An ode to plums


From Traci Brimhall’s “The Unverifiable Resurrection of Adão da Barco,” a poem in the current issue:

First, a tourist finds a poem in the leper colony,
carved in a kapok, ants swarming sap in the cuts.
Then a fisherman uncovers instructions for a rain dance,
an usher discovers recipes for the jubilee.

A riverboat captain comes to town and leads them
to a tree in the north describing the mating habits
of the marabunta, to one in the south with an ode to plums.

[read the poem]


Carolyn Kuebler to Become Editor of NER

carolyn-kuebler-and-stephen-donadioFrom the Middlebury College News Room:

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – Middlebury College has announced the appointment of Carolyn Kuebler as editor of the New England Review, a quarterly literary journal published by the college. She will assume her new responsibilities in January 2014, when Stephen Donadio steps down from his role as editor, a position he has held since 1994. Until the end of the year Kuebler will continue to serve in her current position as managing editor while preparing for the transition.

Since her arrival as managing editor in 2004, Kuebler has worked closely with Donadio to select fiction, nonfiction, poetry and translations for publication in the New England Review. She coordinates the production, marketing, fundraising and design of the literary quarterly, including its website. Kuebler initiated the NER Vermont Reading Series and NER’s internship program for Middlebury students, and also currently advises independent undergraduate projects in writing and publication.

“Carolyn was the obvious choice to take the reins at NER,” said Tim Spears, Middlebury College vice president for academic affairs. “In her work as managing editor, she has been open to new literary voices and enhanced the publication’s ability to provoke thoughtful discussion. She is ideally suited to maintain NER’s reputation as one of the nation’s most distinguished literary journals.”

Kuebler earned a bachelor’s degree from Middlebury in 1990, majoring in English with a concentration in Italian, and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Bard College in 2001. She was the founding editor and publisher of Rain Taxi, a quarterly book review publication based in Minneapolis, and subsequently served as associate editor at Library Journal in New York. She has published book reviews, critical essays, and short fiction in numerous journals and newspapers, and has recently completed a novel.


“I’m excited about the opportunity to lead NER into its next phase, responding to changes in reading habits and technology, but also continuing to offer readers a magazine that demands and rewards their full attention,” said Kuebler. “I look forward to further strengthening the journal’s connections to the college, the students and our broader community as well.”

Spears praised Donadio’s leadership over the last two decades. “Stephen’s careful editing has helped to bring out the best in NER’s writers,” said Spears. “His unique eye for contemporary literature has helped make NER one of the top literary magazines in the country.”

While at NER, Donadio has published the work of some of the best new poets and fiction writers, in addition to memorable translations, plays and nonfiction of all kinds, including letters from abroad, historical explorations, and cultural criticism. In just the past decade, 21 poems published in NER appeared in the Best American Poetry series, and 28 stories were selected or listed as notables in Best American Short Stories. The current poet laureate of the United States, Natasha Trethewey, published some of her early work in NER, and continues to publish with NER today. Donadio credits much of the magazine’s reputation for first-rate poetry to the efforts of C. Dale Young, NER’s longtime poetry editor.


Donadio said, “More than anything else I’ve wanted to do my best to insure that every issue of the New England Review could be picked up 20 or 30 years from now and still seem fresh and compelling, in keeping with Ezra Pound’s demanding dictum that ‘literature is news that stays news.’

“Carolyn Kuebler has shared this vision,” added Donadio. “She is also a highly respected professional in the literary world. There could be no one better qualified to lead NER into the next phase of its distinguished history.”

After taking academic leave in 2013, Donadio will resume teaching and advising students in his capacity as Fulton Professor of Humanities at Middlebury, also serving as director of the college’s Program in Literary Studies. He will maintain an association with the New England Review as editor at large.

