Charlottesville, 2017

Angela Pelster

The landlord, who has been gone for a week of rain, mows the lawn. The limp grass has sprung back from wilt, now a cow’s wet dream, so abundant that the motor slows and moans on the thickest spots, though I guess that’s not right, cows being female and wet dreams the domain of 14-year-old boys. I am the rhyming image of a 14-year-old boy, reversed like a mirror–a 41-year-old woman–and still my mind flits and spits through the awkward and the confident, the profound and the shallow. The yearning. Sex still a thirst and its quenching. The comedy of desire even at 41. So, whatever. The landlord mows while I sit on the porch and free associate.

My neighbor goes for a run. “Shutting down the interstate to protest police violence makes you a terrorist,” he told me last year. “What?” said I back. Now he tries to run laps around the school field across from my house. The neighbor is old. Frail. His joints hurt when he moves, I can tell. He does it like a gangly teen, uncertain in his body, lurching and pushing against what his flesh now defines as possible, presumably something different than it once did.

He reminds me of my 14-year-old daughter–her body such a foreign thing from the cartilage-soft version I once nursed–now long-limbed, lush like the grass, beautiful in her new adult self, but the mechanisms not quite worked out, the fumbling and tripping still lingering at the edges, surprising strangers who imagine her adult–the way her age is revealed in these still-childish movements. I see the lurching neighbor and think of my daughter’s compassion, of her impatience at the world’s lesions that we, her adults, have failed to heal, and I think of the neighbor’s bodily return of his 14-year-old self in this running, how it mirrors his stunted philosophy, its failure to mature in its ideas about justice as the years added up. I neither want to laugh at his tripping nor pity him, but I pity him nonetheless. He is frail, though I know his hatred is not. The disguise of bodies! I mourn on my porch as I watch.

Something of this pity and of age and animal orgasm, of my body and its evolution, has to do with my greying hair and the incomplete nature of my heart, with the way in which I have failed to clear the way for my daughter, my own self still a child, it seems, with my wild rages these days, my weeping and then laughing, my hope and its crashing, the way I keep asking the same question over and over, thinking there might be a different answer – Why not love? Why not? Why? Ignoring maybe, at least a little, that like my neighbor, I am asking the body entire to perform a feat it has yet to train for, unless this moment itself is that work.


Angela Pelster’s most recent book Limber won the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writer Award in Nonfiction, and was a finalist for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Ploughshares, Granta, The Kenyon Review, River Teeth and The Gettysburg Review amongst others. “Charlottesville, 2017” is from her new book A Map to Now. She lives and teaches in St. Paul.