In House

What We Were Like Then

By EMILY EVERETT

poetry room bookstore

We agonize over breakfast choices in the towering Ferry Building food market, then walk the piers eating flaky empanadas. But it’s cold and too windy, February, so we turn inland toward North Beach. Our cousin, a local, will meet us there for lunch. He’s suggested a tour of the neighborhood’s old Beat Generation haunts.

My twin sister and I are visiting San Francisco, ostensibly to see a concert but also just to see each other, since a year ago she moved away to the suburbs of Philadelphia. For the few short days we’re here, the West Coast experiences torrential rain. LA is flooding and the Bay Area is even drizzlier than usual. Becky and I are strategic—Saturday is going to be the driest day, and we want to see everything.

Emily EverettWhat We Were Like Then
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Reading Gabriel García Márquez in the Age of Trump: The Autumn of the Patriarch

By JULIA LICHTBLAU

Donald Trump

I think we can agree that Donald Trump has been bad for literary fiction. Many people, myself included, have turned to non-fiction (not to mention gorging on news) to understand how the U.S. elected an authoritarian who orders bombings while eating chocolate cake, calls the army “my military,” lies compulsively, and spends half his time golfing. I, for one, am reading Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism. And it doesn’t make me feel a bit better. 

Julia PikeReading Gabriel García Márquez in the Age of Trump: The Autumn of the Patriarch
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Jury Duty in Baltimore City

By: MARIAN CROTTY

jury duty

The courtroom is on the fifth floor of a large stone building that was once the Baltimore post office—a stuffy room with thick blue carpeting and walls of wood paneling, several Xeroxed signs reminding us not to chew gum, and long pew-like benches where we crowd together and grumble about how inconvenient it would be to serve on a jury. After we are sworn in, the judge instructs us to stand if certain statements apply to us, and I’m surprised by what people will admit. Would you believe something simply because it was said by a police officer?

Sarah WhelanJury Duty in Baltimore City
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Reading in Public: An Elegy

By JULIA LICHTBLAU

I was riding the F train home the other day reading Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. The local went express at Jay Street in Brooklyn, and I exchanged an exasperated smile with a woman on the platform. “Is that good?” she asked, pointing to the book. “I’ve been meaning to read it.” I called Whitehead’s disturbing way of mixing history and invention in his novel about slavery, “steampunk abolitionist” and she liked that. Manners obliging, I asked what she was reading. “Something with Ove in the title.” It was funny in surprising ways, but she couldn’t remember the name. We agreed nothing induces amnesia like being asked what you’re reading. The name and author came to her on the local. A Man Called Ove by Frederik Bachman. I promised to look it up. I got off at the next stop feeling rich for our impromptu book club, and grateful for a moment of literary communion that’s all but disappeared.

Olivia ZhengReading in Public: An Elegy
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Off Edgware Road

 By EMILY EVERETT

 london snow

I first went to London as an undergrad, on a yearlong study abroad program in University College London’s intimidating English department. When I returned very reluctantly to the US, I often dreamed about London, but in those dreams I would find familiar places moved, distorted, and the people I missed not where I looked for them. After graduation, I moved again to the UK for a master’s program, but mainly to get back to London. I had discovered, after a few panicky weeks of foreign disorientation, that the city suited me—and also that my quiet home in Massachusetts no longer did. At 22, one seemed to preclude the other; London felt strange and exotic in a way that had become a daily necessity.

Olivia ZhengOff Edgware Road
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Raiding

In seventh grade, your friend Megan invites you to go raiding, which means sneaking around in dark clothes and throwing feed corn on other people’s houses. This is rural Pennsylvania, a small town of rolling fields and old steel mills. It’s fall, cold. The point is trespassing, minor vandalism, the fact that you are twelve and living in a place where nothing ever happens.

You start at Megan’s house in a damp wooded valley not far from the river and walk toward the highway. It’s dark out, though probably not any later than seven or eight o’clock. Back here, in her neighborhood, there are steep hills, one after another, and the houses are set too far back from the road for an easy escape, and so for a while, the three of you—Megan, you, her neighbor-friend Derek—just walk.

Olivia ZhengRaiding
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Ivoirians Dream of America, Undeterred by Trump

In Abidjan, the principal city of Côte d’Ivoire, Africa’s fastest-growing economy, the air is black and nauseating on the Boulevard des Martyrs in the upscale Deux-Plateaux neighborhood at morning rush hour. My mouth tastes of diesel already. The light changes. Orange taxis, yellow taxis, trucks, busses, vans belch exhaust in unison. Traffic surges; two lanes fracture into four as drivers maneuver anarchically to break through, and the jam gets worse. When the cab I’m in reaches the chokepoint, I see a man lying on his back on the pavement, head to one side, the wheels of a stopped car inches away. His overturned motorcycle blocks a lane. When I pass a half an hour later, he’s still there, and traffic is backed up to the Boulevard François Mitterrand.

Olivia ZhengIvoirians Dream of America, Undeterred by Trump
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Love in the Absence of Persephone

By JAMES ALAN GILL

Do you remember when we’d go walking in the rain, and your coat was too big for you so that I couldn’t see your face under the hood? And we’d lean against one of the giant cedars growing among the graves in the Pioneer Cemetery, tree and stone planted over a hundred years before by ancestors unknown to us?  And when we went to kiss, we bumped teeth because all sense of space had been lost? It was then I started falling in love with you.

Olivia ZhengLove in the Absence of Persephone
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Like an Eggplant Parmigiana, Like Layers of Rock

Saint Sebastian Church

Sicilians build things like they will live forever and eat like they will die tomorrow.

                                                                                                                        —Plato

1. Four of us are here, in mid-Sicily, waiting for something that will lead us to make art. The life of Akrai Residency for three weeks. Two of us speak partial Italian. One of us has never been to Italy. We come from Poland, Iran, America, and New Zealand. This non-touristic town is now our food, sleep, air, conversation, and confrontation.

Palazzolo Acreide is a small (8,000 person) town built of rock. The streets are cobbled, the buildings are ancient brick, the churches rise solid and baroque from rock. Much of it is limestone, soft, shapeable, and light; it gives the town a yellow glow. People here seem to grow from a desire to be full—not just of food but of color, taste, feeling, and sound. Church bells punctuate each quarter hour, in our central neighborhood and in all neighborhoods; the slightly staggered ringing echoes throughout the town and valley below. Two fifteen, fifteen, fifteen. Two thirty, thirty, thirty.

Olivia ZhengLike an Eggplant Parmigiana, Like Layers of Rock
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Place Love

This is a falling-out-of-love story and an old boyfriend story, though I was never in love with him, but that’s another story. I was in love with a place and an idea of where I could live that was incompatible with who I was becoming, though it took a long time for me to accept it.

The place was Maine, and the love wasn’t a mad passion but an achy, nostalgic, security-blanket attachment. I’d spent my early childhood summers on one of Maine’s most remote islands in the Penobscot Bay, and had idyllic memories of kerosene-lit cottages, beach-combing, berry-picking, and unsupervised roaming with other children for hours. The sight of granite cliffs, shingled houses, lobster boats, and pine trees brought forth a powerful rush of dopamine and nostalgia. When my family moved to Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa, we put island rocks in our sea freight. I reconnected with Maine after we returned to Washington, D.C. Once I started college, my parents moved overseas, and Maine became a touchstone, a place I returned to as often as possible, an imaginary home.

Olivia ZhengPlace Love
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