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We feature new essays every Wednesday; make it a weekly habit to stop by and be enchanted by our eclectic content.

This week we feature an essay that recognizes important topics, when discussed by thoughtful, experienced, critical thinkers, are seldom as linear as we might wish.

Armed

by James McKean

The blast struck me instantly stupid, ears ringing. My cheeks stung from powder burns and microscopic bits of lead. Why did I need to peer down the bright rifling? Stupid. My friend Terry, who had wanted to show me his new pistol—worried as he was about prowlers—stuck his head out from the kitchen, a half-made sandwich in hand. “Didn’t I tell you it was loaded?”

I couldn’t talk, haunted by the image of a .22 slug traveling though my eye. At least I’d turned the barrel up before I touched the trigger.  I shook my head and pointed at his knotty pine ceiling. When I think back, the muzzle blast slaps my face again. Listen up, listen up, it says, you’re still capable of thought and by the way, what were you thinking?

Dumb luck convinced me to rethink my relationship to guns.  I’m still convinced it was a good idea to disarm my mother-in-law, for example, sequestering her .38 Smith and Wesson snub-nosed revolver and the far more dangerous .32 Browning automatic that her grandson thought she needed for self-protection. He gave it to her a few years after she had been widowed and was living alone. She was eighty-six. As instructed, she kept her guns under the vacant pillow next to her at night. I’m not sure her grandson, well-meaning perhaps and enthusiastic certainly, had thought this self-defense reasoning all the way through.

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MORE ESSAYS

Meander Is a Noun

by Erin Hemme Froslie

1.

On an otherwise pleasant late October afternoon, my phone buzzes from a local breaking news alert. The news: A couple taking a Sunday stroll finds a grim discovery—a body near the Red River, north of Main Avenue in Fargo, not far from my home.

This is newsworthy, of course; the dead in public always are. Still, I barely glance at the alert and return to grading papers written by my first-year students. I find the event neither alarming nor particularly attention-grabbing. I’ve lived near this river for nearly twenty-five years. In my former career as a journalist, I listened to police scanners and scrambled out of the newsroom when tidbits like this crossed the airwaves. Bodies in the Red River are an occasional fact of life.

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Two Truths and a Lie

by Sharman Ober-Reynolds

The arc of scientific discovery is long and bends slowly toward progress. Before “science,” the best physicians in England examined King George III’s poop and urine and blistered his back with heated cups. They tried strait jackets, arsenic-containing drugs, and soaking his feet in water and vinegar. Some of his doctors thought his illness resulted from wearing wet socks, eating peas, or “flying gout,” which flew to his brain from his painful feet. The King was psychotic, maybe from Porphyria; more likely, he had bipolar disorder and later dementia, and the battle for his mind was crude, frightening, and finally ridiculous.

We look back to the previous generations and wonder how they survived bleeding, animal dung ointments, or cannibal cures. Of course, many didn’t. And our children and grandchildren will look back at us, shaking their heads at the horror of our ways. Things do change, but the increments are sometimes too small for us to notice. The strength of the scientific process is that people who have different ideas do experiments, transcend prior beliefs, and build a foundation of facts. And voila, we’ve progressed from poop examination to brain surgery. And, if science is allowed to follow this proven path, imagine what physicians practicing 250 years in the future will think about brain surgery.

The problem is there are lots of people who no longer believe in science.

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Wichita 2:28 a.m.

by Mark Lewandowski

While Pamala and I waited for the host, we scanned the restaurant for empty places. Even at this late hour Denny’s was packed, mostly by youngish white couples like us wanting an early breakfast after the bars had closed. But just on the other side of the host station four tables had been pushed together to accommodate a large Black family. There were school-aged kids, and likely parents and grandparents. I assumed the booths behind them seated overflow members of the group, since one of the young girls occasionally looked back and laughed with a boy there. A cousin, perhaps? All were dressed to the nines: the men and boys in suits and ties, the women in full length dresses with the padded shoulders—a popular style in 1988—and the daughters and granddaughters with puffed sleeves on their bright yellow and red and blue dresses, hair pulled back with matching ribbons, legs and feet clad in white socks and blacked, buckled shoes polished to a glimmer. Were they returning from wedding?

