Fathoming Black Lives:
 A Dangerous Intimacy

Courtesy of Unsplash

She liked the way her mommy’s boyfriend smiled.

From the back seat she could see his mouth arc when he glanced at her mommy in the passenger seat. She liked his shoulder-length dreadlocks. His mustache. Her mommy had told her a few days ago he was more than cute. He was a good man. He had a job at a school cafeteria. He supervised people. People respected him. They called him “Mr. Rogers with dreadlocks.” That’s where he had been all day, at work, before picking her up from pre-school. She hoped he would come to her pre-school graduation next week. She liked it when he grinned. She liked it more when her mommy smiled back at him.

That’s almost as far as my imagination can go with this little girl. Four years old, Dae’Anna Reynolds is age-wise square in between my two-year-old and six-year-old girls. From what I’ve read, seen, and weighed, she possesses a rare calm, grit, and kindness. It’s been a few months since two black men — 37-year-old Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on July 5 and the next day 32-year-old Philando Castille in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, on July 6 — were each shot at close range and killed by police officers. Video captured each killing. Facebook feeds instantly exploded with outrage, speculations, and debates. The debates quickly became abstract. The online flurry of fleeting opinions points toward the failure and the risk not to imagine. Yet, of all the characters in these violent dramas that have played out in the United States recently, Dae’Anna’s face, the resolute lips and almond eyes, keeps circling back in my imagination. It’s difficult for me to fathom what she felt when her mommy’s boyfriend, Philando, got pulled over and what, from the backseat floorboard where she hid, she must have heard, and tried not to imagine.

I try to fathom these other lives and the small one I inhabit and the times we live in because in some ways — as a writer and a teacher and a consultant who clings to the sanctity of the imagination’s portal to what is possible — sometimes it’s the only thing I know how to do in trying times. The imagination, I want to say, is not a privilege. It is a survival trait. It remains that curious faculty that allows us to absorb impressions and form images that in turn shape our memories of how we tell our personal histories, our dreams of how we envision our futures, and our views of what we think is real and what we think is possible.

If there is a cause within us human beings that has led to such utter failure of our humanity, a failure that we must face over and over again, then what I want to say is that one cause might be our own failure of imagination.

There are risks to imagining another person’s life, but there may be greater societal risks in a nation in which its citizens and its leaders do not take that risk.

When my six-year-old girl was four,

she couldn’t watch a movie without the three frames of scariness or sadness keeping her up at night. It’s curious what images stick in one person’s imagination but not another. This past year, her teacher helped her and her classmates study the accomplishments of Martin Luther King, Jr. To encourage her study, we read a children’s book about his life and watched parts of his “I Have a Dream” speech. Among all of the details of his rich history and powerful words and the throngs of people who heard and followed him, one detail stood out in her mind. “Why did they shoot him?” she said. I tried to explain in a way she could grasp. Some white people, I said, are scared of people whose skin color is different from theirs. King had stood up to that fear and was helping black people be able to do the things that white people could do. Someone, I said, shot him out of fear.

She got it at whatever level she could, or maybe she didn’t. She has two best friends, one a girl, the other a boy. He is six. His mother is white. His father is black. They have play dates at each other’s houses. I don’t think she got it, why someone would kill another person because of skin color. I still don’t get it. I’m a 51-year-old white guy who grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in the South where it was not uncommon for me to have a few black friends and where most of the English teachers who imparted in me a love of language and story were black. I was bused in de-segregation Texas in 1972, but I didn’t know then I was part of a social experiment, part of a Supreme Court order to further Fort Worth’s and other cities’ desegregation initiatives already started but not completed nine years earlier. The Fort Worth Superintendent had written at the time, “The second grade was chosen [for transfers to the predominantly black school in each cluster] because these younger children, yet to develop prejudice, will accept each other for what they are, not the color of their skin.” I didn’t share any of those facts with my little girl. Later that night just before going to bed, she broke down on the floor in tears. What’s wrong, honey? my wife said. It’s not fair, she said. It’s not fair they killed him because of his skin. What, I wondered, would she dream about that night? What images would haunt and startle her awake and restless?

