I am my father’s only child, and he is my mother.

Art by Kristina Closs


by Gabrielle Bates

My father and I sit at a sushi bar in my new city
sampling three different kinds of salmon nigiri.

He tells me about a great funeral speech
he recently heard a son give for his father.

The speech was structured around regrets
everyone assumed the father didn’t have,

interspersed with hilarious stories involving boys
crashing the family van and fishing mishaps.

The ivory salmon is pale and impossibly soft.
The sliver of steelhead, orange enough

to pretend it’s salmon. How else to say it.
I am my father’s only child, and he is my mother.

We dip our chopsticks into a horseradish paste
dyed green and called wasabi. I know his regrets.

I could list them. But instead at his funeral
I will talk if I can talk about nights like this,

how good it felt just to be next to him,
to be the closest thing he had.



and memory itself has become an emigrant

I spent yesterday in a surreal fog as I worked on the Stanford obituary for the poet Eavan Boland, who was a touchstone for me and countless others. All the words I have for today are poured into that piece, so I will leave you with that remembrance and this brilliant poem, which encapsulates many of the themes Eavan wrote about with such precision, compassion, and depth.

Toby and Eavan.jpg
Eavan Boland and Tobias Wolff enjoying a moment of mirth at a creative writing dinner, 2015. Photo by me. 

“The Lost Land”

I have two daughters.

They are all I ever wanted from the earth.

Or almost all.

I also wanted one piece of ground:

One city trapped by hills. One urban river.
An island in its element.

So I could say mine. My own.
And mean it.

Now they are grown up and far away

and memory itself
has become an emigrant,
wandering in a place
where love dissembles itself as landscape:

Where the hills
are the colours of a child’s eyes,
where my children are distances, horizons:

At night,
on the edge of sleep,

I can see the shore of Dublin Bay.
Its rocky sweep and its granite pier.

Is this, I say
how they must have seen it,
backing out on the mailboat at twilight,

shadows falling
on everything they had to leave?
And would love forever?
And then

I imagine myself
at the landward rail of that boat
searching for the last sight of a hand.

I see myself
on the underworld side of that water,
the darkness coming in fast, saying
all the names I know for a lost land:

Ireland. Absence. Daughter.

from The Lost Land

i like to think you are the oddness in us

A powerful piece for all of us daughters out there from the dazzling and brilliant Lucille Clifton (1936-2010).



woman who shines at the head
of my grandmother’s bed,
brilliant woman, i like to think
you whispered into her ear
instructions. i like to think
you are the oddness in us,
you are the arrow
that pierced our plain skin
and made us fancy women;
my wild witch gran, my magic mama,
and even these gaudy girls.
i like to think you gave us
extraordinary power and to
protect us, you became the name
we were cautioned to forget.
it is enough,
you must have murmured,
to remember that i was
and that you are. woman, i am
lucille, which stands for light,
daughter of thelma, daughter
of georgia, daughter of
dazzling you.