Mary O’Donoghue speaks to managing editor Emily Everett about her story “Safety Advice for Staying Indoors,” which appears in The Common’s fall issue. Mary talks about crafting a story that explores two points of view within the same Irish family, both stuck inside during a strong storm, both coping with loss. She also discusses her work translating Irish-language poets, her interest in stories that require the reader to connect their own dots, and what it’s like to edit fiction for AGNI while writing her own short stories, too.
Podcast: Mary O’Donoghue on “Safety Advice for Staying Indoors”
As the car passed the Flag and sped toward Za’abeel, Avi’s crisp V’s became softer and less pronounced—“wees,” even. By the time he crossed Sana Signal, coffee shops and villas having given way to the old city’s chai stalls and low-rise apartments, the languid, questioning “ahs” at the ends of his sentences had been abandoned, the tongue clicks dropped. “Paps, what time do we have to make a move to the souq?” he said to his dad on the phone, sounding like just another Bur Dubai kid. “Okay, I’ll be downstairs in an hour.” He gestured to the driver to pull up outside his building and hopped out, throwing the Capri-Sonne straw he had been chewing all the way from school onto the pavement. His gait had changed, too: on the Jumeirah side of the Flag, he adopted the exaggerated chest-swivel of the Khaleeji, ass jutting out, body taking up far more real estate than someone of his frame reasonably should. Here, however, he stepped within himself.
There were rules, though. If even one lochal or premium expat were spotted, accents would be drawn. Intonations would warp midway, vowels replaced with dressier ones like guest bedsheets.
Last year, I wandered through Greece, knocking on all the gates of Hades. I walked along the Acheron River, whose icy blue waters seemed colored by the spirits of the dead. Stalactites dripped onto the back of my neck as a silent boatman ferried me through the caves of Diros. I searched for the entrance to the sea cave at Cape Tainaron, scrambling over sharp rocks below the lighthouse as darkness fell. Sometimes I wondered if my search for the underworld tempted the Fates. I remembered Orpheus, the father of music, who charmed beasts with his lyre and descended into Tainaron to find his lost bride, Eurydice. With song, he implored Hades and Persephone to bring her back to life, and his words moved the deathless gods to tears. They granted his wish, allowing him to lead her out of the underworld on one condition: he must walk ahead of her, not looking back until they left the dark halls of death. Approaching the surface, the farthest reach of light, Orpheus feared his love’s silence behind him. He turned to look and saw her sink back into the depths, reaching out to him and bidding him farewell for the last time.
Silvia Spring speaks to managing editor Emily Everett about her debut short story “The Home Front,” which appears in The Common’s fall issue. In this conversation, Spring talks about the inspiration and process behind this story, which tangles with the difficulties of coming into adulthood, and the experience of living abroad without feeling part of the community. Spring drew from her own experience studying and living in London in the U.K., and her time as a journalist at Newsweek, embedded with troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The conversation also includes discussion of the revision process; writing without an MFA; and U.S. foreign policy, today and over the last few years.
KC Trommer speaks to managing editor Emily Everett about her poem “The Couple,” which appears in The Common’s fall issue. In this conversation, Trommer discusses writing about artwork she finds compelling and sometimes disturbing, like the Louise Bourgeois sculpture explored in this poem. She also discusses her Queens-centered poetry project QUEENSBOUND, her work as a visual artist, and her experience living a block and a half from Elmhurst Hospital in Jackson Heights, the epicenter of the early pandemic.
Jennifer Jean speaks to managing editor Emily Everett about her poem “California,” which appears in The Common online, in a special portfolio of writing from the Lusosphere (Portugal and its colonial and linguistic diaspora). Jean talks about writing this poem to be in conversation with Joni Mitchell’s song of the same title, and how music works its way into much of her poetry, in both rhythm and language. She also discusses writing her new poetry collection Object Lesson which centers on trauma, and co-translating poems by Iraqi women poets with an Arabic translator.
Deborah Lindsay Williams speaks to managing editor Emily Everett about her essay “‘You Like to Have Some Cup of Tea?’ and Other Questions About Complicity and Place,” which appears in Issue 20 of The Common magazine. In this conversation, Williams talks about living and writing in Abu Dhabi, traveling to South Africa with her family, and how narrow the western view of these places can be, often simplifying very complex issues of racial hierarchy, economics, culture, and history. She also discusses her novel-in-progress, The Corset and the Veil, based on the life of Lady Hester Stanhope, who fled England in 1809 in search of alternatives to her life as an impoverished aristocrat.
For years, I have tried to describe the light: the dry, dry gold; the purple peaks of our horizon; the long-armed valleys sliding off the peaks. Craters tinseled after frost, glaciers before the recent years of drought. Late-afternoon glow over brown dirt walls, valley floors blasting green with sugar, and the black volcanic rock of the single mountain without snow. Light like liquid gold against the brown, radiant gold drizzled across the ridges.
And then I try to name a lack of light, the mist that isn’t gray and isn’t white and isn’t rain. Light through fog, light instead of fog, fog instead of light. The sparkle of dew along a leaf, even when it seems there isn’t any light at all. Light, and not-light, that you can get lost in. Light that misleads you, leads you on. The flicker of a flashlight through tent walls.
I am not pleased. Paint is dripping down my hoof and the colors are muddled together. I shouldn’t complain. I agreed to it, of course.
Hafiz is putting together a zoo. And he asked me to be the zebra.
“You’re a very good donkey, habibi,” he told me three days ago, “but the border is closed, and everyone says prices for using the smuggling tunnels have gone up. I can’t afford the zebra in Damascus, and the one in Cairo is twice that price.” He gestured wildly, scattering my oats. What a waste.
I don’t know much about borders, but I would do anything for Hafiz. He is more than a father to me.