Courtesy of Creative Commons (Gerry Lauzon)

I cannot fathom my little girl being where Dae’Anna was. I cannot fathom her keeping calm as her mommy’s boyfriend gets shot four times in the driver’s seat while she’s crouched down in the back, while her mother stoically captures the aftermath on her phone via Facebook Live. I cannot fathom my little girl saying quietly, “It’s OK, Mommy. Don’t cry, Mommy.” But that’s what she says. I cannot fathom the blood against the windshield or the mother’s voice trying to hold it all together but saying, “Please, Jesus, don’t let him die” and the other man’s voice, the officer who fired the shots, saying “Fuck! Fuck!” and the smell of the car floorboard all racing through that little girl’s mind at night as she tries to fall asleep for the rest of her life.

I am a white man with white hair. I have been taken advantage of, duped, derided, and I have lived across the street from a drug dealer and persuaded a man to stop beating his wife in his front yard, and I have had a gun held up to my temple and a knife held at my back in the same week, but I know I will never be able to fathom fully Dae’Anna’s life or that of her mother or that of her mother’s boyfriend or that of the police officer who shot and killed her mother’s boyfriend. But I try.

What’s the risk of a writer imagining an other person’s life?

In this case, what’s the risk of a white man with white hair imagining the lives of a black girl or black woman or black man or Hispanic male officer or white male officers? A poet friend once told me I should write from my own experience, that I shouldn’t write or publish poems, say, from women’s points of view or write poems that address situations in other countries. He suggested I keep two such poems that venture into women’s points of view out of a recent collection. “They don’t contribute anything,” he said. Two women poets who read the collection in advance felt those same two poems were essential to the collection. I took the risk and kept them. The risk some people say might be something like literary imaginative imperialism — of a writer with social advantage usurping to his own advantage the lives of other people who by virtue of gender, race, and circumstance have less power.

That risk of literary imagination is volatile. It’s a risk white Southern writer William Styron took in his novel The Confessions of Nat Turner published in 1968 — at once lauded by the likes of James Baldwin and derided by others. It’s a risk white writer Robert Olen Butler took in his short story “Uncle Andrew” that imagines the embodied trauma of a freed slave in Texas on the day he refuses to indulge the innocuous kindness of his former owner’s daughter. But the risk of literary imagination is not what I’m venturing here. There’s a different kind of risk of existential imagination I’m positing.

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Phrased another way, what’s the risk of not imagining an other person’s life in intimate detail? Amateur video captured the killings of both Alton Sterling and Philando Castille. Facebook feeds exploded with outrage, speculations, and debates. The debates quickly became abstract. And here’s where the first signs of failure, I think, arise. The online flurry of fleeting opinions online in our digital town halls might actually point toward the failure and the risk not to imagine. Consider how we read the news to construct our version of what’s real. According to a 2014 study by the American Press Institute, almost 35% of Americans get their news throughout the day — TV, print, and lots of Internet sites with content developed and curated by anyone with access. We Google to find out what happened, or we pop onto Facebook or Reddit to scan headlines and weigh in our “likes” and quips, our opinions and rants. It’s a weird world we live in. Much of how we perceive and construct reality is dictated by the bits and pixels, the sound bites and headlines that whip across our screens between work in the world and between “liking” and “posting” and “sharing.” By virtue of our info-frenzy media, we feel and react and share our own experience that might or might not be tangentially relevant. We feel alive when agitated by what some “idiot” on the other team says.

I wonder where we as a people stand, though, in American civic discourse in which words and persuasion themselves are used like bullets. Instead of constructing a coherent narrative or engaging in a difficult conversation, it’s all too easy to build a comforting storyline out of pixelated detritus and filter out any idea or image that might disturb our stance. The risk not to imagine has to do with how we construct flimsy narratives of what happens to strangers.

The imagination remains a main line to plumb not only the fathoms we think we are capable of but also to enter darkness. To fathom is to enter places we’re afraid to go, places that disturb us. Imagination is dangerous because it admits ambiguity, nuance, paradox. Imagination builds cognitive intimacy, and intimacy is dangerous.

In an age of pixelated reality and a “liked” democracy, to imagine another’s life is a risk worth taking. When we dare to fathom, there are no trigger warnings.


On Tuesday, in the suburbs of Falcon Heights, Minnesota, Philando Castille must have been feeling good as he drove home.

His girlfriend beside him smelled of sea salt and perfume, of cedar and smoke, her little girl giggling in the backseat at her mommy lip-synching music on the radio, and somewhere in his mind he knew with his job secure and people loving him at work, with his growing savings in the bank, with a girlfriend who adored his bad-ass fun-trouble and his kindness, he was doing solid. He smiled at the view outside his windshield. Then as dusk fell, the red lights flashed from behind. The sirens. Two officers. You have a busted tail light, the officer might have said. I need your license and registration.

