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issue 117 cover

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Issue 117

Issue 117’s cover features work by British artist Jake Lever, who installs his gilded “soul boats” in ancient churches. Also inside: Jamie Smith talks with Harper’s editor Christopher Beha about the novel as an act of resistance to reductionist materialism. A profile of environmentalist composer Robert Kyr, who draws inspiration from his annual retreats at a Benedictine monastery in New Mexico. An excerpt from Christian Wiman’s forthcoming book of essays, in which he considers belief in light of quantum physics. Jennifer Anne Moses on her childhood as an observer of ur-Wasps—and what happens when old money dwindles. Joanne Allen on why contemporary artists can’t quit borrowing from the Renaissance. A personal/critical essay by Casie Dodd on grieving through film and television. Katie Moulton’s portrait in fragments on her resilient midwestern grandmother. Mixed-media artist Stephanie Rayner’s Boat of Eternal Return, composed of cello parts, animal bones, and DNA sequencing gels, which some viewers have said let them “move to the spirit word without the normal requirement of death.” Plus poems by David Baker, Kathleen Kirk, and more.

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On the cover: Jake Lever. Do the Little Things, 2020–21. Wire, tissue paper, and gold leaf with cardboard box. Edition of 350.

Everything Is Material: Yxta Maya Murray and the Cost of Making Art

I did not expect a novel about a bisexual Latinx conceptual artist in Los Angeles to hinge on the question of whether art-making is compatible with motherhood. Then I read Yxta Maya Murray’s dazzling Art Is Everything.

From The Celestial Sea

When I sit here alone, notebook lying open on my writing desk, I find I become someone other than the person I am when walking about or sitting in company or even sleeping.

The Blind Poet Explains How to Draw the Sea

The shore is brailled by detritus

Rule Out

So much wine—wine with food and wine without, wine while they watched the kids play in the yard and when it was just the women together on a Monday night.


Lauren was waiting for the holy word of God. It was spring. Whatever.

Li’l Lake

When the peonies bloom, come over.

Soul on Deck

The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire.

Audacious Borrowing: Contemporary Art Revisits the Renaissance

What is it about the familiar visual vocabulary of Renaissance—the haloes, the gold leaf, the careful arrangements of figures, that makes it so ripe for borrowing?

In the Studio

Once you explore the revelations of science—from the multiverse to black holes, dark matter, and quantum physics—there is a realization that in our era humankind is experiencing the birth of a profound new consciousness. All births are painful and contain elements of danger and risk, but births are the necessary threshold for evolving potential.

Canyon of Voices: Robert Kyr’s Songs for a Stricken Planet

When I listen to the oratorio, I see the canyon in my mind. I hear the soundscape from which Robert created such a moving plea for ecological awareness and urgent action. That, I suppose, is as it should be, since the Chama has, in his own words, “flowed into nearly every piece I’ve written since 1993.

Not Enough Trees

The world is too scary and the children don’t care. / They don’t care because of the bombs and the fear of bombs

Incident and Significance: A Conversation with Christopher Beha

My relationship to the novel form is among the most important relationships in my life.

After Long Illness

There is no more / story to tell— / except I had / not died.

The Other Sorrow

sorrow is unsafe when it is real sorrow.

My Christ

The world that we still live very much in the midst of, the illusory rocks that slice us open and the faces made of infinitesimal and untouchable grains that we touch and love with everything we are—this is Jesus on the earth.

One of Them

-—They brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, placed her in their -—midst, and said to him, “Teacher, in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone -—such women. What do you say?” … -—Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.   What he made of dust became me. I…

According to Peter

What was it he carried when he left / if not the dreams of those he’d touched?

Postdiluvian by Bosch

Light on the mother’s face, she appears to sleep.

Dussen Castle

Yesterday I spoke to a man from Dussen who’d had a very hard life. / For much of his story, he was a secondary character.

Talk to Me

Olivia was about as high-Wasp as anyone I’d ever met, with her undergraduate degree from Smith and, before that, her four years at an all-girl’s boarding school in Pennsylvania, where she claimed she’d learned a song called “We Are Anglicans.” She loved to regale us with it when she came over for Shabbat.


I’ll take nails, / long nails, / and drive them into my body.


Have you seen God yet / how he’s rushing to arrive on time by two thirty / responsibility responsibility

I’m Damned

I don’t consume saliva, I consume You


Midwestern reticence is respect for the unspeakable, the unknowable. What we do and what is done, to each other, to ourselves. What do you say to the flood, the tower, the burning bush?

The Children’s Garden

The toddlers maintain / zucchini, sing the songs / only they and those closer to the earth // Understand.

The Magdalene

We women remained until we could not. / Time folded into a burial cloth.

Grief through a Glass, Darkly: Mourning with The Darjeeling Limited and The Patient

WHEN SOMEBODY DIES, I WATCH MOVIES. The day my grandmother passed, I sat at the altar with the brothers in The Darjeeling Limited. Watching Adrien Brody embody the sense of utter emptiness left by his character’s father’s death somehow helped get me a little closer to my own experience, though I couldn’t articulate it to anyone…


black-robed Death never closer / with cartoon scythe and cardboard eyes.


I do not know / where pleasure leads,

From Crude

If heaven exists and I’m not saying it does / I don’t imagine rolling hills flowery meadows

From Crude

I know no other way to love you than to hurt you

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