Dinty W. Moore: Of Idle People who Rove About

I arrived in Boca Raton as naïve as Christopher Columbus when he first stumbled off the Santa Maria thinking he had landed on East Indian shores.  I had visions of walking along serene Boca beaches, of pearly shells crunching under foot, of dolphins leaping in a golden sunset, and of encountering the occasional native Floridian under a palm tree to exchange pleasantries about idyllic life in a slow-paced beachfront paradise.

Of course, I knew nothing.

And as for paradise, I hope never to return.


Two or three hours’ walking will carry me to as strange a country as I expect ever to see.


My first full day in Boca, a Monday, I set out early to meet my afternoon class at Florida Atlantic University.  I was the guest writer for the week, and eager to make the acquaintance of my new charges.

The evening before, I had dismissed a possible warning from Nicole, the graduate student who kindly rescued me at the Ft. Lauderdale airport.

“I enjoy a good walk,” I insisted when she offered to retrieve me from my hotel lobby each morning and deliver me directly to campus.  “It’s only about a mile, right?”

“But I’m happy to pick you up,” Nicole repeated, an almost sad tone in her voice.

“I’ll be fine,” I offered breezily.  “Just fine.”

The simple mile, a mere stroll for someone who enjoys walking, ran almost entirely along Glades Road, a six lane highway whose main purpose, it turns out, is to funnel thousands of automobiles every fifteen minutes or so onto, off of, and over I-95.

The storied interstate runs from the northern tip of Maine to just south of Miami, passing through fifteen states, skirting major metropolitan centers such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, finally bisecting Florida like a rigid spine of concrete and carbon monoxide.

At the point that I-95 runs under Glades Road, passing through the heart of Boca, the interstate has ten lanes, and for most of my walk that Monday morning I was dodging entrance ramps, exit ramps, and scores of impatient drivers scowling behind tinted windows. They were clearly annoyed that this man, this pedestrian, this fellow without enough sense to find a proper gas-powered vehicle, was slowing everything down.  Some drivers gave me the right-of-way, most did not, but it seemed as if none of them were pleased, or for that matter, accustomed to someone crossing the off-ramps on foot.

But being made of stronger stock than most, instead of curling into a fetal ball alongside the fourth on-ramp, tucking myself into the bushes with the discarded fast-food wrappers, beer cans, and condoms, I plunged forward, across the concrete-circles-of-hell, toward what my map told me would be the entrance to the FAU campus.

I had pictured – being the sort of fellow who visits college campuses with some regularity – that I would hit upon a more foot-friendly territory near the campus, a lively area, perhaps, peppered with carefree undergraduates, a few hackie-sacking slackers, some engineering majors staring into laptops outside a coffee shop, and a bar, certainly, or six of them, since students tend toward Herculean thirst.  Along with this, I imagined a campus gate, a red-brick sidewalk, some sort of feline mascot in stone, and some easy, inviting way for those of us inclined to perambulation to find our way onto the campus grounds.

Poor naïve me.

Instead, what I found, in the bright white heat of Florida in April, was perhaps the most difficult intersection of all.  I literally had to sprint across ten lanes of Glades Road (expanded at this point to allow for multiple turning lanes) in the small amount of time allotted in the red-yellow-green light system, and still, I was the only poor soul on foot.

I survived, to find a campus – not surprisingly, in retrospect – ringed by parking lots, one after another, after another.

We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return, prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms.

Having grasped that the I-95 overpass was not pedestrian-friendly, I secured a bus schedule and a better map on Tuesday, and planned an outing to the Atlantic Ocean, about four miles down the road.

Did the bus run to the Ocean?

Of course not.

Boca’s bus system connects shopping mall to medical complex to shopping mall, and not for the patrons mind you, because anyone who can afford to shop at the high-end stores of the Boca Raton Town Center Mall obviously owns more than one car.  Judging from the weary looks of my fellow bus patrons, the bus system exists exclusively for those hard-working folks who wash the floors, empty the trash, and watch the night for the various commercial establishments along the way. The closest the bus would take me to water was a stop at the Publix Super Market, about 1.2 miles away.

