects are sad, his work gives me comfort. So I’m hoping that this will somehow lead folks to Green (nervousfilms.com) and that his work will be as comforting to them as they are to me.

Green’s film follows a man’s futile attempt to save his dying wife. It’s achingly sad.

I wrote this poem several months before Austin’s death. And it’s titled a self-portrait. It is one, in many ways. But I also consider it the first elegy I wrote for A. 

I’m not trying to compare my personal losses to the massive losses being faced by my town right now. But mine is an alchemist’s heart, so I’m sending this out and hoping that it gets transformed into something useful. If nothing else, hopefully it will remind folks of the tremendous (and healing) power of narrative. As Green says, “I will pull myself up out of this with words.”

(xo)

Tuscaloosa E-Book

Hey y’all. There’s writing news to share, but I’ll get to most of it later. Right now, my heart is with Tuscaloosa, my beloved and battered hometown.

My dear friend and stellar writer Brian Oliu is putting together an e-book of Tuscaloosa writing to benefit the city’s tornado relief efforts. If you have any writing or artwork about Tuscaloosa, please email him at beoliu@gmail.com to contribute to it. The deadline is Thursday, May 5th.

If you don’t have any Tuscaloosa-centric work, I hope you’ll still consider helping the cause by buying and reading this ebook. I can promise that there is some lovely work about this place. I know many of you have seen images of Tuscaloosa this week—of its devastation, its brokenness. I hope you’ll purchase this book and take a glance at some of the other things Tuscaloosa has held, too. When details about how to purchase it are available, I will share them.

xo.