Our summer issue’s cover features a photograph by Jon Henry from a series of images of Black mothers and sons that evoke the pietà. Also inside: A conversation with Kenyan writer Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor on auditing colonialism’s books, coffee as sacrificial offering, the sea as sacrament, and finding her way back to church. Robert Rubsam on Jenny Erpenbeck as a corrective to autofiction’s claim that the only life you can write is your own. Choreographer Preeti Vasudevan: “An artist’s role is to awaken all senses so that we are truly alive.” Architect Ran Oron on designing a synagogue for his kids’ school and longing as a creative tool. James K.A. Smith on James Merrill, Annie Dillard, Frederick Buechner, and the secret language of literary coincidence. Robert Cording processes the death of his grown son through the language of poetry. Jennifer Anne Moses on the indignities of bereavement travel—and on the different ways we age and die. Jennifer Frey on new novels by Christopher Beha and Phil Klay. Fiction by Chika Onyenezi, Julie Hensley, and CJ Green, and a huge haul of poetry, including work by Lisa Ampleman, Paul Mariani, Derrick Austin, D.A. Powell, and more.
When the dots connect, you feel a pulse of intentionality in a universe that seems to be putting on this show just for you. I wonder if those of us who dwell in books are especially susceptible to such delights.
A man once told me that chaos must have a voice. A man once told me that language could heal everything. The chambers of my mind are full of wormholes. When it is smashed open, dark things crawl out of it.
the body learns to move / like a painter / seeing the unseen.
I wasn’t afraid until / I peeked into the hall, saw a black-clad SWAT team / scooting along the wall, rifles held vertical, a strict formality / that made the whole world seem shabby.
the gates are not pearly / but white and scaly / like fish.
My feelings toward Izzy changed by the hour. She was the most dominant person I’d ever known, shorter than me but somehow looking down on me constantly. On her left wrist was a tattoo of a cross. I asked if she was religious. She said no.
May the curious prayer of work keep me / in contact with the stone / / and who knows what else.
To think—I thought it cute, / the doctrine that the oak trees sculpt / the air and water
Hunger is what drives, / unloveliest of urges, most / appealing to the gaping grave.
Jon Henry photographs Black mothers and sons across America.
You are not here. / Just this precious, flawed body, briefly home / to your soul.
A poem for lost love. “If I wash myself / where will you go?”
At three, I saw the shade of living light. / At eight, I was enclosed as an oblate. / The universe is an egg, I said, / and the nuns promoted me.
On my prow, the dove; / from my brow, every animal paired.
But it unfolded itself, and, like a long-held secret, its wings swelled wide enough to span her palm. Then she saw the color it had been keeping close: hind wings emblazoned with what shone like blue eyes, rimmed with gold and mounted on a concentric field of black.
The snake contorts and / stiffens grapples for a foothold Its body / becomes letters scrawled in shingled light
Like you, I’m on a journey, though where I’m going / changes with each moment.
My first sense of the sea was that briny scent, the waves teal and tinged with white froth, and they hurled themselves into this pristine white sand. As far as a child can have a transcendent experience, this was it.
Everyone in the family insists / the bones are ours. Nurses fuss and refuse at first, / / until we threaten a lawyer.
For if there were a heavenly recorder, then Frank could be assured that someone would make sense of his life, that it would not be lost to memory but would always be an object of significance.
to us / the house / and its broken silhouette returned / partly possessed:
They are guilt advancing in disguise; / they are the very finest jewels of guilt.
But, if you didn’t notice, there is the cross: / the cross that includes everything as it / excludes nothing
An artist’s role is to awaken all senses so that we are truly alive and active… Physical connection, especially in the performing arts, is essential for creation.
I want to know the names / of those who make reservoirs / of their own bodies.
My mother used to tell me to talk without using my hands…. People will think you’re something you’re not, she said.
I came to see the ark in this space as a kind of well at the heart of an imaginary landscape, the symbolic source of life. This metaphoric landscape is a constant reminder of the longing for the physical Holy Land.
every morning / the choice. How much. / Whether or not to. / And always the same / decision made
Brother Baptiste once asked, How do I fit into my body? Brother Javier survived the plague.
a dream that repeated: to find the good / you must uproot the pain
The absence of growth / a prayer I hold onto and it seems strange / to want something inside to die this much
Memories—so many people say, “You’ll always have your memories.” But even though my son died almost three years ago, memories of him are almost entirely painful. They are not Wordsworthian “recollections in tranquility,” but sharp stabbing pains that arise out of nowhere.
Matter is patient.
The glory of the desert is to bless what diminishes
When God calls you / in what voice do you respond?
Night hadn’t brought forth its cache of new stars. / Nor mimosa trees folded their leaves. / She laughed, a bold and sudden laugh
I was so undone—not by Lola’s death but by the prospect of flying halfway around the world again only to turn around to fly halfway around the world again again—that I had to Skype my therapist in New Jersey for guidance. Meantime, Sam was jabbering away in idiomatically perfect Hebrew on his cell phone and telling me to chill out. “Mom, it’s not like we’re being put on the next transport to Poland.”
Sometimes in the sound and the light / it grows so still / it’s possible to forget / you are moving through the air.
An elegy for the Flintstones. “It’s a trog-eat-trog world out there.”
It is a horrible, wrenching, annihilating sentence. Erpenbeck, in all her unsentimental moral rigor, refuses to look away from the moment of absolute horror.
A poem for the thin places. “I looked, but I saw / no craftsman, no tools. The buzz buzzed on.”
Duck-faced, the serio-comical sermon / Goes the way of confidence art on / A Holy Week spree of Menippean arson. / Heat without light.