Late that afternoon, I cheerfully stepped off the bus and headed east, toward the smell of water and the shriek of gulls.

And what I saw were homes, beautiful homes, walled homes, windows closed, shutters drawn, the occasional Cadillac Escalante parked in an immaculate driveway, manicured shrubs, ornamental bushes, warning signs on every lawn – “Alarm System installed” – and cars, whizzing past in every direction.

What I didn’t see: birds, squirrels, children, elderly folks out for a stroll, people in their driveways, people on porches enjoying the day, folks walking to the corner market for a quart of milk, or anyone on foot.

Except when I reached the causeway, a drawbridge set in place to let the massive yachts and sailboats into Lake Boca Raton, where I saw a young man of 20 or so down by the water with a four-foot iguana on a leash.  The iguana was swimming, and the young man was holding the lizard’s tether along the bank of the inlet.

I couldn’t get close enough to the young man to speak with him, so I waved.

He waved back with his free hand.


I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering, which word is beautifully derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la Sainte Terre,” to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte-Terrer,” a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander.

“You walked?  You actually walked?”

My students were incredulous.  One or two gave me a look suggesting that I had a screw or three loose in my head.  I had not only walked from the Publix to the beach, maybe twenty minutes past those desolate mansions, but then I walked from the ocean back to my hotel, another 90 minutes or so.

This was after some difficulty actually finding the ocean, because it was hidden behind high-rise apartment building and condos, all of which announced: “Beach Access for Residents Only.”  The beach, by law, is free for everyone.  You just aren’t allowed to cross anyone’s property to get there.

“No one walks in Boca Raton,” my students laughed, when I told my story.

“You could have been killed.”

“I sure wouldn’t walk here.”

“Damn.  I wouldn’t live here.”

And it hit me then, in the wonderful way that hindsight suddenly makes sense of disparate confusions: none of these students lived in Boca.  FAU exists only because I-95 provides such easy vehicular access to a student body spread up and down the Miami-Port St. Lucie corridor.  Boca is just a resort town for the wealthy and the retired.

My FAU student friends live wherever they can afford to live, and that’s some distance away.  They drive in to campus every day, take a class or two, and then rush off to (often full-time) jobs, twelve or twenty exits up or down the interstate.  No one but the fool that is me would actually imagine walking to this campus.

My vicinity affords many good walks; and though for so many years I have walked almost every day, and sometimes for several days together, I have not yet exhausted them. An absolutely new prospect is a great happiness, and I can still get this any afternoon.

Like all deeply-ingrained habits, my sauntering began early, in grade school.  I didn’t walk twenty miles through chest-deep snow in bare feet, but I did walk a half-a-mile each day, rain or shine, and we lived along the Lake Erie snow belt. There was, indeed, a candy store along the way, and though the Sisters of St. Joseph would not allow us to eat penny candy during class, you could circumvent the prohibition with a five-cent box of Smith Brothers cherry cough drops and a fake cough.

Walking home was even better, because there was no time limit, no opening bell, so I could wander, up and down the odd avenues, past the excitable dog behind the rusted fence, into the woods that bordered Sixth Street, down to Frontier Creek to float leaf boats, or past the house that contained a feral, hair-covered, criminally-insane thirty-year-old “wolf man” chained to a wall.  We spent a fair amount of time trying to catch a glimpse of this poor fellow in the tiny attic window, but oddly, no one ever reported a credible sighting.

These walks, to and from school, are how I learned the patterns of my neighborhood, the habits of the people, the comings and goings of the man who actually wore a suit to work every day, the family that gathered around the piano to sing songs before dinner, the foreign woman whose front porch smelled liked cooked cabbage, the housewife who was always rushing off in her car with an angry look in her eyes, the young couple with what we then called a “retarded child,” the elderly man who took ten minutes just to walk up his own driveway.

