her child would never know the damp of hunger in his bones

illustration of a mother and sun as silhouettes, eating burgers and fries with blue waves in the background
Art by Kristina Closs

I Tell My Mother About My Depression

by Eric Tran

She is ashamed of my seasickness,
her son, bled down from boat people.

We are kidding, of course: between waves
and prayers to Mercy, she swore

her child would never know
the damp of hunger in his bones.

She wanted him fat like clay
and just as soft. In college, I lost

ten pounds of myself and half
the words she sang to me as a baby.

The aunties cooed my new frame
but she was silent, both of us famished

for the words we meant. I say 
I’m sad from sun to sun

and her response is a crisp
twenty for the quiet burger joint

we visited when I was young
and never talked, or didn’t need

words, our mouths and bellies
singing the same full rhythm.

from The Gutter Spread Guide to Prayer


take this soup I froze four batches in Tupperware

an illustration of a mother's hand near a suitcase filled with Tupperware, umbrella, sweater, liver, socks. The luggage tag has a heart on it.
Art by Kristina Closs

Matthew You’re Leaving Again So Soon

by Matthew Siegel

please take these pens I have all these pens
for you all with caps on them and pen holders
I have all these pen holders large and plastic

I know they won’t fit in your bag I’ll mail them
take this umbrella this sweater these socks
they’re ankle length like you like them

and soup take this soup I froze four batches
in Tupperware four batches of broth and chicken
and carrots and celery frozen in the freezer

they will keep you healthy my son
my liver take my liver to help clean your blood
I’ll fly to you I’ll come to you tomorrow

you used to cling to my ankle and I would
drag you across the floor please
pack me in your suitcase take me with you

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