Twenty Miles South of Macon
One night Mabel kept driving.
Her arms hung heavy on the wheel. Her mind was blank. The fork in the road passed, and with it the turnoff to Harveys Supermarket where she would buy three cans of boiled chicken, a bag of reduced-fat Wheat Thins, a loaf of bread, and a pound of tomato-shaped objects to last her the week. Tillary called them tomato-shaped objects because she used to work at the Macon farmers market and felt the new job was beneath her. A tomato, she said, should taste like something. Trailing vines. Summer rain. These things taste like the tears of the Mexican kid that picked them, and life is not worth living when you’ve reached the point of eating like this. READ MORE
Winner of the Vocal Fiction Awards
Preorder the Vocal Fiction Awards Anthology (Unbound, UK) here
(US publication date May/June 2023)
Every afternoon Nandi traces her dreams into the ribs of a bull with no name. She nestles her face into his side, feels the movements of masticated grass through the corridors of his gut, and sometimes her voice joins the rumble, a Texas girl’s scat with a jazz band of cicadas. The bull’s hide is jet black and oil-slick with sweat, rank with the earthen wild of muscle and grit, and when Nandi stretches her anemic arms around the creature she too is strong. Two thousand pounds of strength pulse through her chest with each of the bull’s soporific breaths. Two thousand pounds of strength help her face another stone-silent dinner and another untethered day.
The bull is not tame, but he loves Nandi. READ MORE
Shortlisted for the Vocal Fiction Awards
She is silent and still. An almond-sized heart flutters under layers of downy brown feathers, as delicate as lace, paper wings tucked into a rib cage made of air. Holding this tiny creature makes you realize just how powerful you are. One shift of pressure would end her life—the macabre vision flashes for a strange, primal moment—but you kiss her little head and tell her she is safe and hold her ever so gently in your hands, hoping she can feel your good intentions. It is rare to find a dove flying in your kitchen. A pigeon, maybe, but a kind, gentle dove seemed like an omen. She was frantic, careening into walls, until finally lodging herself behind a soup pot. Now she is in your hands. What now? READ MORE
Featured in The Moment of Freedom: A Collection of Stories
she is a fast burning star,
collapsing into its gravity,
a meteor consumed by the fire of escaping itself.
the dust of her hangs suspended, flecks of light
long split flash
particles refracting lifetimes never fully formed.
if only you stayed, if only you stayed still
for a moment just one
in eternity to settle into what is,
but that too is a lie:
carbon in motion / battles of cells /
electrons that orbit under static-seeming skin
above in the night Halley is a frozen smear
but already it is
light years ahead of its tail.
eternities transpire in the
tedium of daily life:
jasmine flowers affixed to a
string web, garlands
of labor that will die in a day.
wrap wrap knot
links together a life, years at a time,
four cents a dozen.
crushed petals tumble
from rayless market stalls,
shocks of paint,
desertscape mountains of
turmeric and curry.
there is no existential crisis in the
peddling of bananas.
the man selling onions does not cry.
ARTICLES + ESSAYS
After four or five circumnavigations, I lose count. I am part of a whirlpool in a stream of humanity circling the watchful eyes above. It is a flow without beginning or end. You can enter or exit at any point, but eventually the current pulls you back in.
There are recurring characters on the path. Figures that sit still on the fringes, hands or stumps of hands outstretched, beckoning for acknowledgment or an exchange of energy. They recur as in a dream, the lost girl counting her money, the bright face starched clean by insanity. There is a row of monks that move beneath maroon folds, praying and cackling to no one in particular. One of them claps in ritual. Another pulls aside his dust mask to spit. And on the curb a soul in between this reality and another, shaved head downturned to the worn pavement.
The pace varies wildly in this endless stream. Those who hurry sidestep the prostrators, gloved hands reaching for redemption. Fingers urgently maneuver prayer beads. The blind man stops his singing to take a call.
Through the journey prayer wheels continue their own rotations, absorbing desires and releasing them to the night. The accumulation of desires fuels this stream. The monks softly hum. On my lips the sound of om.
