Elk. Public domain photo.
avoidance, Uncategorized

The elk had to accept help

So, there have been recurring sightings in Colorado of a particular four-year-old male elk, noticeable because he had slipped his head through an auto tire and then grown antlers so large that the tire would not slip off. I do not live in Colorado, but I heard about this yesterday in the New York Times.

“It’s tough to look at nearly two years of a pandemic head on, to describe exactly what happened and is happening. To talk about the grief and loss and hope without reaching for symbols, for comparisons that might confer some meaning on it all. The elk’s predicament (tire on neck) and its remediation (remove tire from neck) are appealing in their simplicity. Real life, of course, is sprawling, abstract, unpredictable. It’s easier to say “We are all the elk” than to reckon with the bewildering particulars of Covid, quarantine and after.”

Let’s Talk About the Elk,” Melissa Kirsch, New York Times, October 13, 2021

For this elk, there was a solution. People tranquilized it, sawed off its antlers, slipped the tire over its head, then gave it a drug to reverse the effects of the tranquilizer. It woke up and walked away. For a while, it will also be less vulnerable to hunters, as they will not want to shoot it if there are no antlers to take as a trophy. The elk had to accept help. This, too, is a metaphor.

[Public domain photo of an elk.]


How often do you think about your calcaneus? On ‘The Smallest of Bones’

Book cover: The Smallest of Bones by Holly Lyn Walrath

How often you think about your cranium? mandible? sternum? sacrum? spine? calcaneus? temporal?

Admittedly, I, a lover of poetry and not as devout a student of anatomy, until recently could only have definitively pointed out the locations of four of these. “Temporal,” I’d have said, was probably somewhere in the head (yes), “sacrum” was a distant memory from yoga class, and “calcaneus,” never mind.

But here, in The Smallest of Bones, Holly Lyn Walrath makes of anatomy a poem. Here I am, finally excuseless, learning my anatomy.

Sex and gender

Sexed and gendered, the skeleton is. Examination of the skull yields up “sex, but not gender.” On the other hand, the mandible may be fractured “in cases of domestic violence”—a gendered issue, right? An important question, the way sex and gender are bound up in each other, in ways ranging from invisible to tenuous to obvious, right down to our bones.

Natural and supernatural

Of the cranium, Walrath tells us that “the demon’s tongue is rough like a cat’s” and bursts someone else’s secret: “I wanted to eat your dreams when I die, you say”.


Until recently, it would have been hard for me even to guess at the identity of the “calcaneus.” The word “los calcetines” (socks) is more popular in Mexico; here in Colombia, we say “las medias.”

But it so happened that the bone spurs I had unknowingly cultivated for some five years, sprouting slowly and simultaneously from my left and right heels, suddenly reared their minor-demon levels of bitey pain, and a couple months ago I got the X-ray diagnosis: calcaneal spurs. So I do know, already, by now, the calcaneus. The heel. The other heel. Unforgettable.

And so, I am thankful for Walrath’s bibulous ghost prayers written in honor of this sneaky body part:

“my body is two-thirds whiskey
and one-third

Holly Lyn Walrath

This is, indeed—I am about to quote another of Walrath’s “calcaneus” lines—how I currently feel about this bone I never previously contemplated and took for granted until it began to hurt: “god I love the things I hate”.

You can find The Smallest of Bones by Holly Lyn Walrath at CLASH Books.

Detail from I'M FROM NOWHERE book cover

Lerman: Climate anxiety that is ‘subcutaneous—felt but barely articulated’

One of my favorite author-written Forewords is to Lindsay Lerman’s I’m From Nowhere. A decade before the publication of her book, she had moved from Toronto to Istanbul, where she was a research assistant and taught English. She didn’t really speak Turkish, and she lived in “relative isolation” in a little apartment. Of this period in her life, she says:

…I was given permission to abandon myself, and to recreate myself as I saw fit. I didn’t have enough to ask myself: What will you do? And I did not have the dangerous lure of doing the usual shit to distract myself from the question. I was fortunate to be there, in Istanbul, no matter how maddening and difficult it was, but anyone who has abandoned and recreated themselves out of necessity knows that it’s not quite fun, that it feels like death—is death—and of course it’s beautiful, but beauty hurts.

