Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Upcoming Events!

Really excited about these two events:

Courtesy of NCC Professor/Rockstar Laurel Peterson, I'll be visiting Norwalk Community College on October 28th to read from Hibernate and talk about writing and publishing.

On November 12th, I'm reading with the extraordinarily talented (and extraordinarily kind) Ross Gay at The Back Door in Bloomington. Many thanks to IU MFA candidate Kayla Thomas for putting this reading together.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Denali. Born February 1, 2002. Died June 23, 2014, 8:55am.

Yesterday, just before Denali died, there was a rabbit in our front yard, sitting with its ears back. Frozen the way rabbits are when they’re silently praying you won’t see them.

I thought it would run: when I opened the trunk to put in Nali’s bed, when Lyle carried Denali down the stairs to the car, when we backed down the driveway for the hour and a half drive to the vet’s office in Brooklyn, CT, where they were waiting to euthanize her.

If I wanted to tell you a story, it would be that Denali chased that rabbit, maybe even caught it, finally making good on the promise of her best days in Montana, fox-diving in the sagebrush at Clark’s Reservoir, trying to flush and finish her quarry. But the rabbit’s prayer worked: Denali never saw it. Never saw the gray cat that walked right through the yard earlier while she was knuckled over, legs splayed, trying to empty her bladder.


On the way there, I rode with her in the back. Partly it was to keep her from falling from the seat to the floor, but it was also because I wanted to memorize. Tips of her ears. The scruff that the vets always called her “rabbit fur,” because it was so soft. Her feet, even with the drag sores. I wanted her to climb into my lap, ride over my shoulder like she did when she was a puppy. She slept some, one foot planted on the floor to steady herself, even though I wanted to be the one to steady her.

Rarely did she want help at the end, unless it was the stairs. Rarely would she accept it. Those last nights when we knew it was the end, she would try to run somehow, like she was a bush plane that could achieve flight if only she sped up over the rocks and ruts. We chased after her, alongside her, trying to steady her when she walked, when she did her business, but she was panicked by us scrambling so close. Inevitably she fell. In another day or two, she wouldn’t have been able to stand.

Her face when she fell. She could not understand this failure.

In the car, she looked at me. She wasn’t scared, just tired. I spoke nonsense about the rabbit in the yard, left kisses in the occipital hollows where she’d wasted, muscle tone gobbled up by the Cushing’s, the degenerative myelopathy. I called the vet to tell them we were coming, listened to the tech’s voice go soft.

At the hospital, Lyle lifted her out of the car and put her down in the parking lot, and I turned her feet upright and gave her water from a little silver bowl. She ate deer nuggets – deer my brother had killed – her new favorite food of only two days, from my hands. She stayed outside with Lyle, watched me walk away to tell the techs we were here.

Inside, there was a woman, perfect posture, sitting with a crying cat inside a box. I must have been whispering because I had to repeat myself as the tech walked out from behind the big desk, but it seemed like the tech was whispering, whispering, opening the door to the room where there had never been a small green rug on the floor, only ever the bright rising table and scale. Now there was this shaggy, sad little rug, this green shower mat. This is what they put dead animals on, I was thinking, and I walked back out to the car, to Lyle and Denali, and told them everything was ready.


During the last twelve years, we have moved four times. Deep South to the Rockies. Rockies to the Pacific Northwest. Pacific Northwest to the Northeast. From the Northeast now to the Midwest. We have had four landlords. We have been housekeeper and dogsitter and front desk and museum director and student and unemployed and teacher and author and professor. We have been lonely and joyous. We have climbed mountains and walked through stone tunnels in the Dakotas and sat at the top of waterfalls. We have been stuck in ice in a 1995 Ford Taurus by the Big Hole River and used a threadbare carpet under the wheel for traction. We have lived in a brown shoebox and filled an empty mega-house in Connecticut with thrift store furniture. We still do not have smartphones. We have survived two hurricanes that bent a forest our way and dug out from under four blizzards.

We have done all these things with Denali. There is only one Denali. We have lost us. We were the three pack.

If you are talking to me now, or for the rest of my life, know that it’s not really me anymore. I just look like me, maybe. A good act. This person without Denali is someone I cannot recognize, someone I do not want to know.

