CURRENT ISSUE: Commencement 2017


A Death in the Neighborhood

When it started, Ms. Baker 
was talking about the aorta or the distance between stars and I was clicking my pen and looking at the empty seats. By this time the school day had settled into midmorning, but there were still four people missing. I was in sixth grade.


A third of the way through Science, Ms. Baker got a call on the class phone, and as she listened she turned her back towards us as if to shield us from the news.The class murmured versions of What’s Going On in a low rumble and in response she slammed the phone down and simply said “The train was late,” deftly executing a classic parental slight of hand.

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On This Night of Our Choosing

On this day of our choice

we have collected

at forests like

some insect


beetling their way

to the heart of

the copse. We have

coalesced for

the moment as

dewdrops do

bivouac in the

abdomen of leaves

pooling tensility

against atomizing

sun or its reflection

sprung from mica

pieces studding

the sharp loam.

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The Shape of an Idea

In 2013, Tom Berninger released the seminal documentary Mistaken For Strangers: a chronicle of his brother’s rock band, The National. It was a film about a band, or, about a band of brothers, or two brothers, fighting. The film is a personal narrative about two brothers, not a band, but a banding together. 

 Tom Berninger is jealous of his brother and band-member Matt Berninger because Matt is  a rockstar, famous and successful, while Tom lives at home with his mom. They embody the tension between the similar. Why is Tom not a copy of Matt?

Much of post-Y2K America can be gleaned from this work: the latest rise and fall of rock, the struggle of man in a harsh land, the tension between brothers, across states, as the one secret subject of a banking crisis that would be realized a mere nine years after the band’s formation. 

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When My Mother Comes Running

The geese still do this as they did it then. On the muddiest winter days, they walked from the town pond to our small front lawn and left black tracks atop the porch steps. It was an early afternoon in January. I was six and he was four, and the tapping of geese feet spilled like rain against the windows. Our mother was cleaning the bathroom sink. We were playing on the kitchen floor in our socks. Then he slipped and went flying through the glass backdoor, and all of it—the door, my little bowl-haired brother and his blue checkered pajamas—shattered in the cold. That scattering of geese, the squawking. We rushed to the hospital. My mother ran the red light at the school intersection and the nose of the police car that always poked out from the bushes just beyond the bend came swirling towards us. When he saw the sight of what was, the policeman, with wide hurting eyes, escorted us the rest of the way, this bushel of red blue lights pulsing in front like a thousand star-shaped bullets, and my bleeding brother, stunned and swaddled in a light green bathroom towel, strapped into the car seat next to me.

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A Conversation with Claire Messud

Claire Messud and I met outside, under the blue umbrellas of Pamplona Cafe. The day was cloudy but the author wore a thin grey sweater and a smile. She’d arrived a few minutes past the hour, which most students would probably call early, but Messud began by apologizing: she’d bumped into a former student in the lobby of the English department and had to say hello, probably with a hug, the same way she’d greeted me. We sat and ordered coffee. Next door, a baptism was happening at St. Paul’s. A fire truck screamed past, and I asked about last week’s reading at the Harvard bookstore. “I suppose one way it might be expressed,” Messud tapped her cup, “is that I’m writing a cliche of frustrated narrative expectations.” She was referring to the suggestion, or maybe it was a complaint, that The Burning Girl, her newest novel, lacked the kind of sexiness that defined the bestselling The Woman Upstairs or 2006’s The Emperor’s Children.

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When I first saw the oak outside the Brattle Apartments where Elizabeth Bishop once lived, I was twenty-two, and it was summer, and I cracked open my window to look out at its branches, heavy with leaves, and the air was thick and smelled sour, and I thought of that line in “Crusoe in England” where she writes “I’d shut my eyes and think about a tree, an oak, say, with real shade, somewhere,” and I thought of all her poems I had read and all the letters I had ever held in my hands and all the lines she had written about New England and Nova Scotia and Brazil, lines that I repeat to myself as I walk to class and home again. And those were what informed me that this home could never really be just mine, and that one day I would long for something and somewhere else, as Bishop always had. In one letter Bishop once wrote that she “always felt a sort of guest,” in the places she lived, and if it is late enough at night I wonder if I feel that same way.

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