You come to care about a place when you know it this intimately, when you see the patterns, and discern the subtle changes.  One day the elderly man was no longer taking his morning walk.  The poor family in the ratty duplex disappeared overnight, the front porch littered with whatever didn’t fit into the back of the truck.  There was a window broken on the angry women’s car, and two weeks later she was gone as well.

Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.

I live in a small college town in Appalachian Ohio, and I often walk to work. It takes me forty-five minutes, which can be tiring at times, but the more I do it the quicker the time goes by.  For a while, I thought: you could get more work done, write more essays, clear more e-mails from your inbox, if you didn’t spend 90 minutes walking to and from campus.  But then I realized I did get more work done on the days that I walked, because I was sharper, clearer, had used some of the foot-time to sort the detritus from my brain and identify the daily to-do list that actually mattered.

But what I really like about walking to work is that I see people.

There is a women, a nurse who I imagine works the overnight shift, because I see her in her front garden often in the late morning, still wearing her medical smock.  I complimented her on her roses one day, and she beamed.  Now we wave and smile every once in a while.

Two weeks back, I spotted a bird, obviously young and just fallen from a tree, on the front lawn of a student apartment house.  Two college kids – modern day hippie types – were sitting on the porch, so I pointed out the bird to them.  The young man, dreadlocked and tie-dyed, stopped everything, tied up his dog who was suddenly curious as well, and rescued the bird.

There is an overweight gentleman who spends every afternoon on a porch swing, and we nod and smile regularly. There are regular joggers who seem to really like that I step aside onto the grass when they come up to me, so they can stay on the sidewalk, where there is less chance they will turn an ankle.  There are these guys who have been sandblasting all of the paint from a beautiful but down-and-out Victorian house for months, and every once in a while I mention that the project is coming along well.  They seem to appreciate it.

The notion that our cities and towns are losing any sense of community, that neighborhoods are no longer places where one family looks out for another and everyone feels safe, that neighbors don’t even know the names of the folks right next door, is widespread, cited in newspaper editorials, listed as either symptom or cause of any number of social ills.  We shake our heads and sadly wonder what has gone wrong.

Hey, we aren’t helping each other here!

Get out of the damn car and walk around.

Get to know your street, the street behind you, and the people up and down your block.

When sometimes I am reminded that the mechanics and shopkeepers stay in their shops not only all the forenoon, but all the afternoon too, sitting with crossed legs, so many of them as if the legs were made to sit upon, and not to stand or walk upon I think that they deserve some credit for not having all committed suicide long ago.

Henry David Thoreau, author of the occasional quotes embedded in this essay, didn’t live to see the automobile.

That’s probably a good thing.  He was cranky enough.

Suicide, he says?  People forced to sit all day in offices, stores, and cubicles should be commended for not taking their own lives?

Perhaps he was just exaggerating for effect.  Writers have been known to do that.

Or maybe he truly believed what he wrote.  Perhaps he saw what I began to see as I persisted in my vain attempts to saunter through Boca Raton, to find some heart to that unapproachable community, to claim some small corner for the humble foot soldier against the unwelcoming intersections and ubiquitous automobile.

The fact that no one but me was out and about, that no one else was strolling along the sidewalks, working in their side yards, trimming the yellow roses, throwing Frisbees, or walking wiener dogs on their stubby little legs, combined with those grand, sprawling homes all shuttered, air-conditioned, set off by fences and inhospitable gates, put me to mind of mausoleums, or Egyptian pyramids.  These would be grand structures in which to be entombed, really, but there is time enough for that after death.

And now maybe I’m the one exaggerating for effect, but just as being shut away in one of these hermetically-sealed homes, surrounded by nothing but television and burglar alarms, seems something like a premature burial, the prospect of living your days inside of an automobile is not much to be preferred.

