All posts tagged: Dispatches



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.


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

Anticipating, Zebra Finches



Birds on tree branch


Avon Valley, Western Australia

Just below, a roo doe digs into the softest
soil it can find — avoiding rocks — to make
a hollow for itself and the joey heavy in its pouch;
it lifts, digs, turns drops lifts digs turns drops.

Anticipating, Zebra Finches

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

E.A. Robinson Leaves by Rail


old photo of train stationGardiner, Maine

Raw granite and brick, hip roof like a helmet. At its height, it hummed: seventeen trains daily, lumbering in along the river. I imagine E.A. here with his ticket and his trunk. With his back to the brick, listening for a whistle.

Now the depot is a cannabis dispensary. They keep records in the ticket booth, make brownies in the basement. Preservationists call this adaptive reuse.

E.A. Robinson Leaves by Rail

July on South St. (AEAE)


Two trees during sunset 
Northampton, MA

I open the doors and windows and shut off the lights.
For a while I play tunes on the fiddle
shirtless in my dark house. I love doing this.
For the first time all day I am not at home.
For the first time since the last time
my body is the same size as my flesh.
The only home I have is finally mine
and there is a breeze.

July on South St. (AEAE)

On Halloween


Translated by the author and JESSICA ZYCHOWICZ

Hudson, NY

I feel greedy, I have a frog in my throat because of this
expensive beer. I start to ask around, like a detective,
and immediately get some info
from the writer sitting at our table nearby,
whom I got to know just now. 
The house of Ashbery has likely mahogany doors facing
the square, probably where city hall is.  
I don’t even think about visiting without letting 
someone know first. I stop and read a few poems in a bookshop.
You won’t repeat the jokes, I say,
you’ll go around to all the apartments on Halloween 
with pumpkins, like I used to do
in my childhood, but then the main thing was trick or treat, 
not to force someone for an interview or a photograph.

On Halloween



Oplatek with Mary and Jesus_Verticle.jpg

Denver, Colorado

At the second hospital in as many days, my father starts seeing crows. He points at the nurses’ station with his chin, speaks in perfect Polish, the kind I haven’t heard him speak in decades. His brain lights up momentarily with the speed and language of the young man he was when he first came to America, before Multiple Sclerosis and age started robbing his body. My father tells me to look, look, look. Tells me the roof is so thin, that the small one is looking for its nest. I can tell by his eyes he really sees it. He’s hallucinating, I say. I’m startled, then startled a second time when the nurse and doctor don’t think much of it. They tell me it’s ICU psychosis, the lack of sleep and all the beeping.