Castille carried a gun. He told the officer he was licensed for it. A few hours earlier that night, Philando had spoken with his sister about each of their concealed weapons. They had taken a gun safety class together to learn especially how to comply with police and how to inform police about their guns. His sister had said to her brother, “You know what, I really don’t even want to carry my gun because I’m afraid they’ll shoot me first and ask questions later.”

Philando had spoken recently with his mother about his job as cafeteria supervisor at the nearby school, J.J. Hill Magnet Montessori School. He was saving up. He was 32 and had worked in the Nutrition Division of the public schools since he was 19. He had worked since he was 15. Philando knew the names of most of the 500 students at school, knew which boys and girls were allergic to milk, and probably knew Dae’Anna’s favorite snacks. “Every day he fist bumped my kids,” a mother with two children at the school would write on Facebook. “He knew every single one by name, pushed extra food in them like a grandma, and sneaked extra graham crackers into my son’s bag because Peter got a kick out of it. My borderline autistic son hugged him every day.”

Valerie, Philando’s mother, had warned him for years to comply with the police if he ever encountered them. Surely that night, with Dae’Anna in the back seat, he must have heard his mother’s words, Comply, comply, comply. I imagine he had complied the previous 46 times that the Twin Cities police had pulled Philando over before that night. 46 times, and never for anything serious. Not wearing a seat belt. A faulty muffler. Speeding. More than half of the 86 violations had been dropped, but he had been “assessed at least $6,588 in fines and fees,” according to a report from the Washington Post. 46 times pulled over. All minor.

Here we go again, Dae’Anna might have heard him say to her mother. Keep cool, honey, Lavish might have said. Tell him you have a gun and a license. It’ll be all right.

It’ll be all right. Those are the words I imagine Dae’Anna heard her mommy say, what I imagine she hears as she tries to go to dream land.

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Jeronimo Yanez had been on the St. Anothony Police Force for five years.

“An all-around good guy,” a fellow officer calls him. That morning before he left for work had he and Lindsay talked about their eleven-month-old baby’s upcoming first birthday party? When he walked up to Philando’s car and saw the young girl in the backseat, did any thoughts of his own baby back home, tucked in sweet Lyndsay’s lap, cross his mind? Or had he learned to hang those feelings on his locker hook until once he got home late from his shift he could wear them safely in Lyndsay’s arms? As he walked up to that car, something else likely was on his mind.

On an unverified police audio an officer is heard saying, “I’m going to stop a car. I’m going to check IDs. I have reason to pull it over.” The officer goes on to say, “The two occupants just look like people that were involved in a robbery. The driver looks more like one of our suspects, just ’cause of the wide-set nose.” Four days earlier, four blocks away, two African-American men had robbed a convenience store. One of them had shoulder-length dreadlocks, mustache. Maybe in the “Bulletproof Warrior” workshop he took, Jeronimo had been trained to categorize, trained to look for what “fits the description” — “just ’cause of the wide-set nose.”

I need your license and registration.

Okay. The driver keeps his seatbelt on. He reaches for his wallet and lets Jeronimo know he is carrying and licensed.

What pulls the trigger? Four times? As the little girl crouches down and the girlfriend in the passenger seat captures the aftermath on her phone, why does the officer stand there frozen, his gun still pointed at a blood-drenched dying man and able to say little more than, “Fuck!”?

What goes through your mind when you pull the trigger? You would hope you’d freeze in disbelief, shock that that badge you started to wear three years after your country’s worst recession in decades meant you had made it to secure footing and that your path was noble — to protect and to serve and to earn a reputable living and provide for your wife and child, that’s what you told yourself — but that within seconds without you even knowing it your heart pounds and blood rises and signals light up in parts of your warrior’s brain to survive and defend, and all of those signals give your finger with its own pulses the go-ahead to pull the trigger and let loose a bullet that flies so fast you cannot even see it and so rips through the chest or gut or neck or head of another human being whose name and whose dreams and fears and pains and tiny triumphs and wishes for other human beings you never knew and will never know, that you who hold this pistol might have become a player in a video game you did not program.