Did I have the luxury of shattering, or the sudden absence of the luxury of habit and inhabiting recognizable norms? Probably a bit of both.

Lindsay Lerman, I’m From Nowhere. CLASH Books, 2020. Foreword, p. xiv.
Book cover for Lindsay Lerman's I'M FROM NOWHERE

Those of us who have moved far away or otherwise gone through a period that feels somewhat like a hiatus or personal reinvention might relate.

Much twentieth-centry literature imagined that “personal crises could often be neatly separated from political crises,” and “all the books I read that inhabited that fantasy world made me sad, not in the deep reckoning-with-reality kind of way, but sad in the way you feel when you watch someone walk unwittingly into danger, knowing you can’t stop them.”

In this book, she acknowledges that “the issues related to ‘climate’ are subcutaneous—felt but barely articulated…I don’t necessarily like the way we continue to carry on as we make the world less and less inhabitable, and as we see fresh evidence of it each day. But…we are allowed to create characters and milieux that we find disagreeable, or troubling, or don’t fully understand.”

A red car, 1920s-style. Detail from the book cover of THE PURSUED AND THE PURSUING by AJ Odasso.

2021 Gatsby reboot: ‘The Pursued and the Pursuing’

Book cover of "The Pursued and the Pursuing" by AJ Odasso

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel The Great Gatsby entered the public domain in the United States this year, making space for this sequel by AJ Odasso, The Pursued and the Pursuing. In this version, Jay Gatsby survives the bullet from Myrtle’s husband, and during his recovery he rekindles his old feelings for Nick Carraway (who narrates the original novel as well as this sequel). Jay and Nick reveal to each other that, in addition to having tried to settle down with women, they had brief affairs with other men, but they have never stopped thinking about each other.

That the newspaper has already run an obituary for the socialite Jay Gatsby gives him an opportunity to reinvent himself as—or, more accurately, revert himself to—his James Gatz identity. He and Nick have lots of sex, live as partners, and are cavalier about their obviousness, so people in close proximity tend to pick up that they are a couple. Meanwhile, Jay’s old girlfriend Daisy Buchanan gets back in touch. Jay and Nick don’t much care for her or her husband Tom, but they adore her teenage daughter Pam, who has her own sexuality and gender journey and becomes like a surrogate daughter to them. Thus they spend the 1930s.

Odasso’s voice in this novel is different from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, especially in the homoerotic escapades and related discussions which feel much more modern, but neither is it entirely dissimilar from Fitzgerald’s. It’s an homage, and there’s some artistic continuity in the setting, the language, and the rhythm of the sentences. It’s a good balance between familiar and speculative, breathing new life into old characters.

Do we need a gay Gatsby? Yes. Yes, we do.

The ending draws the novel gently to a close. At that point, the story feels not quite wrapped up, but perhaps nothing needs to be wrapped up. Instead, the ending draws us to a very particular place we need to be.

I received a free advance review copy from NetGalley.

The characters Gemma and Tom sit on the bed, talking to each other, in Vivarium.

‘Or Hell?’

In Vivarium, Gemma and Tom are trapped in a malevolently enchanted and otherwise uninhabited housing complex with a demon child. Tom begins digging a large pit in the yard as if it could become an escape route. Later, Gemma asks him where he plans to go via that tunnel. “Australia? Or Hell?

At this moment, in my viewing, the characters stopped moving and speaking. It seemed they were deeply contemplating the possibility that there was no way out of their predicament. As they did not resume moving or speaking, I wondered if the demon had stopped time, trapping them in Hell where they stood. The pause was inordinately long. I’d never seen such a pause in a film. The actors seemed not to be breathing. Was the film director forcing us to look for clues in the visual composition of the scene?

After a minute or two, I tried the remote and realized that the film had simply frozen. The dialogue in Vivarium doesn’t really pause here.

But let me know if you see clues in the picture, anyway.

The characters Gemma and Tom sit on the bed, talking to each other, in Vivarium.