The vireo’s tissue-nest holds a history of human tears. Cloth and linen handkerchiefs retrieved from Victorian gentlemen’s pockets and offered in comfort. Creped cellulose wadding, surgical dressings patching the World War I wounded. Piled layers of paper pulp dried and softened, calendared into smooth sheets of paper to accept ink. And to absorb us. Our tears, blood, pus, and mucus politely blotted. Then Kleenex made our secretions disposable in 1924. The tear-stained faces of Helen Hayes and Jean Harlow made handkerchiefs obsolete. Cosmetic grief wiped away with cold cream. Artificial feelings, the bird thinks, a waste, even a sacrilege. She can’t imagine St. Veronica daubing Jesus’ sweat and bloodied brow without her linen veil. A Holy Face impressed in Kleenex?
A paper tear bottle, the nest is a lachrymatory. I wonder how many tears it carries? A guess; 255,360,000,000.
˙ɹɐǝʎ ɥɔɐǝ ˙s˙n ǝɥʇ uı pǝsodsıp puɐ pǝsn sǝnssıʇ ɟo ɹǝqɯnu ǝɥʇ :ʇuıɥ
After my five-year-old niece’s heart transplant in 2009, I decided to table my academic writing and experiment with creative nonfiction. As a first-generation college student and English professor of twenty years (teaching courses in material culture, life writing, and ekphrastic arts), I have long wanted my work to be a gesture of public outreach to leap beyond the ivory tower. My first creative book manuscript-in-progress, Salvage, is my debt to Avery’s donor, eight-year-old Dalton Lawyer, who instigated my curiosities of what I think of as a “poetics of redemption.” A bricolage in thirteen personal, lyric, and experimental essays, Salvage redeems the afterlife of otherwise disposable objects and bodies.
My creative and academic publications include: “Mustard,” Bellingham Review (forthcoming Spring 2018); “Bestiary,” The Iowa Review 44.2 (2014): 146-59; “Epitaffio” in Words by Luisa Menazzi Moretti (Naples, Italy: Arte’m Press, 2013), 53; “Dimenticami,” Southwest Review 96.1 (2011): 83-98; “Tell-Tale Heart: Organ Donation and Transplanted Subjectivities,” Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly 34.1 (2011): 132-140; “Biography of a Box: Material Culture and Palimpsest Memory,” in History and Memory, ed. Joan Tumblety (Routledge, 2013), 194-211; “Still(ed) Lives,” in a special joint edition of Early American Literature 45.2 (2010): 371-95 and American Literary History 22.2 (2010): 390-412; and my book, Memory’s Daughters: The Material Culture of Remembrance in Eighteenth-Century America (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004).
My awards and fellowships include: “Notable Essay of 2014” (Best American Essays); 2017 Annie Dillard Prize in Creative Nonfiction (Bellingham Review); residencies at The Vermont Studio Center (August 2014) and The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (July 2012); a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship as a scholar-in-residence at the Winterthur Museum (Fall 1999), a Winterthur Museum Fellowship (Fall 2000), Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Grant at The Huntington Library (June 2000); and a fellowship at The Glasscock Center for the Humanities at Texas A&M University (Spring 2011).