All posts tagged: Dispatch



street art of an owl

Austin, Texas

I once dated a bull rider, which is very interesting, I still find. He was at the time no longer a bull rider, he had rather been one in his youth, but this lingered, as you might expect. This was in a part of the country where bull riders are not so rare as they are in the northeast, though still rare enough for people to lean forward when they hear. The only time he visited with my family we played a board game where everyone shouts out words, and would you believe a card came up “Things You Can Ride.” Even this cosmic wink could not keep together two with only the two-step in common. But the two-step itself married me to rambling dancehalls for joyful months after, a sweating Dos Equis in one hand and the other free for the taking.

During most mornings of my first solo vacation in Austin, I began walking two miles for the breakfast chilaquiles at a Mexican place covered in murals. I was there, nursing my third iced tea, when I received a call back from Marcus at the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Several days earlier, I had taken a photo of a handmade sign on a chainlink fence, advertising Roadrunners For Sale. I’d texted it to my sister and she’d confirmed that it is not legal to sell or trade this particular migratory bird. That they are in fact migratory was news to me, having seen them myself only in cartoons, but I’d quickly risen to their defense with the righteous zeal of an outsider. I was now given the update that the yard had been visited and no roadrunners glimpsed. The homeowner claimed his sign referred to two dilapidated yard ornaments he hoped to sell – the kind where a rough cutout of a bird is pierced near the bottom with a pin, to which attach two wooden legs that spin in the wind. That this was an outrageous falsehood, Marcus and I agreed. We thanked each other, I discovered I’d been charged for a margarita though it was 9:15am and I did not drink one, and when I passed again there was no longer a sign. Down the same sidewalk I later followed a pure white peacock some distance to a taco stand, where he turned off on business of his own.

Trees in Austin, TX

“Sarah, meet Piper. Piper was our coxswain for the Gay Games, back in ’98.” I’m then offered the use of her driveway teardrop camper and, when I pre-apologize for the noise I will surely make entering the house for a night pee, she suggests I use the lawn. She keeps an old jar on the counter for contributions equal to whatever weed you consume and you is anyone who might arrive for food, or music. A purple scar runs from one hipbone to the other, where her belly flesh was taken to replace what cancer took from her breasts; perfect and fierce, she does not flinch. As I make my way back to her teardrop, he llegado temprano becomes the first Spanish I’ve spoken outside the classroom. I have arrived early. It’s an easier construction for me than the simple past tense (I arrived early) but carries a whiff of pretension, the self-announcement, like I’m one of those costumed long-trumpet announcers at a renaissance court. I’m that trumpeter and also me, at the same time, but sweaty and now interrupting this anxious woman who cleans the next door rental. Across the street is a food truck with a huge agave painted amateurishly on its side and in the center is a drainage valve, from which drips discolored liquid. It reminds me of an afterword I read, in which the author wrote of the many school boards who had banned her work. Her life, really, since the story was her own. Things made visible that we wish weren’t.

I also began, during this trip, to record the title of each book I finish. It’s a practice I’ve maintained, for no obvious posterity, in the two years since. On a more recent visit to North Carolina I discover that the elder Vanderbilt did the same throughout his life. Over the decades spanning the turn of the century, he was averaging 81 books per year. I am not, but my list is anyway rewarding, and I’ve begun placing a small asterisk next to notable reads (for whom, still unclear). The titles weave a long poem, one after the other: Greater Hope, Disappearing Earth, Desert Solitaire, North Water, Shell Collector, Coffee Elsewhere, Splendid Isolation. Wolves, Faithful, Ordinary. Tyranny, Tar.

Histories travel along beside, as we follow, and as we lead. Words rise up to the music and sure, I’ll raise an early morning glass to rhythm and stillness, all that lies ahead.


Sarah Dunphy-Lelii teaches psychology at Bard College in Annandale, NY, with research interests in autism, primate cognition, and the way preschool aged children think. She recently spent a half year in Kibale National Park, Uganda, tracking wild chimpanzees. Her academic writing has appeared in journals including the Journal of Cognition and Development, Folia Primatologica, and Scientific American; her creative work appears or will appear in Plume and Pinyon Review.

Photos by author.


A Salamander


Image of a photo of two people in a park.

Southwest Ohio

Cute, I said bending over, a salam
I swallowed the second half of the word

as my face drew nearer to the shiny body
and I saw the white oozing from its mouth, but

it was too late.