In death, our souls are transported, though we do not know in precisely what fashion.  In Boca, our souls are transported, by sports cars with spoked rims and tinted windows.

Either way, that’s not quite living.

My apologies to Mr. Thoreau.  Perhaps I’m the cranky one.

But here’s the simple truth:

When I’m sauntering, wandering, strolling, ambling, rambling, bopping along on two sturdy feet, I’m much more optimistic.  I feel entirely alive.


Dinty W. Moore is the Director of Creative Writing at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, a town he describes as “the funkadelicious, hillbilly-hippie Appalachian epicenter of the locally-grown, locally-consumed, goats-are-for-cheese, paw-paws-are-for-eatin’, artisanal-salsa, our-farmers-market-rocks-the-hills sub-culture.”

Before he became a writer, Moore worked as a police reporter, a documentary filmmaker, a modern dancer, a zookeeper, and a Greenwich Village waiter. He is the author of The Mindful Writer: Noble Truths of the Writing Life; Crafting the Personal Essay: A Guide for Writing and Publishing Creative Nonfiction; The Accidental Buddhist: Mindfulness, Enlightenment, and Sitting Still, American StyleThe Truth of the Matter: Art and Craft in Creative Nonfiction; The Emperor’s Virtual Clothes: The Naked Truth About Internet Culture; the short story collection Toothpick Men; and the memoir Between Panic & Desire, winner of the Grub Street Nonfiction Book Prize. Moore’s writing has appeared in The Southern Review, The Georgia Review, Harpers, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine, Gettysburg Review, Utne Reader, and Crazyhorse, among numerous other venues. He is also the editor of Brevity, the journal of concise creative nonfiction.  When he’s not writing, teaching, or editing, Moore grows his own heirloom tomatoes and edible dandelions.

Debra Dean: Excerpt from The Mirrored World

Excerpt of The Mirrored World (c) Debra Dean.  Printed courtesy of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. 

The earliest memory—blackness, and in this blackness the sound of church bells clanging wildly—it is of her coming. Clambering down from the bed I share with my nyanya, a treacherous descent in the dark, I go to the window. The dusky summer sky is shimmering. Orange, violet, red—the northern lights pulse and flare—and in the street, a man falls to his knees and crosses himself. People are shouting, their words a blur but infused with unmistakable urgency.  A riderless white horse careens into view. It rears up and then races on, its tail and mane flying like ragged sails behind it. Frightened, I return to the bed and press my body against Olga’s. The next image is that of our bedroom door bursting open and through it, an enormous wolf entering. The wolf says, quite calmly, that its house is afire.

For years, I believed this to be an uncommonly vivid dream. It was only much later, upon hearing my nurse talking about events long past—as old ones are wont to do, as I am doing even now—that I recognized in her story certain unmistakable features of my dream.

There was a terrible fire late in the summer of 1736, the sixth year of Her Imperial Majesty Anna Ioannovna’s reign and the fourth year of my life. The fire was said to have begun in a stable near what is now Sadovaya Street, but it spread like a storm through the city. People fled their homes with only those few things they could carry, icons and tableware, a handful of jewelry, whatever they had snatched up in their alarm. One man was seen dragging his bed through the street. An old woman was found in her nightclothes, clutching a squawking goose to her breast. There was no fire brigade then, nor means to draw water from the canals, and in the end over two thousand houses were lost. What I mistook for the northern lights was the entire Admiralty district being consumed by flames.

What I took for a wolf was Xenia. Her mother had escaped their home carrying a daughter in her arms, five rubles in a velvet purse, and a sausage that had been hanging on the larder door. She crossed the pontoon bridge over the Neva, her elder daughter and a servant trailing behind, and walked until she came upon a house she knew, belonging to her husband’s cousin. They arrived at our doorstep in the middle of the night. The houseman carried Xenia to my bed, still bundled in a fur lap robe and slung on his shoulder.