Stone Disease | By Alexandra Teague

Landscape(“Stone Disease,” n:  The Victorian obsession with constructing monuments)

Sarah Winchester, Having Been Rescued from Her House, Considers Rebuilding (Apr 20, 1906)

Already, the newspapers are shilling for new buildings:  safer, stronger, walls that will withstand the earth’s dis-ease, as if windows could be willows:  tousled, weeping glass, unbreaking. Why should I believe?—stretching the chimney back to sky:  unsteady cache of bricks, like prayer words stacked inside a shaking throat. Who finds firm ground in probability? Having contracted like a crushed egg shell, the earth is stronger now, less likely to explode. As if my floorboards didn’t quiver like oaks again, rocked by the wind—my room, those hours I waited, a cradle held in breaking branches. Who—having dovetailed plank to plank or breast to breast—hasn’t felt the space that still resists? That fissure where our blent compulsions meet. I cannot consent to heaven and earth, this world and the next, beaten like the white and yolk of egg, Hawthorne wrote. And yet what holds them separate? Even strong walls bend:  soft as envelopes around a page of fear. Last year, in Argentina, I read, a girl’s heart stopped as she dressed for dinner—silk ribbon at her throat, silk stillness of her blood. She woke to stone, scraped knuckles raw against the dark:  that Doric-columned mausoleum built to honor her. There is no reason for fear, the papers tell us now: No need to leave this beauty spot of earth. We still have sunny skies, invigorating breezes, fertile soil. As if we could live, Edened, inside a peach pit—those fine-webbed hollows deep enough for breath. Who says the ground can’t be mistaken? Cannot take back what’s taken? They found her there months later. The thinnest doors stay locked; yet marble crumbles under its own shine like sandcastles under the gleam of waves. We have so little—chiseled stone, small scars—to mark the earth-flung earth.


ReadSafe,” Teague’s companion sketch to “Stone Disease.”

Secret Americas features writing about images from the U.S. National Archives. 

Image via Wikimedia CommonsSan Francisco Earthquake 1906: Fairmont Hotel and Synagogue, National Archives and Records Administration College Park.

Alexandra Teague is the author of Mortal Geography (Persea, 2010), winner of the 2009 Lexi Rudnitsky Prize and a 2010 California Book Award. She is Assistant Professor of Poetry at University of Idaho and an editor for Broadsided Press. Her work previously appeared in NER 25.1-2.

Safe | By Alexandra Teague

“The more comfortable man makes himself indoors,
the more dangerous do earthquakes become.”
“Let us all banish from our minds forebodings of
the future. WE ARE SAFE. Of this we may feel assured.”
-San Jose Mercury News, late April 1906

When your city wakes as the new ancient ruins:  blocks’ scrambled rubble:  Delphi’s oracle stone-lipped and raving in the streets (wasn’t it she who said to place your faith in wooden walls?). When buildings crumple like newsprint, catch in the wind’s fist, words burning into voweled cries, the living asleep with the dead—whom can you believe? A man shoots a man for stealing a can of tomatoes for his wife and child. A man shoots a man for cutting rings from a corpse’s fingers. Men crowd up broken brick to watch the bank safe opened:  Grecian doorway gaping dark as a throat. Natural contractions of the Earth’s crust, say the papers. Sun spots. Men who were millionaires at daybreak paupers. Saw blade of wall above dark bowler hats, the white sky cut. Inside the safe:  safe gold? Or paper money? Wings of bees? Or olive branches? Siren songs that drove the gods to murder? There is always a future, the past says. Always temples falling. Prophesies offered in a death-smoke high:  We Will Rebuild Better, Stronger.   Theater Dark Until Further Notice.   (Phroso, The Mysterious, Performance Cancelled)   Barnett Real Estate:  Proudly Selling The Earth. 


ReadStone Disease,” Teague’s companion sketch to “Safe.”

Secret Americas features writing about images from the U.S. National Archives.

Image via Wikimedia Commons – San Francisco Earthquake 1906, Opening a Safe, National Archives and Records Administration College Park

Alexandra Teague is the author of Mortal Geography (Persea, 2010), winner of the 2009 Lexi Rudnitsky Prize and a 2010 California Book Award. She is Assistant Professor of Poetry at University of Idaho and an editor for Broadsided Press. Her work previously appeared in NER 25.1-2.


The Dog Coat | By Adrienne Su

Adrienne Su

I brought a dog-fur coat home from China in 1988, after an academic year there. Off-white, soft, and substantial, it was a gift from a great-uncle I hadn’t met until he came to Shanghai to greet me. He’d spent three days on a packed train to get there, and had made the coat himself.

