In the living room of my parents’ home in Tripoli, Lebanon, an elaborate family tree is displayed in a golden frame. It is a constant reminder of a fatalistic vision of life’s ultimate purpose: reproduction. Males are depicted as branches; females as leaves. The thriving of the tree relies on branches like mine. A single man who bears no new branches or leaves could condemn an entire lineage to an end.
CLARICE All his victims are women… His obsession is women, he lives to hunt women. But not one woman is hunting him—except me. I can walk into a woman’s room and know three times as much about her as a man would.
A starling catches me in a dress
and pierces my chest two times,
deeply, and I cannot blame her.
The motorized chair arrived, and Berger left it unwrapped in the middle of the living room. He circled it—keeping to the walls and the furniture to recover his balance—as if the chair was prey. He almost needed it, but he had the walker for the moments he grew tired. He imagined these new fixtures—the oxygen tank, the shower stall, the protein shakes—as gifts. Every day something new arrived on a delivery truck. He wanted the boxes to come wrapped in paper and ribbon, but then again, the boxes didn’t represent a future, and so he no longer turned his head at the sound of the doorbell.
In his thirty years of work in publishing, my grandfather never once revealed to his colleagues he was gay. Doing so could have cost him his job as a children’s book editor at a prestigious house, or at the very least, his reputation as an honest, hard-working family man. It took me only ten minutes, in a phone interview with the same publishing house, to accidentally out him.
The streets are named for German poets in my huge provincial Midwestern city. Dust whirls up from the tires of passing cars, lifting a veil over me, like Romantic longing. On Goethe, I want nothing more than to reach down and feel a lover’s big skull in my hands. On Schiller, lust subsides, among the wrought iron doors and grand steps, lined with hundreds of dollars of candles. Inside, patricians mingle in the high-minded friendships I desire for myself. About this, as so much else, the flowers in the window-boxes on Schiller are philosophical. Their arguments are convoluted, but concern the beauty of simplicity, freedom from need, and, even more often, the depredations of time. One fat peony speaks as if she were the Sybil: “Live with your century but do not be its creature.”
The last eel of the Rio Grande grows up lonely, brown and serpentine, a river with gills and a pulse swimming inside itself, spooning the river’s oxbows eager for siblings. What the eel doesn’t know could fill a book: that hydroelectric dams keep its kind from traveling upstream to spawn; that eels live elsewhere churning by the hundreds in slicktight knots; the taste of its own firm flesh smothered in soy sauce. The last eel stays ignorant, growing fat on cigarette butts and dreams of parents, growing heavy and slow feeding on the heavy metal hodgepodge downstream of the power plants, a bully coiled up in dark water only coming out to scare smaller fish into submission. And then one day it happens: the flossy flick of a line, the hook and tug before the drag. The eel fights, but its broad, tubed muscles are lazy from afternoon sleeps. It hasn’t run swiftly through a spring flood in years. Hands pull it easily from the water, helped along by the river saying ‘take it, I don’t want this anymore.’