Dispatches

In Absence of Mourning

By NATALIA MAGNANI

Chebrushka teddy bear

Gomel, Belarus

It had been fifteen years since my family left for the US, but my grandparents’ room in Gomel had not changed. I sat on the same Soviet-era sofa, holding the same replica of Cheburashka, my childhood-favorite TV character. The occasion of my visit had prompted Dedushka, my Belarusian grandpa, to take me to the village where he was born, now dilapidated, to generations of ancestors’ graves, through documents that told something of our fragmented history. One evening Dedushka donned his army uniform, and presented me with a newspaper clip detailing my father’s death. My grandmother was quiet, resigned to the shadows of old books and toys.

In Absence of Mourning
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Quarters

By BEINA XU

children biking on streetBerlin, Germany

 

I live in the wrong colonial quarter of Berlin.

My neighborhood is called Afrikanisches Viertel, and my flat is on Guinea Street. There’s Kongostraße, Togostraße, Kamerunerstraße, Transvaalstraße, Sansibarstraße, Otawistraße—I could go on, but you could also just Google Germany’s colonial conquest of Africa.

Quarters
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R Is for Revival Field

By WILLIAM WOOLFITT

St. Paul, Minnesota

a lake with trees in the distance

 

R is for raw sewage, riverine wetland, rubbish, rookery of herons and egrets, rusting barrels of toxic waste. I try to imagine all of this at Pig’s Eye Lake. Surrounding it, marsh, cottonwoods, floodplain, bluffs above the great river. It’s a place the Dakota consider sacred, James Rock says. Čhokáŋ Taŋka, the Dakota call it: the big middle. I try to imagine the burial mounds that were blown up with dynamite, and railyards, locks and dams, dredging, and all the household trash that was dumped in the marsh, the industrial debris: lead-acid batteries, solvents, electrical transformers, burnt sludge. Eight million cubic yards, some of it fluorosurfectants—the so-called forever chemicals needed to make non-stick frying pans, stain-repellent for couches and rugs—the PFOS that have spread everywhere, now taint my blood, and yours, and every creature’s.

R Is for Revival Field
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Magic Mile

by CAROLYN OLIVER

Picture of a motor speedway in New Hampshire. There are cloudy gray skies and a barren roadway with a lone red flag waving at the center.

 

Dispatch from New Hampshire Motor Speedway

 

The track is too slick, too cold. As the preacher intones Let us drive fast and cheer hard in Jesus’ name amen, the mist is already falling over us, the drivers, the life flight helicopter at rest on its helipad over the rise. Engines fire and the air goes thick with pressure. In minutes the leaders spin into the wall’s invisible give. Unlike Daytona or Talladega, where drivers shimmy from the windows of their wrecks, walking bruises at best—this is a minor crash. Its smolder mingles with exhaust, burning rubber, spent fireworks, cigarette smoke sent into the low cloudbank by a man ten paces past the No Smoking sign. This is New Hampshire: live free or die.

Magic Mile
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What the Midwest Was Like

By JENNIFER S. CHENG

Small plants grow outside the window of a house. The window frame is white, with paint that is peeling slightly.

 

Iowa City, Iowa

 

For months I cared for my plant: watered it, brought in light, cleaned its jar. I noted with pleasure when new leaves began to sprout. The capillary green that unfolded overnight. I watched its roots mingle and spread, tracing against the glass. Don’t forget to watch over the plant. But when I returned from four days away, half of the leaves had yellowed. One fell off at my touch. I watched as a fifth leaf began also to lose its pigment.

What the Midwest Was Like
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Two Poems by John Harlan Underhill

By JOHN HARLAN UNDERHILL

Spider web with light shining through it

Ann Arbor, Michigan

Following his 60th class reunion at Amherst College in 2017, Harlan Underhill scripted a virtual diary in poetry, communicating over 200 entries to several fortunate classmates. The poems illuminate both immediate and past experiences and observations, memories both cherished and painful. These two poems are drawn from that collection.

Two Poems by John Harlan Underhill
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Delete/Recover

By AKWE AMOSU

Image of a protest on the Brooklyn Bridge in NYC, with someone holding up a sign saying "No Justice, No Peace." 
New York City

After Kenosha, Wisconsin, 26 August 2020

1. Erasure

I went to the         for water, 
although I had no thirst, again 
unable to find           Not sleeping, 
roaming restless, hunting 
at 2am for             on my phone, 
no rabbit hole too deep, however 
dull, aching tired as though 
I had been              
Only three days into this, 
asked how my              was 
going, I launched into a tense             
            that the question even 
deserved              and saw how hard, 
again, I was trying not to            the 
plain fact that right in front of us,
again, the cop had emptied 
his          into a human, 
now                  yet shackled 
to his hospital bed.  That again, a 
young          had taken down a human 
with a military grade             yet 
          away from the scene unhindered. 
And that, again, we were being asked
to choke off              thoughts, stifle 
any            sound, stave and belt 
the chest to                our agitation, 
keep breathing because, again,
we
      

Delete/Recover
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Plenty

By KATHERINE L. HESTER

Exterior of a fruit and egg store in Madrid 

Madrid, Spain

 

I chose my frutería not by its quality—how could I know that before I’d sampled its three types of peaches (red, yellow, squashed into donut-shapes), its abundance of tomatoes, its fuzzy orange nisperos?—but because of its old-fashioned tiled façade. 

Plenty
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Untitled (Letter to Rügen)

By GUNTHER GELTINGER

Translated from the German by CRISTINA BURACK

Letter appears below in both English and German.

Kreptitz Cliff in Rugen, GermanyRügen, Germany

Translator’s Note: I did not come across this text; rather, it came across me, arriving in my postbox in an orange envelope, complete with wax seal. It was part of a project called LitBrief-19, which was organized last spring by the Literaturhaus Bonn, in Germany, as a way to keep the literary community together despite the pandemic.

Every month, a writer pens an original letter that gets mailed out to subscribers. While I’ve enjoyed every letter, Gunther Geltinger’s text particularly moved me. It was both very specific to his beloved Rügen, a large German island in the Baltic Sea, and yet very universal in its emotions: how it expresses the unique personal relationship people can have with a place that plays an integral role in their identity, how the pandemic has upended our ability to be in such places, and how, despite a rapidly changing world environment, such places as experienced remain formative for life. It is an intimate text, and it’s packed with thoughtfulness, nostalgia, poetry, humor and a reassuring sense of being rooted in a place that is physical, geographical and above all else, emotional.

 

October XX, 2020

How should I start this letter? Using “Dear Sir,” “Dear Madam,” or “My sweet dear” to address you doesn’t do you justice. You’re not dear, and you’re hardly ever sweet. Your grammatical gender is neutral, but “the island,” die Insel, is feminine, and a friend of mine who recently visited me and expected a lighthouse surrounded by dunes, overlooking the sea in four directions, she even called you a continent. The fields of flint rock bordered by the moors struck her as being from another hemisphere; on the Zicker Mountains she felt as if she were in Scotland; and the Kreptitz Cliff, with its windblown hawthorn bushes and allure for amber seekers, reminded her of a secluded coast in New Zealand, where she’s never been. When I told her about an acquaintance who lives on the southern tip of the island and has never been to Gellort, the northernmost point, where my mobile service provider sends me a text message welcoming me to Sweden, she said: Well, it’s not like you would expect a Tunisian to have seen the Cape of Good Hope. My friend would probably understand why I am writing to you and would advise me to post the letter in a bottle. Someone on some other island, somewhere else in the world, would fish it out of the sea and think it was for them.

Untitled (Letter to Rügen)
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