All posts tagged: 2020

Counsel

By DAVID MOLONEY

Excerpted from BARKER HOUSE, the new book by David Moloney, out now from Bloomsbury.  

 

I work alone on the Restricted Unit in the Barker County Correctional Facility in New Hampshire. It’s a semicircular room, the curved wall lined with nine cells. Most of the day, the inmates press their faces to scuffed windows, silent. There are no bars. The architects went with rosewood steel doors. Rosewood: the color of merlot.

On Tuesday and Saturday mornings I supervise inmates while they shave in their cells. We don’t leave them alone with razors. I try to talk with them, like we’re just in a locker room, hanging out while one of us shaves. Some don’t talk. I imagine that, cutting their whiskers before a scratched plastic mirror, they think of the other mirrors they’ve shaved in front of, the rooms those mirrors were in, and maybe that keeps them silent.

Tuesday. Inmate Bigsby is shaving. He’s talkative. Not crazy crazy, but it’s always tough to tell.

“This scar, right here,” says Bigsby as a stroke down his cheek reveals a cambered wound, “was when I broke from the sheriffs.” The single blade on Bigsby’s flimsy disposable couldn’t shave a teenage girl’s happy trail, but the inmates make do and pull at their skin.

There is a common perception—you see it in movies—that inmates don’t want to talk about their crimes. But they do. They depend on their past, their scars, to prove they were something else. In what standing, that doesn’t matter.

Counsel
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All Night in the Tuberculosis Room

By RENA J. MOSTEIRIN

Just before daybreak, the sky above NewYork-Presbyterian in Queens stiffens, and the nurse kicks me out of Abuela’s hospital room, because he needs to clean her. I don’t want to leave her room, and I don’t quite remember how to leave the hospital, but when I get out, the December night is a sharp blue and the cold air aches. As I stumble toward the lit deli on the corner I can’t even close my coat, my hands shake so much. I take off the mask. I see the air coming out of my mouth as a cloud of white, frozen mist. So this is God. God is the air going in and the air coming out and the sun coming up blue and the cold.

I am still holding the mask. I feel that I still need it, having worn it all night over my mouth and nose to keep the germs from coming in. Everything is glowing: the mask, my breath, my hands.

The man working the counter comes outside, muttering about it being too cold. He holds opens the door, gestures for me to walk into the light and follows me back inside. He holds a small garbage pail, he gestures for me to drop the mask. Just throw it away.

“How can I help you?” he asks. He repeats himself, because I can’t speak. I can see the yellow glow of sunrise in his face. Yellow omelets, egg sandwiches, golden bagels—these are the foods of heaven. Outside I was black and white, but somehow, in here, I am in color.

*

In the tuberculosis room, you must keep the door closed at all times. Wear a mask when you enter and throw the mask away when you leave. This machine will buzz all night, that’s the sound the laser makes. When air passes through this part here, the purple light that you see will kill the tuberculosis germs. We do this to protect you. Thirteen million people in the United States have latent tuberculosis infection. Are you sure you want to spend the night? Please do not remove the mask. The mask is light blue, for your protection. Press down on either side and the top of the mask will conform to the shape of your nose.

All Night in the Tuberculosis Room
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Excerpt from Godshot

By CHELSEA BIEKER

Image of book cover

Excerpted from GODSHOT, now available from Catapult Books.
Copyright Chelsea Bieker, 2020. 

To have an assignment, Pastor Vern said, you had to be a woman of blood. You had to be a man of deep voice and Adam’s apple. And you should never reveal your assignment to another soul, for assignments were a holy bargaining between you and your pastor and God Himself. To speak of them directly would be to mar God’s voice, turn the supernatural human, and ruin it. So not even my own mother could tell me what her assignment was that unseasonably warm winter, wouldn’t tell me months into it when spring lifted up more dry heat around us, and everything twisted and changed forever.

I longed to know where she went when she left our apartment each morning, returning in the evening flushed, a bit more peeled back each time. I imagined her proselytizing to the vagrants sleeping on rags in the fields at the edge of town, combing the women’s mud-baked hair, holding their hands and exorcising evil from their hearts. I imagined her floating above our beloved town of Peaches, dropping God glitter over us like an angel, summoning the rain to cure our droughted fields. I imagined all these things with a burn of jealousy, for I had not received my woman’s blessing yet, the rush of blood between my legs that would signify me as useful. I’d just turned fourteen but was still a board-chested child in the eyes of God and Pastor Vern, and so I prayed day and night for the blood to come to me in a river, to flood the bed I shared with my mother. Then I would be ready. I could have an assignment too.

Excerpt from Godshot
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Support The Common’s Favorite Indie Bookstores

We’re all eager to support local small businesses at this difficult time. Among the businesses that could most use our support are independent bookstores: that’s why we at The Common have put together this list of bookstores we’ve partnered with who are staying open—in some capacity—to serve your literary quarantine needs. The situation is changing rapidly, so make sure to check bookstores’ websites or social media for the most up-to-date info on how they are operating.

Support The Common’s Favorite Indie Bookstores
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March 2020 Poetry Feature: Frances Richey

Please welcome poet FRANCES RICHEY to our pages.