Our whole lives? Denali. Each day? Denali. Morning walk. Night-time walk. The reason we declined your dinner invitation, your trip into the city, the reason that bedroom door in our house was closed, the reason I looked so tired all those nights during class, the reason we missed your event, the reason I didn’t take your phone call, the reason we chose that house, the reason for all the water bowls, all the non-slip carpets on the floor, the reason we drove across the country all those times. Denali. Always for Denali.

That scar on my knees. The one on my hand, from the leash.


We put her bed over that goddamn green death mat. She got right in it like it was nap time. Everybody was giving her treats, different kinds – milkbones and beef treats and the deer nuggets – and she was eating and eating. “Poor Denali,” the tech said, “it’s been a long, tough road.” I was thinking, should she be eating this much? Could she aspirate? Could she choke and die before she dies? 

The first shot went in her thigh. “She’ll still be with us,” they said. “She’ll be relaxed, but she might still be able to hear you, so feel free to talk to her.” And the fucking thing of it was, she was so crazed with all the cookies that the last thing she did was crane her neck back at the other door, the one behind her, to see if more people were coming with more cookies. That’s how her body remained, head arched back like a stallion biting at a fly on its neck, and the last thought before she faded had to have been, my god but this is a day for cookies. It took a while before I realized she was in a narcotic limbo, just a little froth at the edge of her lip.

When the vet came in, she laughed and pulled Denali into the center of the bed, straightened her neck. She said some things, I think. I can’t remember. She was a good vet. We’d had seven of them in Denali’s twelve years, and this vet was the best of them. Denali was a medical marvel: allergies and hypothyroidism and arthritis and Cushing’s and DM. Last month, a foreign object appeared on an x-ray of her stomach, but no one could say if it was really there.

The good vet gave Denali the second shot. I watched her chest like an insane person. I was waiting to see if she could really die. If that was even possible. All these years, I never believed it possible. When she fell in the river and refused to swim, she didn’t die. When the stupid vet from Oregon told us her lymph nodes were huge and it was entirely likely she was dying of cancer, it turned out to be hayfever. She didn’t die. On my first night of teaching, when she ate some animal’s feces and grew deathly ill, she didn’t die.

The vet put her hands on Denali’s chest. “Sweet girl,” she said. She looked at me. I looked away, at Denali’s bare belly – redneck belly, Lyle called it – where they’d shaved her for an ultrasound. At the shave marks on her front and back legs, where they’d taken blood. The fur had never grown back, not after months. 

“She’s gone,” she said.


I’m sorry if I’m messy in my grief. I know I’m supposed to force a watery smile and wash the snot off my face. I know I have boxes to pack and we have a broken lawn mower to recycle and a new city to move to, and that’s supposed to be better because Denali never lived with us in that city, but the truth is I am terrified to move away from the last place she knew with us, or maybe I am terrified to be in a place she never knew with us, except for the shitty Travelodge on East 3rd St. where she spent her last week with us in a room with the ugliest carpet I have ever seen, shamrocks or waterlillies on a field of brown, while we looked at house rentals between rushing back and forth to the hotel to help her piss on a little square of grass next to a dumpster. We drove her, weak and falling off the backseat of my car, to shit behind a Bed Bath & Beyond.

On the first night at the Travelodge, she ate somebody’s chicken bones off the asphalt before we could stop her and thought it was the best hotel ever. On the last afternoon at the Travelodge, I dragged her out to piss in the patch of grass by the dumpster and a huge, shirtless biker came around the corner and spooked her. The old Nali was back, lunging at him, nearly falling over. “That’s alright, girl,” he drawled. “That’s alright.” When I apologized, he told me he had a whole box of pittie puppies at home in his garage, if I was interested.  

Between those days, she threw up on the patch of grass. Was carried in and out of the car every day, no longer able to navigate her ramp. Fell innumerable times. Slept at the foot of the bed, covered in a blanket. Had one good day walking for a few minutes at Griffy Lake, a new place, new woods. There were tiny frogs, small as dimes, green and brown, that jumped over her paws, but she didn’t see them. One of the brown ones landed on the toe of my boot and held fast. There were mole tracks across the path, the ground erupted and erupting, a chunk of earth that opened tentatively and closed every few seconds, some subterranean creature watching giants through a door. Denali was exhausted and couldn’t go far, and we took her back to the car for water. Back to the Travelodge.