If you didn’t freeze, if you had gone on about your business as usual, then you would have something even more dangerous to fear because had you not frozen you might have lost some other part of you and maybe in the wake after the four blasts — onetwothreefour justlikethat — you hoped that what had happened had not just happened and you wanted some way out and some way to hold in tact whatever decency and warmth and humanity you know you hold inside, and some part of you knew that that warmth would never come out on the video being shot from the passenger’s seat and would never come out in court no matter how good or convincing the lawyers.

But you froze.

Fuck. Fucked. Fucked up.


When something goes wrong, we want narratives.

The Saturday after Alton Sterling and then Philando are killed, I sit in a café up the road. A few tables over sit a family of four — a woman, brown skin and a sari, a white man, and their two children. The younger child starts to cry. What do you want? the mother asks. She still cries. The father whips out a book. The Adventures of Awesome Man, I think the cover reads, and he holds up the brightly colored pages and reads aloud. The child stops crying and glides to the father’s side of the table as if he holds the magic tonic. The pages and the voice and the story hold the two children captive for a few minutes.

What do you want? the mother had asked. Something in us hungers for narratives’ tonic of coherence, for the pieces to fit in a sequential way, and for it all to make sense by the time the credits roll or the last page comes. We turn to stories because we want to know not only who we are but also whom we might become. We turn to others’ stories because we want to know that by virtue of choice and consequence and character things will turn out all right in the end for the protagonist.

But the central piece of a captivating story is tension and conflict. It’s what draws us in. If we can imagine another person’s conflict, maybe we can resolve some of our own tension. There’s a crying two-year-old in all of us. Since my little girl was three and asking for stories, she would say, with want, “Does this story have badness in it? Is it scary?” The very thing that kept her up at night she wanted. Badness. Her word for conflict. When two or more forces collide. When two or more forces want seemingly different things and fight for it. Dahlia wants to draw with the red crayon. So does her best friend Alma. Dahlia wants to play outdoors with her sister. Her sister wants to play indoors. An African-American man wants all of his life to be seen and heard and respected. An Hispanic officer wants to do his job, keep himself safe, and earn his peers’ respect.

The father at the café table keeps reading the story to the two rapt children while somewhere else in the nation an almond-eyed girl stares at the crowd that has gathered to touch or be a part of her mother. Has anyone asked my name? Has anyone asked me what I want? I’ve been coloring in the lines. I’ve been putting my toys back in the box. I’ve been sharing my food with Alex at lunch. I’ve been saying “Thank you” and “Yes, Ma’am.” I didn’t do anything wrong. It’ll be all right. It’s OK. Every little thing’s gonna be all right, that’s what my mommy says.

One Monday evening, Alton Sterling came into the Triple S Food Mart,

bought a soda, and bantered with his pal Abdullah, who owns the mart. Those jokes, the name-calling, had become part of their routine for the past six years. The Triple S parking lot had become Alton’s outpost where he sold CDs at $5 a pop. “The CD man,” as neighbors and customers called Sterling, often gave away CDs and bought sodas for people who couldn’t buy their own. Somewhere in the back of his mind that night, he was thinking about his son, Cameron. He’s 15. At 14, Alton’s father died, and Alton had passed that mark for his son, he thought that night, and soon he and his son’d get to spend the day together. He’d told his son he’d like that. He didn’t always see Cameron, the oldest of his five kids, every day. He lived in the Living Waters Outreach Ministries shelter. Not quite homeless. On the edge. Face the day. Get up. Rise. Do your job. Stay out of trouble. Everything’ll be all right.

A friend of Alton’s who also sold CDs had been robbed recently. Somehow, he found or bought a gun earlier that Monday. Somehow, because Sterling had 13 or more counts of charges against him already — most of them cases of burglary or battery or marijuana possession, some of them dismissed, but he had served time, four years. When he was 20, a year after his mother died, he had a girl friend. He got her pregnant. Her mother found out. The girl was 14. The mother reported him. Coming out of prison, he found it tough to get a job, according to someone who knew him.

You get rattled after a while. Your nerves amp up. Your body’s always hurting because it’s working over time, and you’re not even 40. Imagine you come into this world born to a mother and father who can barely put together a job between them and who both vanish before you’re twenty, and the community around you is nearby and warm and safe to a point and protects you in the ring and keeps you in the ring. Stay in the ring, and you’re safe.

The CD gig seemed to be enough to give him hope and keep him going.