Although I recoiled from fur in stores, I’d never been confronted with the pelt of an animal with whom I might have shared daily life. Foxes, mink, and chinchillas were clearly worthy of consumer boycott, but this conviction had until now been more idea than feeling.

At the same time, I was being confronted with what I knew about my great-uncle, whom my mother remembers as an animal lover and Chinese-opera fan. Unlike his brother, my grandfather, he didn’t flee to Taiwan before the Communist takeover, although he was sure to pay for his landowning origins. We don’t know why he didn’t go, whether he even had the means.

Indeed, the family’s houses in Shanghai were seized, my uncle exiled to the countryside. For four decades, he did physical labor in an impoverished southwestern outpost. He never married.

In the moment the coat was presented, it didn’t occur to me to stage a one-student protest against dog fur. Instead, I thanked my uncle in my American-college Mandarin (which, no matter how well-pronounced, marked one as an outsider in Shanghai) and tried the coat on. What else was there to do? Although I couldn’t banish the phrase “the dog coat” from my mind, I didn’t find it repugnant, just disturbing. My uncle had next to nothing and wanted to give me something. Perhaps someone had used the flesh for food; the possibility somehow consoled me.

Some people will tell you, “The Chinese eat dogs,” for shock effect, or to imply an inhumane, monolithic people. But my mother’s family cherished their springer spaniel, Beauty, whom they had to leave in the care of household staff upon fleeing. Decades later, the mention of Beauty still moved my stoic grandparents.

Now, on the rare occasions when the coat comes up in conversation, I’m chilled by the righteous horror that sometimes follows. I struggle to create the context, to convey – as if it were a Chinese condition – that when a person loses everything overnight, for no reason, it’s only natural to try to rebuild, using what resources happen to be available.

After leaving China, I stored the coat in my parents’ house. I could neither wear it nor part with it. It stayed there until several years ago, when my parents moved into a retirement community and donated it, along with masses of other stuff, to Goodwill. Perhaps some unwitting person is wearing it now, oblivious to its origins, grateful to be warm.


NER Digital is a creative writing series for the web. Adrienne Su is the author of three books of poems, most recently Having None of It (Manic D Press, 2009). She is poet-in-residence at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania. Recent poems appear in the Kenyon Review, Massachusetts Review,The New Republic, and New England Review (33.1).

The radiation came to an end

 Preston | By William Gilson

William Gilson by M Park

Author’s Note: In this short work of fiction, Burt, age 75, an American living permanently in England, is writing to an old friend in the States.

I enjoyed the drives to Preston. I managed to arrange a schedule of early appointments so I was always one of the first patients to be seen, before the waiting rooms filled or any of the machines broke down, before the technicians grew tired. The coffee was free and of good quality and as I waited I wrote in my notebook. Sort of as I am writing to you now.

Those weeks are in my memory a time of quiet pleasure, when I wasn’t particularly worried about the cancer. I had something specific and easy to do every week-day and I felt that with each trip the cancer, which for years had been trying to kill me, was finally being attacked and possibly defeated. Previous to this I had not trusted doctors, one of whom had operated on me, an “experimental” operation I had stupidly chosen, it was an awful experience, afterward pronounced a failure, causing me to spend eight weeks at home wearing pyjamas, with a blue tube coming out of my abdomen, urine going into a bag hitched to my leg. After I finally resumed peeing normally and the tube was removed, I was assigned a new doctor, a gorgeous smart bossy woman who ordered the radiation with confidence, calculating how to silently blast my groin with precision rays. And in a strange state of trust and painlessness I drove back and forth to Preston, one hour each way. In the car I listened to a reading of Willa Cather’s novel The Song of the Lark, about a girl born with musical talent, how she grows up in a prairie town and becomes a famous singer. Then I listened to a long book on the history of the Byzantine Empire which I never finished because the radiation came to an end.

On the way to Preston, soon after sunup as I drove south on the “dual carriageway,” I watched with anticipation for my favorite passage, a stretch of several miles where a high tension electrical line, three thick cables hanging in long catenaried loops between widely spaced “pylons” like long graceful musical rhythms, paralleled the highway and then began merging toward it, finally crossing overhead near an old stone barn set in a field. So beautiful, that approaching moment when the thick lines crossed.