Contents:

—The Times Square Hotel

—After the Diagnosis

Frances Richey is the author of two poetry collections: The Warrior (Viking Penguin 2008), The Burning Point (White Pine Press 2004), and the chapbook, Voices of the Guard (Clackamas Community College 2010). She teaches an on-going poetry writing class at Himan Brown Senior Program at the 92nd Street Y in NYC, and she is the poetry editor for upstreet Literary Magazine. She was poetry editor for Bellevue Literary Review from 2004-2008. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from: The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, O, The Oprah Magazine, Plume, Gulf Coast, Salmagundi, Salamander, Blackbird, River Styx, and Woman’s Day, and her poems have been featured on NPR, PBS NewsHour and Verse Daily. Most recently she was a finalist for The National Poetry Series for her manuscript, “On The Way Here.” She lives in New York City.

March 2020 Poetry Feature: Frances Richey
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Intimations and Mercy, a Letter from the Bronx

By JUDITH BAUMEL

Image of book cover

“Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room,” I intoned solemnly when things were normal back in the BC days (Before COVID). “In truth the prison, unto which we doom/Ourselves; no prison is.” I winked at my “Forms in Poetry” class to let them know I felt their pain. It turned out to be our last face-to-face meeting for the semester. We were studying the sonnet and I’ve always used William Wordsworth’s love poem to strict forms as a pep talk for beginning prosodists. “And hence for me,/In sundry moods, ‘twas pastime to be bound/Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground.”

Easy for you to say, I tell my three-weeks-ago self. I had no idea what was about to hit us. I’ll bet my shrinking TIAA stash that you didn’t either.

Intimations and Mercy, a Letter from the Bronx
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Going Home

By KAREN KAO

A photograph of a graffitied window

The road to Amsterdam

Our plan was always to go home to Amsterdam at the end of March. By then, we will have been on the road for 200 days. But now home is the new coronavirus epicenter. The projections are that the Netherlands will follow the pattern set by Italy. With only so many hospital beds, respirators and medical staff, Dutch doctors will have to triage. They will treat the younger patients with a higher chance of survival. The others are on their own.

We have no good choices. Staying on the road presents its own dangers. Hotels are vectors for infection. So are restaurants and public transportation for so long as they stay open. We could hunker down in an AirBnB. But who will tell us when the lockdown begins or ends?

Going Home
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Dream Logic: An Interview with Joseph O’Neill

JENNIFER ACKER interviews JOSEPH O’NEILL

Joseph O Neill

Joseph O’Neill is an Irish and Turkish writer who grew up in the Netherlands, practiced law in England, and now lives in New York City while teaching at Bard College. His novel Netherland won the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award and was praised by President Obama. O’Neill’s novel The Dog was nominated for the 2014 Booker Prize. He is known for  sentences that are both precise and extravagant, that build on each other to undulating and dazzling effect. His work is founded on a bedrock sense of humor, and a healthy sense of the absurd is never far away. And yet his novels and stories are never merely funny; they are also rich excavations of character and observations of modern life. This keen eye, alongside evident empathy and wit are on display in his first collection of short stories, Good Trouble, which was released in 2019 and has been called “an essential book, full of unexpected bursts of meaning and beauty.” This conversation is adapted from O’Neill’s visit to Amherst College this winter.

Dream Logic: An Interview with Joseph O’Neill
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The Old Dog

By INÉS GARLAND

Translated from the Spanish by RICHARD GWYN appears below in English and Spanish

 

I translated Inés Garland’s “The Old Dog” shortly after publishing one of her best-known stories, “A Perfect Queen,” in a special Argentine edition of the New Welsh Review, a few years back. I first came across Inés’ short stories on a visit to Buenos Aires in 2011, and was immediately drawn to her portrayal of individuals—almost always women—either at moments of self-realization brought about by the actions of others, or else struggling against an impending sense of loss or betrayal. But there is also a kind of detachment in her writing, as though her characters were teetering on the edge of some other, unknown revelation.

“The Old Dog” attracted me because of the tension between the two elderly human characters, and the way that the animal interloper seems to bring them together, however clumsily. The anecdote about the man’s former wife abandoning the family dog on the roadside—which, it is implied, has also been the fate of the dog in this story —is a horrible reminder of human cruelty, and helps us re-evaluate, perhaps, our initial lack of empathy for the male character.

The Old Dog
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A Sliver of Wild

By CINDY CARLSON

 

Coastal Virginia

Sunday morning, Buckroe Beach. It’s early, before the kids and kites and coolers. A different crowd is here. Another breed of beach-lover.

A small group of Baptists emerges from the water’s edge. The men, burly and robust, call and jostle in boyish exuberance. The sisters, in flowing white, hover around one woman wrapped in a maroon beach towel like a rescued bird; damp curls cling to her forehead. She is radiant.

Just past the pier, the yoga class that started a few weeks ago has already doubled in size. The backsides of fifty-plus downward-facing dogs in every possible size, shape and color, stretch toward the heavens.

A Sliver of Wild
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