When he returned to the parking lot that Monday night, I imagine him wondering how many fivers he might collect, which of his regular customers he might see. Maybe he felt glad to try to put the past behind him, but he probably never stood in that parking lot holding CDs and feeling sure-footed in the world. When had he ever felt sure-footed? A man shows up, a homeless man. Maybe Alton knows him. Maybe the homeless man begs for a CD. Maybe Alton had given him some CDs on previous nights. Maybe Alton just doesn’t like the man who keeps asking for a CD. Anyway, Alton shows the man his gun and says, “Leave me alone.”

The man slips away and at around 12:30 am Tuesday morning calls 9–11 to report a man at the Triple S Food Mart “brandishing a gun.” Maybe it’s a call for spite. Maybe the man really was afraid. According to Muflahi, the store owner, Alton had never been in a fight there during the past six years. No altercations. No problems. But this one night when just hours before Alton had secured a gun to protect his stash someone calls the cops on him. Not again. Not the damn cops again. Fuck. The gun, the damn gun. They gonna to take me in. Can’t go back.

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Two officers show up. Burly guys. They know nothing of this man.

A show down of three strangers. They each wield a gun and carry a history greater than their birth date in this city packed with over 200,000 people, the capital, the hub of politics in Louisiana. Baton Rouge. Red Stick.

This is what one of the cops knows: Someone has called 9–11. A man in a red shirt at the Triple S is threatening passers-by with a gun. Gotta keep an eye out for the gun. It’s late. This guy’s probably been drinking. Blane Salamoni thinks he knows the drill. He’s been on the Baton Rouge force for four years. Both of his parents have been cops. His grandfather. He knows what to do if someone tries to act up or push back. That’s why he works out and keeps the bulk. To push back harder. Not take any crap. That man last year, he tried to push back. That 15-year-old boy, he tried to push back with his partner Howie. But they’re covered, Blane and Howie. They’re protected.

The man in the red shirt stands taller than the cops. The officers suspect he has a gun and rush him, get in his face. One of them yells to the red-shirted man, “Get down to the ground.” A pop goes off, a Taser shot maybe. The two officers leap on and wrestle the semi-stunned Sterling, about 5’11” and 300 pounds, down to the asphalt on his back instead of his stomach and pin him. Maybe Sterling yells back. Maybe he’s complaining that an officer is hurting him or maybe he’s defending himself. Maybe he’s denying he’s got a gun because he knows the gun makes him an easy mark. It’s hard to say. But he’s not brandishing a gun. He’s struggling.

Then an officer wields his pistol and holds it to Sterling’s chest. “If you move I swear to God” and then pop. And pop. Onetwothreefour. Justlikethat. “Fuck!” Blane says. Less than a minute later one of the officers walks up to Sterling, blood splayed on Alton’s red shirt and his left arm waving limply, and pulls something, probably a gun, from his right front pocket.

Rouge.

My imagination falters after a while, I admit.

For the several days following both killings these figures haunted me. They still do. They show up like apparitions throughout the day. They, the dead and the living, hover like ghosts and cloud everything I see — my studio, my girls, my home, my neighbors, my “friends” on Facebook. And I am not sure what good if any of this being haunted serves. These figures have become intimate with me.

Before Philando Castille and Alton Sterling were killed and five Dallas police officers were murdered and 50 people in Orlando were murdered last summer, I let my imagination be littered. Each night, after dinner, I would slip away from my girls and wife and enter into the “https” bar on my desktop the word “Clinton.” Scan the top “in the news” headlines. Read one or two articles or often only the headlines. And then do the same with “Trump.” I checked my standard news sites a few times a day. The competition and the game of it all, the spite and spectacle, the empty sensation of trying to feel alive to anything outside myself mostly by being angry at a blustering man whom I cannot imagine in the White House, whom I cannot imagine my caring about for four more years. He got intimate with parts of me but did not enter my imagination. Where my imagination fails most clearly is in trying to imagine what goes through or does not go through this soon-to-be national leader’s mind.

