Finalist: Proximity Magazine Essay Prize

Proximity Magazine 2017 Essay Prize Finalist

My essay was selected as a finalist in this competition and I’m honored to be included in such an accomplished group of creative writers. The theme of this prize issue is WORK:

“For its second annual prize issue, Proximity was looking for true stories that explore the theme of WORK. Work defines our lives and our livelihoods. Work is labor. Work is art. Work is paid or unpaid, public or private or under the table. Work is at the heart of healthy relationships. Work puts food on the table. Work takes us out of our comfort zones. Work is political.”

August 4, 2017: Proximity editorial team announced the nine finalists for 2017 Essay Prize. Judges Adriana E. Ramírez (Essay) and Ted Conover (Narrative Journalism) will select winners (and a few additional finalists).

From “Aldebaran”

The first time I landed, I crossed by water. We sailed at night from the boot of Italy, running east in rain and wind, across the Ionian Sea. Our ferry tickets were deck-class only, and what scarce shelter the deck afforded was already claimed. I pitched my free-standing tent. We wrestled our backpacks inside to weight the tent against the ship. All night the nylon flustered and bucked against the wind. My sister and I cringe in the dark on the hard deck, fearing we would kite overboard in the gale.  A clear dawn broke through the cypress trees on Corfu. I fell asleep, finally. I dreamt the throbbing ship engines were the heartbeat of a great beast beneath me, cradling me over the waves.

There are not enough words for purple, I think. Of those few choices English offers to name the fusing of primary colors, most are artifice. Along that inside passage, the purples of sea and land waxed dark at noon entering the Bay of Patras. Great stone breasts of islands were illuminated by the rising sun on the water to port, shapes shaded aubergine and heliotrope diminishing to violet. The diesel exhaust of the ferry smokestacks was swept away by the wind, yet the lingering back-scent was rich like earth–earth and the wine-dark sea.

Crows Dreaming of Ravens

The garments worn in flying dreams
were fashioned there—
overcoats that swooped like kites,
scarves streaming like vapor trails,
gowns ballooning into spinnakers.

–Stuart Dybeck, from “Windy City”

Dawn comes early and I can’t hide. Each May morning waking, dream-washed and clean, to a day of exuberant green dressed with dew. There is just one more moon between now and the solstice, a round high summer moon coming to mark our longest day in the northern latitudes. Then the days grow shorter again.

I have often thought the seasons were mismarked on the calendar. If, unmoored from the tyrannical grid of weeks and months, we found more names for the light of days and nights, would we not be less surprised and dismayed while the seasons passed?

My new seasons might commence on the cross-quarter days, those landmarks between solstices and equinox. There would be waxing and waning phases to portions of the year. This scheme might look something like this (in the northern hemisphere, of course):

February 1         First Spring

March 21            Full Spring

May 1                  Summer

June 21                High Summer

August 1              First Fall

September 21     Full Fall

October 31          Winter

December 21      Low Winter

“The Island” Excerpt

The shelter of any island, for the maverick and mutineer, tempts Huck Finnian day dreams. There’s nothing prosaic about the Island, as I name it now, a proper noun, as it is referred to by family and familiars in conversation. Sometimes, it is called The Big Island, to distinguish it from The Little Island nearby, when duck hunters plan to float the river and stalk birds. At one time, the level center portion was cleared and plowed to be planted with grain or alfalfa. It has been years since a hoe or harrow worked the earth there. On the upstream side, the land slopes down to a bed of river rock lapped by the river; downstream a high bank comes to a point like the prow of a ship. River banks are thick with willow trees and brush. It is rough, unruly and overgrown, home to magpies and foxes. Over the years, visitors learn about the Island and are eager to go there and explore a curiosity. I don’t know what they imagine before they step out of the boat onto the bank, as though the Island would somehow be quixotic rather than starkly feral.