The truth is, I am terrified that I will have to drive by that Travelodge every day on my way to campus, that I will show up to class and fall straight down on the floor in front of my students. Flop around, the last electric signals dimming in me. That on the day I meet my colleagues, I’ll stand there with a trembling, outstretched hand and crazy red eyes and they will reconsider their new hire. I didn’t look like this in the interview. I wasn’t crazy in the interview, sick, whatever this animal I am now.


Grief marks you as unmanageable, rogue, off the grid.

I am all those things right now. Lyle is. We are people to be scared of. Diseased and poisoned and brazen. I am Denali as a stray puppy, running in that ditch, the traffic of all of you rushing past.  I have no spine, no bones. I am old Denali, using the wall to hold her upright when she walks down the hall.

And so, if you love me, if you love us, you’ll try to plug the hole. Toss flowers in. ((Hugs)) “I am so sorry for your loss.” “Our pets love us unconditionally.” Whatever your preference of condolence. I know, I say and write these things, too. I feel helpless before your grief, and I walk by real quick, flinching, and throw a fistful of flowers in.

Thank you. But you cannot fill this hole. Not ever.

Please don’t say “Rainbow Bridge” to me. Please don’t call her a “fur baby.” She was a dog, for one, and I don’t care for babies.  For the record, she did not look into my eyes and tell me it was Time To Let Her Go. Her eyes said she was tired. Her embarrassment when she fell on her face twice in one night said that we were on the verge of too far, and that we could not let her go there.

We know it was time. We know it was the right thing. We did not let her suffer. All these things are true. Tell me, and I will say thank you. I will offer you my best watery smile.

One of my great aunts told me once about when her childhood dog died. She was maybe eight or so at the time, inconsolable, along with her siblings. After a day of weeping, their mother – my great-grandmother – said, “If this is how you’re going to react, you shouldn’t be allowed a dog.” Of course I thought her heartless. But she was of another generation. And my great aunt said it worked. To me she told the story with obvious admiration. My mother was smart, she said. She could make her children un-learn grief.  It’s not a natural state.


Afterward, walking out to the car, I could barely move my legs. Our old symbiosis. When my toenail turned black, fell off after a long hike in Missoula, Denali, two thousand miles away in South Carolina with my parents, lost a nail. There were other times like this. Maybe I’m going lame, I thought. It felt like I couldn’t walk right unless I was holding her leash.

We could not bury her here, in another landlord’s rented yard, and all day today I have tried not to think of them cremating her. Tried not to think about where they put her body yesterday, after. Who it was that took her. Someone in another room was laughing when the needle went in. That cat in the box was crying, but Nali couldn’t hear it.  Someone was ordering lunch.

Best not to consider this person I am now, who packed Denali's things in a box, wrote her name on it. Took the beds to the animal shelter that smelled of piss, all the barking dogs, the woman there who looked scared of us.

I drove on the way home from the vet. It seemed like it was taking forever to get there, longer than the hour and a half, and I thought I kept passing the same grove of trees where we had struck and killed a squirrel a month ago, while taking Nali for her ultrasound.

Same trees, over and over. “I think we’re lost,” I kept telling Lyle.

“No,” he said, “You’re fine. I always think that too.”

I think we’re lost. I know we are.  

Monday, May 26, 2014

The HIBERNATE Playlist at Largehearted Boy

David Gutowski, aka Largehearted Boy, invited me to make a playlist for Hibernate. Some of these songs are mentioned in the book, while others served as inspiration.

This was so much fun!

Check out the playlist here.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Praise from Kirkus

From Kirkus:

"Eslami’s incisive story collection explores the shadowed corners of working-class lives... These worlds, if bleak, are never less than perfectly honest; social stratification and race dissolve as the rich and poor, from every corner of the world, struggle to find anything worth holding on to. If they do, it often owes to a programmed instinct for survival—composed all the while in stark, unflinching prose.

A searing array of stories envisioned through crystal-clear eyes."

Read the full review here.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Raymond Carver!

Kind words about Hibernate from the folks at 5 Minutes for Books. Here's a snippet:

"In this prize-winning collection of short stories, Elizabeth Eslami cuts deeply to the heart of the human experience in modern America, as with an expertly-wielded knife. Written in a sparse, clear form that reminded me of Raymond Carver, Hibernate takes its characters through trials and joys of everyday life, holding up a mirror to our own experience."

Read the rest here.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


What a gift it is to teach these writers. Even when they make me cry by doing stuff like this:

With Brittany DiGiacomo, whose work you can read here.


With Tiffany Ferentini. Find her here and here.

