To whom do I sing happy birthday, as I’m washing my hands? To whom do I pray, as I’m washing my hands, and at all other times?

Remember the old worries? How they’re piled like stones, how they’ve become an altar? How the altar is way out there, on the horizon? How there’s nothing but horizon, now?

How many pears per bag? I ask at the food pantry. Eight, says Darnell. How many pears per bag? I ask again, two minutes later.

When did my hands become old hands? When did I stop looking in a mirror? …

In the laptop a field, in the field all these pixels. On the track-pad an inching of fingers. What to check, check everything. Check, but only for a minute. Checking is a kind of duty, knowing what needs known. But where’s the edges of this field. Where’s the tab where the good news comes in. Where’s the end of all these pixels. Where’s the limit of a minute, when do the real minutes start. In the hand, a spreading of bones. In each field the intimation of another field. Click plus for a new tab: put more pixels here. In the checking, more checking. What’s meaning, if not a bunch of pixels, stacked. What’s a minute, if not the proliferation of more minutes. What’s checking, if not a motion: pointer finger, hinging and unhinging. In the laptop a field, filling. Folded in the pixels, other pixels. Next to a tab, more tabs. The minute thickens, pends. What needs known, if not everything. What feels necessary, layered on everything else, also necessary. No margin to knowing, no margin to unknowing either. What I mean is, the future. What I mean is, the end. …

We rode our bikes out to the farm stand — a farm stand with ice cream, with an ice cream window, and we got the peanut butter, and we got the double chocolate.

The teen in his apron, his scoops copious, grandiose. He was dedicated, adept with gesture. Elbow deep in the cardboard barrels. With rings on his fingers he — teen, small god — dispensed and dolloped. Garrulous in wire glasses: in this way he gave the world light. The ice cream, so much it melted, the cones drenched in extreme sweet. Each cell of sugar, filled with sugar. …

When I moved to Franklinton, I told myself I wasn’t displacing anyone

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Photo: Paul Sableman/flickr/CC BY 2.0

Here’s a sentence for you:They’re building the luxury apartments, called River & Rich, on a former public housing site.”

It reads like an excerpt of a novel — one that’s not especially good, but very moral and sincere. It would be a novel on the subject of development, which is called “displacement” and “erasure” by others.

But just to be clear, this isn’t a heavy-handed parable. This is what has come to pass, in the year 2018, in a midsize middle American city.

“River & Rich. Alliterative and painfully literal. It’s ambiguous, in a particularly dull way, and this is what makes it so effective, branding-wise. Because yes, these high-end apartments are actually located on Rich Street, in a neighborhood called Franklinton, in Columbus, Ohio. It’s a place where geography conflates, sometimes unbelievably, with metaphor. River & Rich is also near the Scioto River. When you hear “river,” you think sapphire and luxury, sliding glass doors, cups of coffee sipped on balconies. When you hear “rich,” you think granite countertops and elevators, bamboo flooring, sleek white shelving units. …

Economic segregation in America’s heartland

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It’s Friday and I’m at the bar, feeling festive because my husband and I just closed on a house. I’d thought our house was on Siebert Street, in the Southside neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio. But now I know it’s in the death zone.

At least this is what the acquaintance tells me. Oh, he says. We call it the death zone over there.

A person who feels good about saying you live in the death zone also feels good about explaining in more detail why you live in the death zone. There’s nothing but police helicopters and stabbings on that side of Parsons, he says. The East side of Parsons. …

The bus is slow, rerouted, going down the wrong street. This would’ve been annoying, before. It’s Friday; the space that would’ve once contained my annoyance about stuff like buses is inhabited with something that feels like a heavy wet cloth placed on my face. I can’t seem to get annoyed by the bus and I’ve also had trouble buying milk for my cereal, vacuuming, feeding the cats, opening my daily planner, answering emails, crossing items off to-do lists, cooking. Morning light splays across the bus windows. I am late and I let that, my lateness, the thought I am running late, wash over me. It’s Friday November 11 and I’m on this bus because there’s an event for my grad program, and I am in charge of running it. This event has been scheduled for months; people are flying in, being met at their hotel, being escorted here and there, being taken out to dinner, being given a reception. I used to feel nervous about this event. I wish I could climb back into that nervousness. …

“You’ve got to go out, and you’ve got to get your friends, and you’ve got to get everybody you know, and you gotta watch the polling booths, because I hear too many stories about Pennsylvania, certain areas.”

– Donald Trump, Manheim PA rally

I type the phrase certain areas into Google Images, except the words I use are voter intimidation. In one picture: The elbows of white men, and at a different angle from the elbows, baseball bats. The men are in two lines. They part on the street like an unhinging jaw. Black ties against white shirts, swinging. They’re engrossed: you can see it in their jowls. These men don’t look like they’re in an actual hurry and I suppose they must be cops — not because of the non-hurry, necessarily, but because of the holstered burnished guns. Their hands, the ones gripping the bats, look like nubs of meat. …

On the second Wednesday it’s halfway decent Kung Pao Chicken at the cafeteria’s Global Café. Then, at 8:00, it’s time for the Politics Panel. This writers’ conference is almost over, a bodiless end-of-camp feeling. Just when we’ve learned the most direct path from the auditorium to the dorms; just when the nighttime darkness of this place — the gapes under trees, the picnic table lit up like a stage — has started to feel like real life. After dinner there’s a reading, after the reading there’s a reception. …

[White people] are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it.

— James Baldwin, “My Dungeon Shook”

When I was a girl, I had a bedspread that was ruffled and yellow like a southern belle’s ball-gown. My room looked out on tiers and tiers of leafy trees; next to my bed there was a porcelain lamp with kittens painted on it. Each night my dad read to me from The Children’s Illustrated Bible. I had a billion stuffed animals including a lynx and a snow leopard. I slept with those stuffed animals, in that room, in a body — actually, not so much a body but a being — that I knew to be white. I drew pictures of the Narnia kids: two boys, two girls, British kids turned kings and queens by accident. …

Some thoughts, in no particular order.

1. To the people who say they’re sorry to hear that I live in a sketchy neighborhood: America is a sketchy neighborhood. The key-card dorms of Ivy League colleges are a sketchy neighborhood. Suburban pools beaming out other-planetary light are a sketchy neighborhood. Leather-bolstered front-/back-seats of fancy cars are a sketchy neighborhood. Halogen-fevered football stadiums are a sketchy neighborhood.

2. I’ve been informed that this account is fiction. And that the mundane (brown boots, sorry) isn’t allowed to be lyrical. And that my essay is a cute ephemeral haiku. But here’s my question: Why is it that the stories of women, told in their own voices, have to be re-genre-ed? …


Rachel Toliver

Thinking about cities, cats, public and domestic spaces. New Republic/ Brevity/ TriQuarterly/ American Literary Review.

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