It was that Saturday after

that I focused attention elsewhere and started trying to write a response to Philando Castille’s and Alton Sterling’s killings. I read through news outlets and partisan hack sites and watched interviews and watched videos. My initial aim was to piece together “what happened,” what really happened with Mr. Castille and with Mr. Sterling. One news site’s information would raise other questions for me to answer. One detail posted on one site led to other questions and the need to verify as much as possible. What I found on the Internet was a barrage of half-reports and full-blown and disproportionate reactions and speculations. “The 5 Things You Need to Know About Philando Castille.” Amateurs’ and alt-right sites’ attempts to peg Castille as a suspect who had held up a convenience store days before he was killed. Bloggers and individuals posing as independent news sources were conducting their own background checks and criminal histories on Castille and on Sterling. Facebook photos of Lavish Reynolds smoking a joint. Within days of Philando’s killing, out came the character assassinations of the living and the dead.

Lines weren’t being drawn in the sand. They had already been drawn for years or decades.

Here’s the risk of defaulting to our private sphere of inborn biases and beliefs. Before you know it, as you’re trying to piece together your own narrative, a barrage of headlines, “posts,” and quick “reports” sway your sympathies as if you’re a juror in a digital court with multiple arm-chair lawyers and pseudo-journalists presenting their cases with mismatched evidence. And even if you are careful and even if you do piece together the evidence, you still might try to play it safe, come to your judgment, avoid the fathoms, and move on.

Courtesy of Creative Commons (Dorret)

What happened? And who were these people? Here’s where we start to take sides. Here’s where we want to line up on the side of truth. If we’re partisan and reactive and ideological and clinging to what we already want to think is real, we will skew whatever facts we can piece together to fit the narrative that supports our already entrenched beliefs. It happens regardless of whether you are pegged to live — as George Saunders calls them — in Rightland or in Leftland.

And here’s where any justice system fails our imaginations, too. We want to reduce “the truth of the matter” to things like the sequence of events, motives, background checks and character checks on the ones killed, the witnesses, the killers, the cops. We justify our own internal case based on testimonies of character. Somehow we can make the case that Philando’s death more than Alton’s death is more indignant and safer for someone to defend because of character testimonies and records. And yet somehow Jeronimo’s testimony versus the Baton Rouge officer who pulled the trigger four times might be easier for someone to defend because of respective records. In a court of law, these things matter. Yet in the court of our human and democratic imagination, more matters. In true stories of our humanity’s potential, more matters.

Many of us in the United States hold to the story that our nation allows anyone with the gumption and good character to improve his or her lot in life can do so. That’s the story many American novelists — possibly starting with 22 year-old Stephen Crane’s 1893 novel Maggie: A Girl of the Streets — have challenged. Someone despite good intentions and effort ultimately is crushed.

A young man who is trying best he can to hold it all together — a job, a girlfriend, her little girl — has navigated already the local zone of prejudice and subtle if not expensive harassment on the road, a harassment based not on his actions but instead on how men with badges frame him, and because of his skin color and hair style and width of his nose and because of a confluence of events and another man’s loose finger and fragile nerves on a trigger, that young man is dead, onetwothreefour justlikethat.

That story should threaten your national narrative and your personal one. That story should not let you move on. A court settlement, an investigation’s findings, a sentence, an election result will not get at the truth. The truth of our humanity depends upon what we allow to seep into our most intimate faculty — the imagination. It depends upon the complex and diverse range of human stories we allow ourselves to fathom. Fathom that story. Fathom it for this nation, fractured and still beautiful.

In the poem “Skin head,”

African-American woman and performance poet Patricia Smith imagines the point of view of a white male skin head:

They call me skinhead, and I got my own beauty.

It is knife-scrawled across my back in sore, jagged letters,

it’s in the way my eyes snap away from the obvious. …

I’m riding the top rung of the perfect race,

my face scraped pink and brilliant.

I’m your baby, America, your boy,

drunk on my own spit, I am goddamned fuckin’ beautiful.

And I was born

and raised

right here.

The poem penetrates you not only because an African-American woman poet has honestly imagined the voice of a white perpetrator of violence on black lives. It’s potent because her words haunt you. Once something becomes intimate in your imagination, it’s difficult to just move on. And there’s the danger. The necessary dangerous intimacy.

For now I admit I must leave it to someone such as Smith to fathom President-elect Trump’s life. My imagination for now cannot stop fathoming other lives.

In the dark of night, a little girl

sees herself as a woman, her voice of blood with wings that lifts street grit and fuses it with aria lilts, a tongue taut with melodies that pierce the armor of warriors and chiefs, their hearts cracked open on sidewalks and in symphony halls.

A girl can dream.

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By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.