Sample Work


It’s hard to tell the difference
Between a slight, short breath
And a gasped misstep—
Bootlaced to mud,
Sure to leave a mess
That will sweep away, once dry,
From the phony hardwood
Too perfect in the vigor of its grain to be real.

A quick, rain-focused walk to the mailbox
Can trace a body with its cells,
Leaving smears that just won’t wash off hands or clothes or face.
Just like the first chalkboard math problem
Which left you dusted
And a carry the one short of the solution.

--From A School for Fishermen

Punching a Bat 

While running the other night,
 I punched a bat in mid stride, or at least I think it was a bat. It was large and it wrapped my knuckles with a wing, which I took to heart. Its strange growl as I ran away caused an uproar among the cicadas, which I had not noticed were finally in audience this summer. It is always sad when a toreador gets gored, when the one we come to see gets the horns, but it's also why we watch: legs tense, eyes squinged and wings drawn.

--From Counting Sheep Till Doomsday


She loves Yetis. They hate time machines nearly as much as she does, have no interest in loops, meeting themselves, or catastrophic butterfly flaps. They don’t care much for looking back at all. And forward, forward is just a hairy step in the snow out of the weather and into each other’s laps or on the trail looking for a tasty meal. They are terrific hunters—not many people know this. And they have—ironically—a highly overdeveloped sense of time. Have you ever met a Yeti who was late? . . . or who didn’t show up when he said he was going to? They are always five minutes early and never make you wait, sweating those ten, fifteen, sometimes twenty minutes out in the cold wondering why you don’t matter.*

*Several studies in the 1970s concluded that Yeti timeliness had decreased, but many contemporary researchers question the data-gathering methods and find the conclusions dubious. See, for example, Bob Dixon-Kolar’s Philosophical Ideas and Artistic Pursuits in the Traditions of the Himalayan Yeti.

--From Big Bad Asterisk*

Chapter 7

America. In America, Johnny was the name of every cool guy in every cool movie. There was a Johnny in Grease. There was a Johnny in The Karate Kid. There was a Johnny in The Outsiders. Let’s not forget El Debarge’s, “Who’s Johnny” from Short Circuit—one of his favorite 80s movies. Number five is alive! And, of course, Marty McFly jinning “Johnny B Goode” at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance with Marvin Berry and the Starlighters. Oddly enough, John was the name of generations of men in his family, including his father, but his parents, wanting him to assimilate, had given him the most American name they could think of, a name his mother caught from a doctor on General Hospital. He hated the way it sounded in other people’s mouths—off the cuff like it was nothing too serious, like it was something for selling soap or toothpaste—everything important burned away by nothing more than a little lemon on the backs of their front teeth. Not good for hiding, not good for running, not good for accosting those with easy smiles or difficult ones. It didn’t match the sour face in his genes, painted on caves someplace old across the ocean.

--from The Secret Correspondence of Loon & Fiasco

Dead Man's Chest

As much as I admire Ptolemy’s nested spheres and his epicycles as byzantine and elegant as a boxer’s angles and half turns, and as much as I love Galileo going toe-to-toe with a pope, the man I remember most from middle school science class is Tycho Brahe—the scientist so badass he lost most of his nose in a duel and simply slapped on another one of silver and gold and went about his day. Fighters know about noses; we can spot our own by the obtuse angles at which they often set. A well-placed strike can make blood shoot out in an ion stream or make your eyes water and leave you seeing stars; it all depends on how you’re hit. My nose has been broken three times by upper cuts—twice during actual fights. The first time I broke it I stopped snoring. The second time, my nose was straightened statue perfect. The third time it set at a rakish angle, which I try to wear with the same bravado and dignity worthy of Tycho himself. My teammate, Rudy, on the other hand, got his nose broken from a straight punch, which caused his nose to bridge and crest like the rim of a lunar crater, but not even this impact could phase The Face’s celestial good looks. Is there nothing that can mar that countenance? And then there’s Nosebleed, whose nose bleeds every practice even though no one has touched it—some unkind trick of physiognomy. Broken noses blaze brightly, to be sure; audiences hush to them or are brought to anxious anticlimax by a contest that is most likely far from over. It is true the nose can turn almost any conversation to fighting, but it is the least of a fighter’s worries. It is much worse to burst a hand, or rip a ligament in a knee or throw out your back. The worst part of a broken nose, by far, is the perfect blooms it sometimes leaves on a rose-white gi.

--from Most Human Human Contest


Contrary to what all the magazines say,
don’t do that thing
where you synchronize
with her movements because
she will punch
you straight in the face.Do not break out
the bedroom lips.
Do not smile
unless you are off book and maybe not even then.
Do not bother working up
the nerve to be pretty.
She hates to be without her blades and cannot abide the taking of turns,
so please,
talk fast;
talk loud. Spit
on her hand. Sweat
on her cheek. Growl
her into the back room,
but nothing less.

--from It's Best Not to Interrupt Her Experiments

The Others

His name was Scott, and he was the lead singer of a band named Blair’s Carriage. Scott with eyes closed. Scott with cigarette jammed in the head of his guitar. Scott singing about a girl named Lori. After he finished his set, we went looking for him. We didn’t know what we were going to say because we would have said anything. We didn’t know what we were going to do because we would have done anything. When we finally spotted him, he was in a swing next to a pretty pixie of a girl who, it turns out, was the violin player in his band, though we didn’t know that at the time. I knew she must be the eponymous Lori of “Lori’s Curb.” I wanted it to be Lori. I needed it to be Lori. I just knew she would be something. She would have to be too much or never mind. I knew he wouldn’t be the kind of guy to date groupies. He wouldn’t do that. He was bigger than that—better.

--From The Quitters

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