These days, you arrive in a new place from a great height. Brief glimpse of patterned land, sometimes sea, then trundling along skyways until finding your way down to the ground and the transport available there. Eventually, you make your way to the heart of the place, where you can approach it from eye level.
It is clear, the night we arrive, cruising along the gleaming highway under bright signs in Arabic and English, that we are driving toward the center. We pass The Petroleum Institute, a ministries complex, and, just before the lights all around brighten into city life, an expanse of scrub where the dark is very deep.
Beyond the sabkha, the salt flats, likely water; Abu Dhabi is a grouping of islands adhering to a curve of land at the ankle of the Arabian Peninsula on the Arabian Gulf. The traffic thickens—as does the cologne of our cab driver, sprayed now in quick pumps in rhythm to the Dubai-based reggae station—and the roadsigns begin to display the names of sheikhs. People and sidewalks materialize. No street vendors, no one begging—this is a city in development but it is not the developing world. It feels like a hub. It will be, at least, our hub for the next year. Practicing restraint, I do not reach for my husband next to me, knowing public affection is frowned upon. Stalled at a long light, I stare straight ahead and will us forward.
Excerpt from: ‘From the 17th floor: First Impressions’.
I am Editor-in-Chief of The Common. I have an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars. My short stories, translations, and essays have been published in journals such as Guernica, n+1, Ploughshares, Ascent, Sonora Review, Harper’s, The Millions, The New Inquiry, and Publishers Weekly. I teach literature, creative writing, and editing at Amherst College and NYU Abu Dhabi, and I’m completing a novel called The Limits of the World.
After an exciting, everything-is-new year in Abu Dhabi, taking in travels in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, I’m happy to be back home in lovely Western Mass. It’s a season full of book festivals and conferences and classroom visits up and down and across the color-spotted Northeast. New essays—some long in the making!—are coming soon, so please check back, and stay in touch.
Thought Episodes: Norman Rush's Novels of Ideas, The Millions
A Rejoicing: Rereading Shirley Hazzard, Ploughshares
In Search of Past Dream Time: Two New Books by Andre Aciman, The Millions (Also: Q&A with Aciman)
The Destiny of Borges, Harper’s Magazine (Translator)
The Widow, Guernica
The Real People, n+1
Homage to the Man-Eating Lions, Sonora Review
Pregnant Lady, What Are You Fighting For?, Dogwood
Fasting, Words & Images