I Can't Answer
"There I was with
her, and no words sufficient for grief."
This essay was selected for Creative Nonfiction's "Best Creative
Nonfiction" anthology, volume III.
Hurt to Read
My past a pile of trash
baking in the sun.
My present a book
that hurt to read.
My future a slap to the face.
A Perfect Test
A form of this story originally
appeared in "The Oxford-American"
"Whenever I think of that feverish year, I still see Felicia
as she might have been: shining with rare possibility."
This story was shortlisted for the Sean O'Faolain International Fiction Prize, and appeared in Southword (17), journal of the Munster Literature Centre.
"Amid the tumult and clamor of my classroom, he was easily lost: a slim, handsome boy with long arms and a careful, almost elegant manner."
Since I left the Delta...
"You knew my name."
"Their voices may start too quiet to hear: an echo, a whisper.
But maybe they haven't had the opportunity for volume."
"This is how change happens:
A teacher offers what they can. A child opens a book. And years later,
a young woman is bound for college."
"I thought that through sheer force of will, I could right injustice, overcome poverty. Save a child from the life they were born into."
"Rail-thin, he walked slowly with almost comic intentionality, as if placing his feet in invisible foot-sized squares."
Listening to Leo London
This review of Mr. London's
recently released album first appeared at The Rumpus.
Something Once Learned
This essay first appeared at
"Faraway a train whistle howled once, twice, and then there
was the muted click of wheels on track, rising to a roar as the train
neared, falling again as it receded. In the quiet the train left behind
a woman called out in Spanish, the words unintelligible, only the rhythm
giving the language a name. "
The Files of the Living
This essay first appeared at
"In these files, in the hundreds of pages of notes, the record
of all these lives and his struggle to heal and help, to ward off death
for another day or week or year, only here, in the sheer volume of it,
do I understand how staggering a task, how great the stakes. How terrible
Race and Response
This essay on racists in Eugene, OR, first appeared in the Eugene Weekly.
"He told me I was Jackie Chan. He told me I did the karate,
and he cut a couple demonstrative chops through the air. He told me
he liked my fried rice and was sorry about the death of my cousin, Bruce
Lee. He said I should not talk to the blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl
beside me, that the races are best left to themselves."
What Was Good
This piece on the demise
of the Oregon Wrestling Program first appeared in the Eugene Weekly.
"Wrestling is more Springfield than Eugene, more cowboy hats
than rasta caps. It is weigh-ins in icy, echoic locker rooms, cold mats
at morning meets in rural gyms with wooden bleachers. I remember well:
I was a three-time state finalist, and with my coach, a blond bear of
a man named John Scott, I sought out the competition where it was."
This piece, dedicated to the memory of Stanford Wrestler and Assistant
Coach Tod Surmon, appeared in Stanford Magazine.
"After practice, I'd drive with
Tod in his fresh-waxed, cherry-red 3000 GT out those back roads in Los
Altos doing 80, 90, 100, windows down, stereo bumping. I'd yell over
the wind, glad to be alive."
Race, Authenticity, Culpability
Questions of Authenticity
This essay on race,
culpability, and the aesthetics and politics of representation first
appeared in Luna Park.
"All art fails if it is asked to be representative. The purpose
of fiction is not to replace life anymore than it is meant to support
some political movement or ideology. All fiction
reinscribes the problematic past in terms of the present, and, if it
is significant at all, reckons with it instead of simply making it palatable
This dialect chapter
of my novel first appeared in The Arkansas Review.
"Walls is bare but for a magazine picture Mama got taped of
that New York City with that green-glass skyscraper-building so tall
it pointy roof poke holes in the sky. Mama always used to say we gone
move there someday, up in a paint-house at the top of the world, which
don't make no sense cause it easy to see they
ain't no paint or house or nothing, just that long needle top and them
white fluffy clouds."
My craft essay, "Race, Authenticity, Culpability," first appeared in Copper Nickel 14.
"Every story fails in representation if it is concerned with being representative. Every narrative reinscribes the problematic past in terms of the present. Even writing attempted humbly, with a mastery of craft and an excess of lived experience, cannot be equal to the world. The aestheticizing impulse is fundamental to narrative: to order and make beautiful. Yet what narrative is adequate to human suffering? What are the aesthetics of Vietnam or Hiroshima? What meaning should be made from the Holocaust? Narrative is not exculpatory, nor should it be."
My dialect story "It," also appeared in Copper Nickel 14, and was nominated for the 2012 Pushcart Prizes.
"Terence pull his legs way in on the backswing, let them out on the front and jump. He fly way up in the air, come down steady on both legs, thrust his arms in the air and his head back and do a bow. "You'd know if you was listening.""
A Letter To My Talented Writer Friend A., Who Fears She Will Never Be Published
At Luna Park, letter to a talented young writer.
"Your writing is yours alone, and there is only the material and how you can form it and what you learn about that process along the way. If you keep waiting for extrinsic validation, for someone to tell you that you are good enough, you will never be any good. There is only the integrity of the process itself."
So If You See The Vulture Coming
"All summer long he came to the bar I often play pool at, and as regulars will do, we talked, two men who knew the same people in high school, had the same lexicon of names and faces and events, both of us sophomores the day Kip Kinkel took his rifle to the school across town and disabused us of the misconception that the world was just, juniors when Harley and Wil took shotguns to their heads, me there the day senior year that Dale himself put a bag over his head, stripped naked, and streaked the entire quarter-mile hall of our high school."