Debra Dean’s bestselling debut novel, The Madonnas of Leningrad  was a New York Times Editors’ Choice, a #1 Booksense Pick, a Booklist Top Ten Novel, and an American Library Association Notable Book of the Year. It has been published in twenty languages. Her collection of short stories, Confessions of a Falling Woman, won the Paterson Fiction Prize and a Florida Book Award. Her new novel, The Mirrored World, is a breathtaking tale of love, madness, and devotion set against the extravagance and artifice of the royal court in eighteenth-century St. Petersburg.

A native of Seattle, she lives in Miami and teaches at Florida International University. Follow her on Facebook.

Natalia Trevino

Born in Mexico City, and the mother of one, Natalia Ortegon Trevino was raised in San Antonio, Texas and is an Associate Professor of English at Northwest Vista College as well as a member of the Macondo Foundation.  She is a graduate of UTSA’s graduate English program and The University of Nebraska’s MFA in Creative Writing Program. Natalia is the recipient of an Alfredo Moral de Cisneros Award, the Wendy Barker Creative Writing Award, and the 2008 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize. Her essays, poems, and fiction appear in a variety of print and online journals. An excerpt from her novel, La Cruzada appears in the Winter 2011-12 Platte Valley Review, and most recently, her essay  “Crown Our Good” appeared in the anthology, Complex Allegiances from Wising Up Press. Her first book of poems, Eight Marry Wives, is forthcoming from Pecan Grove Press.

Three of Natalia’s poems are featured on Sliver of Stone.

M.J. Fievre: When did you first turn to a creative art?

Natalia O. Trevino: I turned like a slow meat roast. I don’t eat mammals or birds anymore, but this image works to describe a very slow process. It started in third grade, where I was temporarily enrolled at Flour Bluff Elementary in Corpus Christie, Texas. I was given a prompt-card with a giant on it; he was missing a sandal and the small girl next to him looked smart. I was told, “Write. Make up a story.” Even though I had never written anything in my life, I wrote and wrote. The other children finished long before I did, and yet my teacher did not tell me to hurry. I was lost in my story, and when I looked up, there were eight pages. I had created a whole world. The teacher was amazed to see how many pages I had written.  She picked them up them with a big, warm smile, and just could not believe what I had done. I never got a chance to read the story back to myself. She never returned those pages to me, not even when I left the school to come back home to San Antonio. To me, that moment meant this: I had the ability to write, and writing had the ability to change my world.

MJF: What does being a poet mean to you?

NT: Being a poet is like being a window. With colors pieces of light and shadow flowing through it from both sides. It is ever-changing, collecting reflections of light and space. This is a window that will not break until I die. I cannot afford to be a fragile window. Being a poet allows me entry to eternity, not because each piece will stand for eternity as a finished product, but because I have access to a space—by some grace—that I do not understand, that brings me into a whole experience where I have the privilege to look inward like an outsider while becoming a part of its essence. This allows me to grasp its geometric shape and document it on the other side, on the page. My hope it to achieve a depiction of reality and a direct insight to that reality simultaneously, as a window does. It is a space where I like to visit because too often, reality happens so fast that I cannot look at it long, nor can I understand it. Being a poet lets me stop time, receive insight, and offer up what I see.

I am also a fiction writer, and it is not so much being the window, but looking through many windows at once.

MJF: Who are your favorite poets and why?

NT: I love Sappho and Chaucer and Euripedes and Homer. I love Lao Tzu and Rumi. During my senior year in college, I considered becoming a Medieval literature scholar because of the poetry. I am crazy about Walt and Dickenson and William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens. I love Mark Doty who gave me, “every sequin’s / an act of praise,” when I was inconsolable after my dear friend, Marlo Casanova died of brain cancer. Pat Mora had a huge impact on me as the first Latina poet I read when I was about twenty-years-old; I saw how I could allow the simplicity of my bilingual mind show itself on the page. I am from two cultures, and Pat Mora showed me how to embrace both in a poem. Wendy Barker is my favorite poet of all. She has taught me everything I know about poetry, my aesthetic, voice, and form. I marvel at her poems. Now I am turning toward my elder sisters and teachers in Chicano literature for more inspiration about my responsibility as a poet and writer. I look up to Julia Alvarez, Carmen Tafolla, and especially my dear friend Sandra Cisneros who has been a such a gracious teacher to me. The most valuable lesson I have learned from her is to be generous to your reader. I love that.

