All posts tagged: March 2023

On Drowning



“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.”
-Norman MacLean



On a Pacific Northwest wild-fire summer evening, Emmett and I drive the babysitter while the edges of the world burn. She’s chatty and optimistic about fall classes, but I’m distracted by the sun, which is Crayola-Orange, perfect circle, unnatural and eerie. The sky is a muted monotony of ash, like gray-brown construction paper. She prattles away, while I think about being trapped in a naughty child’s apocalyptic crayon drawing.

On Drowning

Jamali Kamali Airborne in History


Image of plaster ceiling with red and blue sunbursts and floral forms

This story about how history and imagination infect one another unwittingly began a week after I arrived in Delhi for a month-long writing residency. The Sanskriti residents were told that we would have a chance to visit the newly restored Jamali Kamali Mosque and Tomb. It was about to open to the public. O.P. Jain, the founder of Sanskriti, was a major supporter of the restoration, thus this outing.

Our bus arrived at an overgrown park entrance where we traipsed alongside a river full of plastic garbage, climbed through hills of brush, stumbled over unrestored ruins, and finally arrived on top of a hill, a plateau, where the Jamali Kamali Mosque and Tomb stood. At its entrance, a brand-new sign informed visitors that the tomb held the remains of Jamali, a sixteenth-century Sufi court poet and saint, and a person named Kamali whose identity was unknown. The conservator of the restoration would guide us at the site. 

When we entered the small space of the tomb, I was stunned by its beauty. Two white marble graves sat side by side on the floor. The red and blue circular ceiling was decorated with sunbursts and floral forms carved in plaster. A band of Jamali’s verses encircled the ceiling. The conservator spoke, “Some have thought Kamali was Jamali’s wife or perhaps his brother. Others have thought that Kamali was a disciple of Jamali, the saint. The undisputable fact is that both were men. A symbolic pen box, traditionally a sign of a male, is carved on each of their tombs. It is believed, through our oral tradition in Delhi, that Kamali was Jamali’s homosexual lover.” 

“But,” I said, “the new sign out there that you just put up says his identity was unknown.” 

The conservator explained that in India a public sign would never mention homosexuality.

Jamali Kamali Airborne in History

Addis Ababa Beté


a photo of a city with a field of flowers and grass

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Steel kicks in this belly.

Girls with threadbare braids
weave between motor beasts and cement bags.

Tin roofs give way to glass columns.
Stretching as if to pet the clouds.

Addis Ababa Beté

Friday Reads: March 2023


Welcome to the March round of Friday Reads! As we wait for the weather to warm up (and for our twenty-fifth issue to come out), The Common’s Literary Publishing Interns bring you book recommendations that explore love, identity, hope, and flaws.


Coco Mellors's Cleopatra and Frankenstein: painting of a woman with a black eye.

Coco Mellors’s Cleopatra and Frankenstein, recommended by Sophie Durbin (intern) 

Twenty-something Cleo and forty-something Frank marry on a whim. Cleo’s friends insist Frank only married her so she could get her green card; Cleo insists it was love. The rest of Coco Mellors’s debut novel deals with this same question: what does it mean to love?

Cleo and Frank first meet on New Year’s Eve. Although they don’t know each other, they’ve left the same party and decided to wander through the streets of New York together. Their instant chemistry and snappy, back-and-forth banter seem like the beginning of a rom-com, and I was instantly hooked. But it soon becomes clear that this is no fairytale romance and that love is a difficult thing to find in Cleo and Frank’s world. 

Cleopatra and Frankenstein rotates around a cast of New York creatives who are fascinating and complex but far from likable. Mellors builds a rich and immersive world in which appearances are everything and weakness must be hidden. Coco, Frank, and the people in their orbit avoid sincerity and vulnerability at all costs. If they are disheveled, they are purposefully disheveled. Yet in spite of my struggles to access Mellors’s characters, I couldn’t turn away from their lives. 

While many have compared Cleopatra and Frankenstein to the writing of Sally Rooney, the novel reminded me most of the New York Times Modern Love podcast. Mellors builds a rich and immersive world of New Yorkers searching for love by dipping into the minds of multiple characters apart from the titular couple. 

Although I impulsively read Cleopatra and Frankenstein in one sitting, I’ve often found myself thinking back to its flawed characters. They may seem to exist in a rarefied world of after-parties and privilege, but at the end of the day they want what we all want: to be known and to be loved. 


Jenny Zhang's Sour Heart: a bunch of grapes.

Jenny Zhang’s Sour Heart, recommended by Sarah Wu (intern) 

Darkly compelling and deeply thoughtful, Jenny Zhang’s debut novel, Sour Heart, follows the lives of six different Chinese American girls across mismatching lifespans. In her unique, tumbling writing style, Zhang sweeps the readers through grotesquely realistic scenes and achingly tender moments. She leads us through a set of questions: what does it look like to hope for something so far in the future that it is almost obsolete? What does it feel to look back at an important memory and realize that you have forgotten what it was? What does it mean to be an acne-ridden, insecure teenager, a protective, yet cruel sister, a fearfully loving daughter?

It is you, the reader, who is placed in the shoes of all of these characters. Before college, your baby brother wraps his arms around you and refuses to let go; only a few years later, you realize he no longer knows how to hug you. Before high school, you have learned to live under your parents’ protection; after, they are no longer the center of your world. Before school, you slept on an itchy mattress inside of a  two-person apartment that housed ten people; now you live in Long Island in your nice, suburban house, in your nice, suburban town. Zhang artfully depicts these moments in her lovely, rambling prose as she carefully breaks down linear notions of time and inflexibility. Her settings are fluid; they shift alongside her characters’ ever-changing thoughts and experiences. In these stories, Zhang manages to paint moving brushstrokes of violence and love in a narrative that is so complicatedly, tenderly full that her characters seem almost real.

Zhang’s book reminds me of adolescence, the emotions from a child who is both in the process of simultaneously growing and regressing. Desire to know an immigrant parent’s story. Envy in middle-school, childhood politics. Fear of close friends and even closer family. The paradox of knowing a parent so deeply, so routinely, that when you return back home, their sudden, strange closeness seems all but familiar. The paradox of loving someone so much that you think you could hate them. The teenage heart ferments; it sours. Yet, the protagonists are strangely self-aware, self-criticizing. Sour Heart comes in the body of a teenager with the voice of someone much older, more bitter. The narrator’s voice bites. Similarly, the act of reading Zhang’s book can be likened to taking a bite from one’s own heart. I dig my teeth into my heart’s tense flesh, and the spurt of sour juice hits my tongue; I wince. The melody of sweet, sour stickiness sings/burns against my inner cheek, and I can only swallow.

Friday Reads: March 2023

Two Poems from The Spring of Plagues


Translated from the Portuguese by HEATH WING


Translator’s Note:

Translating the poetry of Ana Carolina Assis can best be described as an ebb-and-flow process. By this I mean that her poetry seems to possess its own current, with waters that rise and recede from one line to the next. Tapping into this current is precisely what proved key to translating Ana’s poetry. Like many contemporary Brazilian poets, Ana largely favors the omission of punctuation, often creating ambiguity in how a line or stanza should flow. She also does not capitalize proper nouns. In English, I maintain the lack of capitalization, including

Two Poems from The Spring of Plagues