Today we are playing basketball in PE. “Maestro, look!” Alberto shouts as he hoists the ball into the air underhand. Grandma style we call it. Slowly, slowly the ball fulfills its potential, surrendering to gravity and swishing neatly through the hoop. “Did you see? Did you see?” he asks.
I nod and his pudgy, red-cheeked face gleams. He’s an important ally. Alberto is my classroom translator.
It’s 1998 and California is in the midst of a massive teacher shortage. Alongside other college-fresh idealists, the state fast tracks me into the public school system with an emergency credential. My classroom experience consists of one year tutoring and a stint co-teaching summer school.
Right off the bat, I get a full-time gig teaching fourth grade in muggy, industrial San Jose. The hills along the 280 freeway are a yellowish brown—any lingering grass now burned to a crisp. Welcome to late August in Silicon Valley’s South Bay.
I spend the final scorching days of summer driving to teacher supply stores in my hand-me-down Saturn. I’m looking for posters, decorations, “beginning of the school year” stuff. I tack colorful borders to the walls of my classroom until they shout, “Welcome Back, Students!”
The first month is a breeze.…
Dixon Hearne writes the American South. He is the author of seven books of fiction and poetry. His work has been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, as well as the PEN/Hemingway and PEN/Faulkner awards. From Tickfaw to Shongaloo was awarded Second Place in the 2014 Faulkner Novella Competition, judged by Moira Crone. His latest book is Plainspeak: New and Selected Poems. Other work appears in Oxford American, New Orleans Review, Tulane Review, Louisiana Literature, Potomac Review, Wisconsin Review, New Plains Review, Weber: The Contemporary West, and elsewhere. He has published five books of fiction, three anthologies, and innumerable short stories in magazines and journals. He is a frequent presenter at conferences and book events, including the 2009, 2015, and 2016 Louisiana Book Festivals. For details, please visit his official site and Wikipedia entry.
In this episode of Cover to Cover with . . ., Editor-in-Chief Jordan Blum speaks with Hearne about his love for the American South, his path toward crafting poetry and fiction gold, the creative dangers of extreme political correctness and sensitivity, and more.
– Dixon Hearne…
Sleep like it’s all beginning.
Let your body in.
Think of her fingers.
Pace your insides.
Sit under the tree.
Flicker like the end
of a chrysanthemum
firework. Climb that tetanus
nightmare playground equipment.
Laugh at the pigwolves. Laugh
at the elfhorses. Look
at me. Please remember.
Let the silence pass through.
Smell the woods, keep
– Sarah-Kathryn Bryan…
For a year he cut the lawn, and I never
knew his last name. I had to ask
the neighbor in the yellow
house after he vanished, her roses
dormant witnesses in the dark. When I’d tried
in terrible Spanish to explain where to plant the lavender,
my macete stumbled out machete
and he’d laughed behind black
cheap glasses, said, Police, bad,
they don’t like it. Words fall out
clumsy, twisted, and his surname—
we only cared when he’d gone. Then,
it was knocks on doors, furtive
asks in the night. For a week I watched
the online detainee locator site,
made calls that never came back.
The neighbor patrolled his church, carried
back stories of an avocado orchard
acres of drug cartels with fuerte-slick lips
where his father-in-law was murdered
last month. We don’t know to hope
that ICE ripened him out or if he turned scared
and went south. Children hunkered
the cab with grass clippings, his wife
watching the exit signs fall
to one. Who knows? the neighbor
said, her white teeth shining. Maybe one day
he’ll show up with a truck of avocados
and his cataracts scraped clean.
– Jessica Mehta
Author’s Note: I’m a confessional poet, making all of my work either autobiographical or based on real people and situations.…
On a late afternoon in February, as snow was just starting to stick to the highway, I had finished teaching my social psychology class at a university in Baltimore, Maryland and was driving to an evening game of tennis. I was fifty-nine at the time and I had played tennis for thirty-five of those years. I have a love affair with tennis, a sport that mentally transports me to a place where troubles and petty annoyances are lost in the sheer joy and focus of the game; what I imagined Csikszentmihalyi was talking about when he described the concept of flow.
My doubles partner that evening was a player new to the group. She was probably in her early thirties, around the age of my own daughter. We won the racquet spin and we chose to serve. I took my place at the net and when my partner served, the receiving opponent ripped a forehand return right at me. I blocked the ball and at that moment, an electrical malfunction caused the lights to go out in the tennis facility. We all moved slowly through the dark to the net to wait for the lights to come back on. Then my partner, in front of seven other players (the other court joined us) asked me in a concerned voice:…