Looking at them I felt like a slob: face pasty white from not only two months of reading and writing as a first-year graduate student, but before that three months sliming fish in Alaska. I wore cheap draw string pants from J.C. Penny’s and a thread bare Grateful Dead t-shirt with soggy pits.

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A Good Cup of Chai

by Hailey Duggirala

Making a really good cup of chai takes practice.

Ash perches on the countertop of our house-share kitchen, watching me work. It is one of those rare, quiet moments of life in a college town, when all of our roommates are out and we can play house; pretend that we are five years into some invisible, idealized future, in which my poetry and their novels can pay the bills on our own place. I toast cardamom pods, star anise, and cinnamon on the stove and imagine my father moving around the kitchen.

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Time

by David Riessen

Before our beautiful son Sam was born, there was no Sam. That makes sense. Or does it? And after Sam died, we go back to no Sam? Do we? No, definitely not. Time is all messed up, and before and after might not exist beyond our own convoluted, subjective perceptions.

When Sam was about three, he had a science fiction view of how the world works. If something bad happened, he would cry out for us to bend the immutable laws of physics.

“Make it today again! Please, Mommy, make it today again!”

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At the River

by Sydney Lea

This strange tale unfolds by moving water in Wyoming. It’s a fisherman’s story, involving an enviable spot to cast a fly, so out of an inveterate angler’s secrecy, I won’t specify the exact location, though I’ll never go back there now.

All you need is a picture in any case. Early September. I could see slate canyons, hawks and eagles soaring all day, more than my liveliest imagination could have conjured, through air so clear that it winked with frost at sunrise. That world, of course, contained more, much more. And yes, the river running by my camp teemed with trout.

Never had I believed so completely in the sufficiency of quotidian things, a sense bound up with what I’ll remember in this account. Let me state something right off that will become more and more obvious. Sometimes I’m a person too bent on finding connections among things I observe, even, or perhaps especially, when most of the observations are inner and visionary, if you’ll forgive that grandiose word. Is this the sort of thing you also do? I mean, do you make up some narrative that threads things together by way of what we glibly call mere imagination? Is your narrative for that reason flatly untrue? I won’t tip my hand on such a matter. Not yet.

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Care Less

by Sarah DeParis

The panic rose in my chest. My heart pounded. I felt sweaty, dizzy, and utterly out of control. A palpable cloud of despair made the air feel thick and oppressive. I couldn’t breathe. I was vaguely aware of the chilly northern California February air, the fog that hung low, the faint smell of leather and almost-new-car. I was above myself looking down: a shiny blue sedan parked outside a hospital, a small woman sitting in the driver’s seat, white-knuckled hands clasped on the steering wheel like a life raft, forehead pressed against her hands as if bowed in prayer, shoulders heaving. The words rose as a deafening roar in my head: I can’t do this anymore. I tried desperately to battle the words down, to stuff them back into whatever hole they came from like a towel shoved into a drain. It was a Friday morning, 7 a.m., and I had five surgeries to perform that day.

But the more I pushed the words down, the louder the roar became. Then, the roar became images: terrifying flashes of a gruesome car accident, a bottle of pills, a gun. They were intrusive and foreign and shocking but accompanied by a sense of relief, enticing and sweet.

Desperate to continue to take care of my patients, to not disappoint them, or my boss, or my staff, I steadied myself, shuddered, and began to breathe. I opened the car door and swung my legs out jerkily, like a marionette. I willed myself to stand, willed myself to take one step, then another. I walked from the parking lot to the hospital entrance, vaguely aware of the other human shapes in scrubs filing in the same direction towards the door. A smile pasted itself to my face, my shoulders straightened, a switch flipped: I was a surgeon again.

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Max Krasner

Max Krasner

65 Boston Street (home)

540 Market Street (business)

Newark, New Jersey

“Newark’s Milk Station #1 Owner”

“If these stations are the means of saving but a single life during the entire summer, all the labor, time and money they have cost will be repaid a thousand fold.”—Newark Evening Star, August 16, 1915

Objective: To find a wife even Mama approves of.

EDUCATION

Kheder, Borisov, Russia

Apprentice joiner, Borisov, Russia (good at math, I can calculate in my head)

Night school to become a US citizen, Central School, Newark, NJ

Acquired first papers, Newark, NJ

IMMIGRATION

1899     SS Rotterdam from Rotterdam, Holland

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