On my final day in Derry, a city barely inside the northwest edge of Northern Ireland, I hired a taxi to drive me past the city’s boundaries and across the United Kingdom’s border. Through the window, the Republic of Ireland was all endless rows of barley like coiled rosary beads. I wanted to see the Grianan of Aileach, a stone ringfort originally built almost fifteen hundred years ago by the Celtic king who then ruled Donegal’s hills.
The day is drab and cloud-soaked, the sky a quilt of gray. I take the dog to walk on a path beneath the power lines near our house. Although it’s the first of February, there’s no snow. Everywhere I see brown, tan, dull green. Overhead the lines buzz and pop, the towers that carry them straddling undulating hills.
We at The Common are proud to announce our nominations for the 2018 Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses series, an accolade bestowed upon small-press writers for works of outstanding writing and literary talent. Each of our nominations represents this culmination of talent and ingenuity alongside the celebration of a daring and modern sense of place.
Harriet Hemings Meets Red Peter at The Russian Tea Room
“[…] as uniformly as is the preference of the Oranootan for the black women over those of his own species.” — Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia
“It is now nearly five years since I was an ape, a short space of time, perhaps, according to the calendar…” — Red Peter, from “A Report to an Academy” by Franz Kafka
Red Peter, it is so nice to meet you—I mean, you have to know how awful online dating can be. My father set us up—I think, based on your preferences in women, he thought we would have a lot in common. I must admit, I was excited to come to this restaurant. It is an excellent choice; the banana pudding is fabulous—the best in the city. I too love frequenting Paris, although I missed your performances with Hagenbeck. He also brought the world Otta Benga, did he not? I believe Mr. Benga resided in the same state where my father wrote his Notes. You are such a kind gentleman, compared to others. Here, let me adjust your bowtie; you’ve learned to be more human than most. Now, tell me, in your report to an academy, did you address your desires? Your dating preferences? Is the preference of the oranootan, in fact, for the black woman over his own species? Red Peter, my father would be very happy to hear about this date, if your preference is as such—I mean, for a woman like myself.
Three words to describe the climate: early fall, harsh.
Best time to visit? Spring
The most striking physical features of the city/ town are:
A first time visitor to Nsukka will notice an environment full of hills, with houses at the valleys and at the breasts of the hills. Then he moves closer to notice a usually crowded park where the people’s central market, Ogige, is located. Not long ago, the roads were really in bad shape but things have changed now. The new state governor gave the town a serious facelift in terms of road reconstruction and it has increased access to and from the town.
You arrive at the scene to play your part. Actors fill the stage, bodies motionless.
Stage right: Metal barricades and a long row of riot shields outlined by helmets, batons, cans of pepper spray, guns. Bodies of men behind it all. One body stands atop a tank, bullhorn raised to his face.
Stage left: Costumes include robes, vestments, yarmulkes, collars, habits. Props include holy books, prayer beads. Arms are interlocked.
Soaked students trudge with their arms wrapped around one another, some toward their apartments to scrub the liquefied tear gas from their clothes, some to the nearby bars to wash away the stains they’ve gained on their souls. I am holding my weapon tight in both of my hands.
The wet warning shots have had the desired effect, dispersing a crowd that gathered in front of the Teatro Universidad de Chile to protest for the third time in as many days. A graying caribinero whistles low, and one of the stray puppers that roam the sidewalks of the Alameda runs up to nibble at some chorizo the green-clad cop produces from the pocket of his vest. I check my firing mechanism and center the old man in my crosshair. I can’t get a good shot; civilians in the way.
Margot Kahn and Kelly McMasters have each been described as landscape writers. Kahn mapped the American West in the biography Horses that Buck and McMasters’ memoir, Welcome to Shirley, grappled with a hometown that was as dangerous as it was idyllic. In subsequent work, both writers found themselves writing and thinking about the places harder to locate on a map and much harder still to define: home. Kahn and McMasters are the editors of the recently published This Is the Place: women writing about home, featuring essays by thirty women writers who explore the complex and messy business of making, being, and leaving—or sometimes escaping—home.
The Fault Lines of Home: an Interview with Margot Kahn and Kelly McMasters
Early on in Empire of Glass, the novel’s American narrator offers fair warning that what follows will not be straightforward: “So much of what I’m telling you is already reimagined, reconfigured so convex angles are made concave, mirrors reflecting other mirrors reflecting an uncertain, setting sun.” That includes her name, Lao K (or “Familiar K”), a nickname her Chinese homestay family gave to replace “a long, complicated name we could never pronounce.”
Some road trips are propelled by an arrow of indifference. We look for the keys on their ring, nestled often in a bag of felid mice. If my open sweater signifies carry, tail and tuft and brass also mean rest.
When we drove past the circus hand’s kitchen, open in way of Southern Indiana late summers, we smelled peaches burning on the rough iron stove. I remembered when you told me that every day is a sliding between an expectation and an opening. It was easy to hand-over every coin in my purse and burn both our tongues with pit fruits and cheap bourbon.