In addition to their substantial commitments as MFA candidates, their work on the page as novelists, and their work in the world, Brittany and Tiffany also lend their talents as editors to this beautiful publication.

Friday, March 14, 2014

She Knows Chooses HIBERNATE for its March Book List

She Knows has chosen Hibernate for its March book list, along with titles by Grant Jarrett, Steena Holmes, and the always wonderful Beth Hoffman.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Book Launch!

Come celebrate with us!  There will be new words, old friends, and plenty of cupcakes.

The official launch party for Hibernate will be on April 5th at Cuppa Pulp Booksellers, with a reception at 6pm (cupcakes, I tell you!) and a signing at 7pm.

It means the world to me to have my former student and Manhattanville MFA candidate Donna Miele hosting the launch. Donna is a wonderful writer, and it was a pleasure to read the early stages of her novel-in-progress.

Trust me, if you don't already know Donna's name and her work, you will in the very near future.

Here we are talking about stories, frogs, cadavers, and pointy-headed dogs.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Letter to a High School Guidance Counselor, Upon Her Retirement

Dear Ms. Woodyard,

Hearing your name makes me fifteen years old again, at the very best moment of fifteen. Not the fifteen when one is lost – which is so much of life at fourteen and fifteen and eighteen and twenty-one and twenty-five, longer than any of us would like to admit – but the fifteen of SDS, the fifteen when one is called into the office of Jo Woodyard.

So you’re in there and the winter light is coming through the windows and you’re a little scared because you know she’s going to talk to you about the future, which feels ungraspable, which likely will entail college in some strange place, a school occupied by those older SDS alums who come back to give talks about where they are now, leaning on desks or sitting on desks and seeming cocky and wise with the secrets of academia. They have girlfriends and boyfriends and they drink and do internships and they no longer live with their parents, which frankly blows your mind.  But anyway, forget that. Focus.

Jo Woodyard is standing across from you, ready to talk about The Future. What schools? What plans? Do you want to be a big fish in a little pond, or a little fish in a big pond? She asks you this, and you realize you have never really thought of yourself as a fish before, but now that you think of it, there are a lot of options. Probably you wouldn’t want to be a goldfish in one of those koi ponds, all burnished in glittery scales with no place to go. Maybe you’re one of those bottom dwellers, those nurse sharks with the crazy, wiry mustaches, cruising the sea floor, or a rare pink dolphin in the Amazon, making do in cloudy waters with very little, only showing your beauty to discerning eyes. Come on, cut it out. Focus. Jo Woodyard has advice.

Jo Woodyard seems serious and grave and invested in you when, truth is, you’re not really invested in you. Your whole life only seems to consist of now, with your friends, when you laugh so hard it really does feel like you’ve ruptured something deep inside, one of those superfluous organs like the spleen or a spare kidney. Your whole life is listening to Enya and crying under your bedspread. Sneaking out of Mike Johnson’s philosophy class to watch movies at Converse Cinemas. Pretending you know what’s what because you’ve had your first coffee, your first cigarette, because you’ve read poetry in a room with people who didn’t laugh you out of the joint. If there is a future out there, it’s too far away for you to see, and probably, you have always thought, you just have to age yourself into it, like how wisdom teeth grow without any of your own doing, because of some wide-mouthed, prognathous cave man ancestor – no offense to him. The future, you have always thought, happens by accident.

And anyway, Flip and Heather and Meagan are waiting for you in the art room where you, de facto members of the Loser Arty Group, go to eat lunch. If you do imagine a future, you pray it’s one in which you are Cool Arty Types living together in a ramshackle house writing poetry, all of you with Winona Ryder’s hairdo, all of you dating Ethan Hawke. After this is over with Jo Woodyard, after you figure out whether you’re a nurse shark or a pink dolphin, you’ll go back in that room and sit on the plastic milk crates that make a bingo game of your ass cheeks, and Meagan will ask, how did it go? “Did she suggest that you have a future in the custodial arts?” Flip, who has memorized the entire class’s GPA from a list he clandestinely read upside down on Jo Woodyard’s desk, wonders if you want to know your rank. He is eating a chili dog. You have Lunchables, which you’ll read about in ten years as being only slightly above pork rinds as the worst possible thing for human consumption.

