This round of Friday Reads brings you mini book reviews from The Common’s Literary Publishing Interns. From shapeshifting professors to self-deprecating travelers, these reading recommendations will enliven your summer TBR list, whether you curl up with a book in the sunshine or cool off somewhere in the shade.
Gabriella Fee’s poetry appears in Michigan Quarterly Review, Washington Square Review, Guesthouse, Sprung Formal, Levee Magazine, LETTERS, The American Literary Review (2019 Prize for Poetry), and elsewhere. Their co-translation of Giovanna Cristina Vivinetto’s “Dolore Minimo” won the 2021 Malinda A. Markham Translation Prize, and is under contract with Saturnalia Books. Excerpts appear in The Journal of Italian Translation, The Offing, Copper Nickel, Smartish Pace, Alchemy, and Italian Trans Geographies. Fee holds a BA from Wellesley College and an MFA from the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University, where they received the Elizabeth K. Moser Fund for Poetry Studies Fellowship in 2021 and the Dr. Benjamin J. Sankey Fellowship in Poetry in 2022. They’ll spend next year as a postdoctoral fellow with the Alexander Grass Institute for the Humanities at Johns Hopkins University.
When April comes I lie down in the shower.
A root in drought drowning in one hard rain,
I bathe my every vein in Jameson.
Death springs from me like a hothouse flower.
My mother swaddles me in terrycloth
and vigils me for three days in her bed.
Pillbox. Rice and lentils. Kettle. Psalm.
She dims the lights as though I were a moth.
She combs my hair. Why do I have to live? My mother answers just the way she did
when I was five and wouldn’t brush my teeth.
You’ll do it because that’s the way it is,
now open wide and let the whole world in.
Three days she holds the dying out of reach.
In recent years, female filmmakers have been carving out a space for themselves in the American West, redefining a genre and a place that is has historically been depicted as the terrain of lonely male cowboys and vigilantes. There have been period pieces like Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, and Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff and First Cow, as well as contemporary stories set in the west, such as Chloe Zhao’s The Rider and Nomadland, and Reichardt’s Certain Women. These films bring a new realism to the western as they widen the lens to center female characters and to incorporate themes of friendship, romance, and community.
You stare low on the horizon into the black sky and wait for the next tiny circle of light. A flash. You hold your breath. You listen to the high-pitched whir as each pinpoint shoots upward, and your eyes follow the undulating trajectory, one, two, sometimes three seconds and still you’re not really breathing. The light vanishes, and you wait, bracing yourself for one loud low boom, a series of pops and crackles, or a deep, hard blast that feels like a punch in the chest. And in that instant before each burst you hope for your favorite colors and shapes, for purple or green or one of those big white sparklers that puffs out like a giant dandelion cloud then hangs suspended, for just a heartbeat, before each shimmering speck flickers and falls toward earth.
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Mark Kyungsoo Bias speaks to managing editor Emily Everett about his poem “Adoption Day,” which appears in The Common’s new spring issue. Mark talks about the inspiration and process behind the poem, which looks at issues like memory, immigration, and racism in post-9/11 America, all through the lens of a family experience. Mark also discusses his approach to language, sound, line breaks, and more, and the methods and techniques he’s found helpful in revising poetry. He reads two additional poems published in The Common: “Meeting My Mother” and “Visitor.”
Spring Boulevard 50, in the heart of Bucharest’s former nomenklatura, currently bourgeois neighborhood, is where the former General Secretary’s one-story villa can be found. Împușcatu is what people sometimes call him around here, “the one who was shot,” or Ceașcă, “cup.” They were executed in winter: Nicolae Ceaușescu, and his wife Elena, who was also shot, but in people’s minds this was secondary to her being an insufferable pseudo-intellectual who loved fur coats. And their children, Nicu, Zoe and Valentin, spared during the 1989 Revolution.
A woman writes to her fourteen-year-old daughter. Not letters but a manual. She tries to offer advice on how to live in Germany in the early twenty-first century. There are the practical matters, the dos and don’ts that are imposed on each member of society depending on the stratus he or she belongs to. There are also the more nuanced aspects of human interaction such as friendship, why it matters, and how it could be lost. The woman writes in present tense, without much ornament, it flows and flows, and in the act of writing the woman is being transformed.
My sister used to make me watch her slaughter rabbits, until I could observe without crying. I was eleven; she was thirteen. She’d carry one up the bluff behind our house each afternoon, hind legs noosed in her grip, then kneel in the scrub grass and order that I watch her wishbone their necks. The sound of it—that mucusy snap—found me when doors slammed, when resin popped inside the pines. My eyes glassed so I watched the slaughter through a kaleidoscope, and she’d tell me that if this was enough to break me, I had no chance in this world.
The next day, another rabbit. Another. Another. This was how she’d make me strong. She was skinning me of my softness. Peeling girlhood from girl.
What I feared most was the day she’d hold a knife out to me in one hand and a rabbit in the other and demand I slot blade into animal. I could not do jigsaw puzzles because it conjured this inevitability. I could not peel carrots. But she never did, perhaps so I would always need her.
Weekly Writes is a ten-week program designed to help you create original place-based writing, beginning July 18.
We’re offering both poetry AND prose, in two separate programs. What do you want to prioritize this summer? Pick the program, sharpen your pencils, and get ready for a weekly dose of writing inspiration (and accountability) in your inbox!
Abeer Khshiboon’s short story, “The Stranger” is featured in Issue 23’s portfolio of stories from Palestine. Here, Abeer and translator Nashwa Gowanlock discuss the story’s inspiration and the context in which its events unfold.
Words We Use to Talk About Home: An Interview with Abeer Khshiboon, author of “The Stranger”