“The Tough Guy Test” (Winter 2017) is the second story North American Review has published from my collection Bridge & Tunnel. In it, a woman returns to her working-class roots in Queens after the Great Recession, her manor-born husband and their toddler in tow. The husband’s adjustment is an immediate challenge, and ultimately the woman must...
Grief and regret are two of those ghosts that seem to frequently haunt my creative process. More often than not, whenever I sit down to write, they will pull me far from where I want to go and inevitably towards where I need to. And then, especially in those moments where I most resist them, I will somehow unexpectedly find myself caught in their orbit. It is such a strange commitment we are asked to make as writers: attempting to capture in words the inherently unsayable. ...
Not writing is a lot like breathing; it can continue without notice. And as I moved through my days into weeks and months of not writing, it started to feel completely normal. Like I never wrote at all: I was never that MFA student devouring every book of poems I could get my hands on, fervent, with my own poems coming like extended fever dreams, these bottle-rocket incantations that my mentor could barely keep up with. Everything I saw and touched was imbued with…what? Incredible potential...
Begin with the naming of things.
“Prairie,” from French via the Vulgar Latin
prataria and further back to the Latin pratum,
meaning “meadow.” And the mound itself,
called by geologists a roche mountonếe—
a bedrock knob shaped but not leveled
by the last Pleistocene glacier.
But long before these names, known to the Omaha,
Oto and Yankton Lakota as Paha Wakan,
Notes from the author: I like to say that my father was coughed out of the womb and rolled around in broken glass. He relished his children with a deep and fiery heart, but he was tough as a sack of rocks. He had one hell of a rough boyhood. His mom died of TB when he was six months old, and his father was quarantined with the same illness for a year and half at Herman Kiefer hospital in Detroit. All of this transpired during the Great Depression.
Dad was shuffled about to various...