NER Digital is a creative writing series for the web. William Gilson lives in England. Carved in Stone: The Artistry of New England Graveyardsa collaboration with the photographer Thomas E. Gilson, is published by Wesleyan University Press; the text and some of the photographs first appeared in NER 30.4.

David Guterson

The Finder

Fiction from NER 35.1

[View as PDF]

Lydia Williams—as the finder put it in his final report before siphoning off his outlandish fee—moved in “without a hitch.” Invisible, an abstraction, RENTER—all caps—but indeed her rent got paid, expediently and electronically, on the fifteenth of month two—and with no trouble, no communication. It was as if Lydia Williams remained in the finder’s hands—she existed contractually but not in person; he could not have said what she looked like or how she sounded; now and again he stopped to wonder who Lydia Williams was, but his questions about her had to do with her reliability as a rent payer and with whether she could change a light bulb in figurative terms, i.e., whether she could save him time and money, by virtue of solid do-it-yourself skills, on repairs and maintenance. He wondered but made no move to find out about her, fearing that by asserting himself he might pave the way for a burdensome relationship, invite nuisance, regret his forwardness, ultimately end up with more trouble, work, and concern than if he’d stayed in the background.

Finally, he sent her a benign and innocent-enough e-mail.

[Read more]

David Guterson is the author of ten books, including the novel Snow Falling on Cedars, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award. His most recent books include the poetry collection Songs for a Summons (Lost Horse Press, 2013) and Descent: A Memoir of Madness (Vintage, 2013). A new collection of short stories, Problems with People, is forthcoming from Knopf in June. 

Hear that sound?

Things Green | By Shara Lessley

Shara Lessley at Petra

I saw the usual spray of buildings, streetlamps buzzing. As the plane descended, I also saw pinpricks of green. Tucked into peaks and hills, into flatter stretches I guessed were desert. Lodged in the Middle Eastern capital itself: green and green and green. Like fish scales. Or small sequins. Green that seemed to say, welcome. Green scattered across a country I assumed to be entirely sand and brown and taupe.


Spring, Al Fuheis: my husband and I, parked on a dirt road above the wadi. Bedouins. Grazing sheep. I am five months pregnant; the valley, sprawling green.


Crayola would’ve called it yellow-green—the surgical theater where my son was born—its walls bright as a safety vest or cat’s eyes at night. Farah Hospital: one September morning, Chaske Clayton comes. Into light. Into our lives. Into a room the color of goose-droppings. Chartreuse, the French say; who knows its Arabic equivalent.


His birth certificate—my American son—in Arabic: stamped with the colors of the Jordanian flag—red and white, black and green.


Green, I was taught means envy. Green means unripe fruit. To be green is to lack experience. Will my son share my appetite for avocado? Will Chaske inherit my father’s green thumb?


Amman’s rainfall is one for the records. Water flooding the curbs. Power outages for blocks. Water falling and falling across water-starved Jordan. Afternoons, I hold my almost-five-month-old up to the balcony window. (Each day we count and name the trees.) Look, I say, it’s raining. See what’s dripping from the palm fronds? Hear that sound, baby?—it’s rain


Then: something new, something strange. I strain to see what it is and it’s true: there, across the street—in the place we call “the dirt park” not as a means of derision, but description—little shoots, green, growing (almost overnight it seems) into strands, then tufts. Patches, at first, and now an entire plot; enclosing the playground: green.


! حلوالأخضر التين

translation: the green fig is sweet!

meaning: ah, the wild figs of Jordan—what, in this world, is as sweet?


Today, a break in the weather. Egyptian boys playing something like soccer between the teeter-totter and swings. One takes off his shoes and wades into a calf-high puddle to retrieve the ball; his friends stamp barefoot through the nearby green.


One day, far from the Hashemite Kingdom, my son will be old enough to speak.

What has become of the women and children?

What has become of the young and old men?

And I will remember Saturday picnics along King’s Highway, a family crowding beneath a single oak, passing 7Up and bags of pistachios as trucks and cars speed past. How my Arabic teacher once said that when the outcast prophet returned to the desert city, he instructed his army to harm not a single leaf on the trees.



