Evocative essays on faith, life and wonder.
In these lyrical, finely crafted pieces, Tevis (English and Creative Writing/Furman Univ.; The Wet Collection: A Field Guide to Iridescence and Memory, 2012) reflects on haunted places: a house with 160 rooms stalked by its owner’s ghost; a nuclear bomb testing ground in Nevada; the site of Buddy Holly’s plane crash; auction rooms filled with abandoned furniture; and, not least, her own memories. Apocalypse, she writes, means “unveiling,” and she searches for wisdom in devastation and despair. In the 1950s, the Nevada Test Site was a popular vacation destination where families gathered for the thrill of seeing a nuclear bomb explode, incinerating Doom Town: model houses staged with mannequins. From 1952 until 1992, 1,021 bombs exploded, the first hundred aboveground, contaminating the land forever. Tourists in Las Vegas could take a bus to the site; or they might have visited the Liberace Museum, where mannequins wore the performer’s gaudy costumes, “dusted with silver, crusted with cabochons,” as gorgeous and surreal as the bomb. Death haunts the Salton Sea, a vast inland body of water created by a mistake in irrigation in California’s Imperial Valley. Now it is polluted, “stark and sad….Scalded, scabbed.” Fish are gone, except for tilapia; birds, too. One year, park rangers cremated massive numbers of dead pelicans. The sea, Tevis writes, is “a practice apocalypse, terrible but local: if you’re lucky, you can leave it behind.” Like poets Gerard Manley Hopkins and Mary Oliver, Tevis sees the natural world imbued with spiritual power. “I don’t want to be the same after this trip,” she tells herself in the stark, forbidding landscape of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And she was not, discovering she was pregnant. During labor, “spells fill the space” and “a strange glow marks this seam between life and death.”
That seam glows fiercely, startlingly bright, in these rich, revelatory essays.