Melissa Broder: MEAT HEART

Poems from MEAT HEART, Publishing Genius Press (2012)


All day long my skull
That horsey gulper

Goes braying after sherbets
Busts up ventricles

Trashes valves
But pauses somehow

Hinge open
The day falls off its reins

My brassiere goes unhooked
God walks in

And says I’m back baby
What now?

We smile at each other
Go horseless and headless

It is so god
When the voice is like wheat

Spooned wheat
In whole milk

Come closer it says
You cute little fucker

Good old god
What a hoofer

Ran around with Edie Sedgwick
Underneath her leopard skin coat

She said I love you god
God said I love you Edie

And she ate that wheat
In whole milk

Went smokeless and ginless
It was a dazzling year

Then she turned to wheat
I want to turn to wheat

Relieve me of my teeth
God loves my hair.

**Also appeared in Court Green

* * *


I controlled my words, my deeds and nothing more.
God wanted no revenge on my body.

I was afraid to do good will for my body
or I might vanish. I was a child and you were too.

Let us bathe each other and exact revenge.
Everybody needs a lot of fathers.

When I am father I will sew us curtains
made of other men’s voices, first a patch then a moan.

Sometimes the curtains will come between us.
Mostly they will be around us.

When you are father you will build me a hardhat
with a light in it. I will not be afraid of light.

I will feel my muscles under me
like good pavement. Beauty won’t kill me in the street.

Then will come a silence over every house
and every town, a year of it but up.

In the air among the insects, our first bodies
and everything we don’t know about physics.

* * *


There are 200 flavors of panic,
the worst is seeing with no eyes.
Cowboys call it riding your feelings.
I call it SUPERDOOM.
On April 5th I was 98% alive.
I saw my blood sugar at the mall
and spilled into a hall of numb light.
The earth kept coming and coming.
Every human was a baby
puncturing my vehicle.
I tried to stuff a TV
in the hole where prayer grows.
A salesman prescribed zen.
I said How long have you been alive?
He said Six minutes.

* * *


She was worshipped for her togs, all owls,
black kimono, glass swans, angel belt.

The mascara was her, but corpsy.
She’d put away her knitting.

What a phantasm said the fans.
What a honeyed reality.

They lit flames in her honor
and took an oath to turquoise.

They felt a unity like babies.
They moved their bowels in solitude.

I tried to grab the oil vial off her neck
to totem with or link our navels

but I couldn’t reach it.
I didn’t need her to spit glitter

I just wanted to plant my crib inside her head
and play with stacking blocks.

The sum of us seemed like a tiny egg.
Maybe it was.

* * *


I fleshed and fleshed on the skewers of sailors.
I kept busting onto their boats
in search of flame.

Was I an egoless starfish?
No, my needs, my needs
have always been needy.

I must have had deafness.
I could not hear my coconut phone
not ringing.

I used my mouth on them too often
and I cracked
or was cracked.

Now I stay away.
I have cabana wits.
I am a pool pearl, no waves.

I find the piggy
in my heart
and barbecue a Hawaiian feast.

I gather heat
from my skin.
I call the heat Professor.


Melissa Broder is the author of two poetry collections, most recently Meat Heart. Poems appear in Guernica, The Missouri Review, Redivider, Court Green, et al. She edits La Petite Zine.

All the poems featured here are from MEAT HEART,  Publishing Genius Press (2012).

More information on MEAT HEART and all things Broder can be found at www.melissabroder.com.