REMEMBER THIS. Those are the only two words left in my journal after a page of scratched-out attempts to do justice to Victoria Falls within the limits of the English language. How do you explain the roar of a million stampeding horses coursing through your ears, your chest, a shudder in the rhythm of your pulse? My camera, too, lay abandoned on the ground.
I had hoped to commit the scene to memory, but it settled in deeper. On the wind a fine spray from the falls cascaded across the gorge, refracting rainbows and peppering my skin with droplets that seeped into my being. Vervet monkeys chattered in the canopy, their fur glistening with the same water, the source of their subsistence. READ MORE
Winner of the Storytellers: Costa Rica competition
The Shortcomings of Words
There are three distinct clicks in the Xhosa language, on the C, the X and the Q. To say a word with one of these letters, the tongue must simultaneously flick the back of the teeth, ricochet off the side of the cheek, or strike the upper palate with the hollow resonance of a mallet on a wooden block. Tsk! Click! Pop! When a conversation in parts of South Africa gets heated, it is a rapid-fire exchange of verbal artillery.
For anyone who did not grow up speaking a clicking language, the lingual gymnastics needed to click and pronounce a letter at the same time are like trying to walk a tightrope backward. Nevertheless, the American makes a solid effort, practicing clicks and pops under her breath during the twenty-hour flight to Cape Town. On the first day of her assignment, she tries out a few words on a kid admitted to the pediatric ward of Groote Schuur, the white-columned public hospital which trains the country's top medical students and serves a largely indigent population. Unjani? Ngubani igama lakho? How are you? What is your name? READ MORE
Midwives of the Deep
If a puma crept out of the woods, we wouldn’t stand a chance. There are eight of us—armed with notebooks and cameras, all storytellers on a trip to document sea turtle conservation efforts in Tortuguero, Costa Rica—but the size of our tribe can’t make up for the fact that on a deserted beach at midnight, without the glow of our mobile devices, we are totally and completely blind.
Cloyd Martinez, the Sea Turtle Conservancy’s buoyant local guide, is impatient to get going. “Your eyes have adjusted, yes?” he shouts into the wind, already too far ahead to hear the answer. “Pura vida! Straight line, follow me! Pura vida!” READ MORE
Commissioned by Matador Network
Dharma on Fire: Meet Noah Levine
Noah Levine knows suffering. He is the son of Stephen Levine, one of America’s most influential Buddhist teachers, but his own path, fueled by personal angst and disillusion with American mainstream culture, brought him to rock bottom before he awoke. Levine’s painful past served an invaluable purpose, however: Levine became a teacher who could talk from experience about addiction and spurred a movement that speaks to a diverse outlier crowd. Dharma Punx and Against the Stream, the punk-flavored meditation groups Levine founded, have a significant following in both New York and L.A. READ MORE
Commissioned by MeditationWise
Breaking All Borders
My journey ended in Nairobi, Kenya, after 5,000 miles of dusty, potholed roads traveled alone on public buses and matatus, sharing crumbles of food, shoulders to rest on, and cryptic stories told without common language with people who taught me what the term “change ambassador” really means. It started more modestly, with a suitcase packed with enough just supplies for a five-week volunteer grant in Cape Town. Somehow five weeks turned into a year.
Many months earlier, an inexplicable pull to South Africa erupted after reading a sports journalism book, the now-famous story of Nelson Mandela’s work to reconcile his new democracy before the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Kids my age grew up in apartheid while we in America memorized a fleeting definition of it for a pop quiz. And in its aftermath, every single South African had to make a conscious choice—to look beyond the divides and choose unity over civil war. With a sense of human kinship, I started reading South African news, where headlines revealed a 17 percent HIV infection rate, gnawing unemployment, and a host of other issues the country still faces.
I didn’t apply to be a Change Ambassador with some grandiose idea of fixing it all. I felt compelled to go—a need to open my own perceptions, to let this extraordinary, strong country tell me what I could do to be a part of its evolution. READ MORE
Commissioned by Travelocity as recipient of its Change Ambassador grant