NER Digital is a creative writing series for the web. Shara Lessley, a former Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry, is the author of Two-Headed Nightingale (New Issues). Her essays and poems have appeared in The Southern Review, Ploughshares, The Cincinnati Review, and The Missouri Review, among others. Shara currently lives in the Middle East and teaches at Stanford University via its Online Writer’s Studio.

That Thing Called The L.A. River

By James Brown

James Brown’s essay “Fire” appeared in NER 23.1:

The Santa Anas die down as I approach Los Angeles and I ease up on the wheel. I take a deep breath. But I know it’s only temporary, this calm. I know better than to let myself relax. That thing called the L.A. River borders the last stretch of the freeway into Burbank, and I look out on it, the dirty water, moving sluggishly through the narrow concrete channel that contains it. Over the rush of the cars I try to imagine it as I was told it used to be, a real river, filled with trout and salmon and lined with sycamores and willows instead of chainlink and barbed wire. But I’m not successful. I think about my brother. I think about my sister. We are children down by that river on a day very much like this with the wind blowing lightly and the smell of fire in the air. I’m nine years old, the youngest, and we’re passing a bottle around, a bottle I’ve stolen from a grocery store nearby. My sister points to the sky.

“Look. Look,” she says. “Snow.”

Only they’re ashes. Ashes are falling. Ashes are everywhere, and in the sunlight they appear white, almost translucent. My head is spinning and I laugh. My brother laughs. I can hear us all laughing as we look to the sky, opening our mouths, catching ashes, like snowflakes, until our tongues turn black.

[read more]

Daily Dickinson

 On Devotional Reading | By Traci Brimhall

Author Photo: Julie Beers

A few months ago, one of my friends and I decided to enter into a five-year relationship with Emily Dickinson. The rules were broad: read an Emily Dickinson poem each day (starting with number one in the volume of Dickinson’s poetry edited by Thomas H. Johnson), and write 50-100 words about it. The observations didn’t have to be critical. What’s noticed in a poem is important, but what’s more important is the devotion, the daily return to someone’s words.


In graduate school, I was an insatiable reader. For two years I tried to read a book a day. There seemed to be so many gaps in my knowledge—gaps I thought I could never fill, gaps that are still there and keep widening—unless I consumed widely and quickly. The hunger grows the more I feed it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with gorging oneself on poetry, but lately I’ve wanted a different kind of relationship with poems.


Sometimes I write this: “Who the hell is this woman and what has she done with Dickinson?” Sometimes this: “I always knew God and math were kissing cousins.” Other days, it is this: “Yes! Yes! I will follow that line anywhere.”


Devotion is difficult. I was never any good at prayer. I always had more questions than praises or complaints.


There are very few novels I’ve read more than once, but most books of poetry on my shelf have been read anywhere from twice to a dozen times. Poetry lends itself to devotion. As a child, I tried to read the Bible all the way through several times, but I always got tangled up in the why of it. Any time I tried to ask how Cain was able to move to a city after being banished from Eden or why Lot was a person worth saving when he offered to let a crowd rape his daughters, I was told I didn’t have enough faith in God’s infinite plan.


Infinity requires devotion, and while I can’t commit to infinity, I have committed to five years of small, daily devotions. When I write tomy friend (the one who has committed to this project with me), I say “you” and I mean her. I say “we” and I mean she and I. I never mean Dickinson, even though she is what we talk about. We are sharing Dickinson, but never at the same time. We have our separate intimacies and then tell them to each other. A writer’s work—and particularly a writer like Dickinson—is so public, so exposed, so excavated, and I want her to be mine, just mine, for a few minutes, for a morning, for five years. I’ve given myself over to a book. I’ve promised myself more questions.


NER Digital is a creative writing series for the web. Traci Brimhall is the author of Our Lady of the Ruins (W.W. Norton, 2012), winner the Barnard Women Poets Prize, and Rookery (SIU Press, 2010), winner of the Crab Orchard Series First Book Award. Her poems have appeared in Kenyon Review, Slate, VQR, NER (32.1), and elsewhere. A former Halls Poetry Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, she’s currently a doctoral candidate and King/Chávez/Parks Fellow at Western Michigan University. Read Traci Brimhall’s NER poem “Somniloquy.”