My daughter was already rushing over,
What is that little guy?

I stood, tried pivoting,
a bit dizzy from the way the thing

lay there still

moving one of its tiny arms, I looked at Kayla
and said in Hebrew, which we both speak thanks to

A Salamander

Shinjuku Golden Gai and the Midnight Diner


Shinjuku, Japan

Shinjuku Golden Gai came to my attention during the pandemic months in Tokyo. On those quiet stay-at-home evenings, I watched the Japanese TV series “Midnight Diner” on Netflix, and the Diner’s location was set in Golden Gai, a tiny nightlife quarter that was once an illegal prostitution district in Shinjuku, a town in Tokyo, after World War II. Each self-contained half-hour episode of the show revolved around a customer who always ordered the same food at the hole-in-the-wall Diner run by “Master,” a mysterious middle-aged man with a scarred face. The Diner’s regulars, crammed at the U-shaped counter, ranged from corporate employees and detectives to strippers and gangsters. At the end of the day, these customers walked through the alleyways where electric signs of bars and restaurants jutted into the air, opened the Diner’s sliding door and said, “Master, my usual, please.” The show brought these characters a little closer to me through the foods they ordered. Octopus-shaped red weenies, bite-sized fried chicken, ground meat cutlets served with macaroni salad and finely-sliced cabbage—conventional home-style dishes I ate while growing up.

Shinjuku Golden Gai and the Midnight Diner

64-West & KY State Fair


Kentucky, United States

After Calvino

When you ride a long time in the private
night of your pickup cab
                                 you enter eventually 
into a desire you cannot name    a greater dark
that wants only what 

64-West & KY State Fair

The Battle of the Camel


Camels on the moon art painting

Camels on the Moon, 2021, Mixed media and collage on cardboard. Artwork by Sara Elkamel.


Cairo, Egypt

When you’re not looking
I try on your big brown shoes,

pick a spot to run to, practice ducking
from winged pellets on the street—

The Battle of the Camel

How Living Looks


Image of Taipei, Taiwan.

Taipei, Taiwan, December 2020

The three of us—Frances, Jay, and I—live in this rain-slick city, concrete buildings stained with runoff. At night, the streets stretch like black pools, glossy with reflected traffic lights. We stumble around half-closed night markets with our snapped umbrellas and damp socks. Our pockets weighted with bruised change, we eat charred oyster mushrooms crusted with cumin and rose salt, waiting out the rain under fluorescent storefront awnings.

How Living Looks



Image of a river and houses on a hill.

Yunnan Province, China

Paper is thin. In the beginning, still billows in the wind, still petal-like, still grounded in this world 

of living. The incense is the only material that translates the viscera to mist. Early, the fog has not yet 

lifted, and we move through the white drip as if through total darkness. Fish lost in the deep under-

water. It is easy for water to find home in our bodies. How wonderful it is to think my father’s

dead father a translation of our living selves, the water in-between my cells, the same water of

ghosts. Of women and Buddha, of lotus flower and palace, of lion. See the shine of fire, even

now. See the smoke, encapsulated by the fog. My father tells stories of the state’s inexorable beckoning,

the brothers, and the sisters, too, sent to the countryside. What they remember most is the truck

and the dust, the broad shoulders of horse, that first night and its stars, the mass exodus of dragonflies

following the monsoons—but no, exodus is uniquely a human endeavor. My father cannot bring 

himself to anger; he knows it is shame that is the ugliest language. Somewhere, I have lost my place 

in the life-wheel, and the only words I know in Chinese are our names. Jiayu is rain. Jialei is rosebud. 

Only years later do I learn that Jiayu means jade. Only years later do I long for pure, unadulterated 

fortune over the ritual of early rain. Somehow, turn face to sky. Here. In memory, to burn is to revere.


Ephemeral Address



Tonapah Desert, Arizona

At night from this distance, the twin rivers of car lights, red and white, barely seem to move along the I-10, even though I know from experience they’re traveling upwards of 80 mph. Most people see this stretch of empty desert between Phoenix and the California border as nothing worth slowing down to consider—the different personalities of the Saguaro, some with broken limbs or holes made by woodpeckers, or the colored bands of rock created by volcanic uplift or erosion from some previous era when there was measurable rainfall here — it all looks the same from blurred car windows. 

Ephemeral Address