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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Inside the Houses of Other

He is Blot

it is a name

and down the street

he walks with

his name to a

house of timber

frame with a door

of mirrored glass

that he raps.

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Forgone Conclusions

A real failure of a lot of political thinking is its failure to account the significance of the “teleological suspension of the ethical.” This phrase, svelte in its ramshackle way, comes to us from the great Danish theologian Kierkegaard, from whom we have it also that “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” Kierkegaard develops the concept of teleological suspension in 1843’s Fear and Trembling, in which he considers the Biblical (Genetic) Binding of Isaac. Abraham, the father of Isaac, prepares to sacrifice his son at God’s (ultimately insincere) behest, although this murder evidently would be against all morality. Kierkegaard permits Abraham’s faith in God, delity to His injunction, to overwhelm the categorical compulsion of standard morality: for this highest end-goal, telos, ethics he may suspend. 

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Out of Myself And To You

I was slain by the spirit when I was only ten years old. This is not a story. This is not hyperbole. This is only the fact of a hand I can see and resee whenever I need to—a nun’s hand, looming softly, rippling towards my face as if on the quietest gust of candlelight. This is the last thing I remember before passing out. 

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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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