How did it go? You say it was fine. It went fine. You don’t tell them about the light in the windows or how you scanned Jo Woodyard’s bookshelf and her photographs because all adults, especially teachers, are Fascinating Mysterious Unicorn Creatures. How weird is it when you run into them outside class at Belk or Hardees and they’re masquerading as Regular People, people who get oil changes and file taxes and trim their toenails? It’s all too much. You don’t tell them that Jo Woodyard was serious about your future, which kind of made you serious about your future, like maybe it didn’t have to be an accident after all. Maybe writing was something that, you know, maybe, possibly, could be done. By, like, you. She didn’t even seem to be kidding. You thought maybe she’d hold the door to her office as you were leaving and say, psych. Good luck, kid. You’re gonna need it. But Jo Woodyard didn’t.

And so you leave, your head doing that thing where someone praises you, someone believes in you, and now the whole head is beating like a heart or a fingertip, that rush of blood, and you want to tell everyone and no one, keep it a secret, because when you tell too much, when you share too much, or with the wrong people, it’s like being robbed over the course of one whole day, a little bit missing every time. And now, see, there is this thing called The Future, and even if you never figure out whether you’re a nurse shark or a goldfish or a pink Amazonian dolphin, you know you can be smart about it. Be brave or fake bravery, at the very least.

Take a bite of that PB&J and look around the SDS art room one last time. You can’t know this, but about fourteen years after you graduate – my god, you’ll be ancient! – you’ll come do a reading, stand up there in a bookstore near that place where you had your first coffee and read putrid poetry that no one laughed at, that place that is now a noodle shop, and you’ll be reading from your novel, and right there in the audience?  Jo Woodyard. The Future is now. Jo Woodyard is sitting there while you answer questions, most of which are posed by your mother in the front row who doesn’t realize she is embarrassing you by publicly vocalizing her abiding desire that they Make Your Book Into A Movie. Still, all you can think is, Jo Woodyard.

What is she thinking? You can’t tell now, any better than you could then. You’re not fifteen. You are thirty-two. Even Flip probably no longer remembers his class rank. It’s winter-dark, save for the Christmas lights on Morgan Square. Someone is asking you your best advice to writers, something you’ve answered a dozen times in the last six months. And so you say, leaning on that lectern, “be stubborn.” That’s the truth. You were just stubborn about it. You decided the future wasn’t an accident, or at least, it didn’t have to be, sometimes. And when she leaves – when you leave, Jo Woodyard – you are walking out that door when you say the very best thing possible. “I’m glad you were stubborn.”

I’m glad you were stubborn about the future, Ms. Woodyard. We all are. And thanks for letting us swim in your pond, big fish.  


Liz Eslami

SDS, Class of 1996

Thursday, January 9, 2014


What she says, instead of the name, is “over there.”  The name of the place she won’t say is Afghanistan, and the soldier serving is her cousin.

“Hope you get some turkey over there,” she told him at Thanksgiving via Facebook. Once she called it “far away,” but usually it’s “over there,” George Cohan’s WWI anthem, with Johnny and his gun, the indomitable Yanks, a cheerful bleating that sounds less like a war score than kicking music for the Rockettes. If you need proof of how far we’ve moved psychologically, listen to the scores of war movies. The sugar-toothed patriotism of “Over There” becomes the slo-mo sturm und drang of Barber’s Adagio for Strings in Platoon, becomes Zero Dark Thirty’s Jason Clarke quipping Wu-Tang Clan between waterboarding. We’re a country of ad men because we know when to nudge the dial.

But she knows the name, just as she knows what she wants. For her cousin to come home safe, for the photo of an explosion on his Facebook page to be a movie still, for his leave to roll around so he can spend time with the family. Instead of his fire cloud, his Christmas tree garlanded with ammo rounds, her page displays her little girl garlanded with a pink beaded necklace over her bare chest, a princess tiara sliding from her scalp.

“Over there” feels like something a child would say. Like “down there,” hands cupped over her privates when she has to pee. The shame of what is happening in places you’ve never seen. George Cohan of course would disagree. FDR awarded Cohan the Congressional Gold Medal for “Over There.” Being vague is the point. Wikipedia: “As the specific country ‘over there’ is not named, the words can serve as an exhortation for sending troops to any foreign military intervention.” We’re a country of ad men because we understand one size fits all. “Over There” was also used as an advertising jingle. “Pack your little kit, show your grit, do your bit.” WWI becomes a commercial for a Gillette Pro-Glide Razor: Johnny in the shower, running a blade over his jaw.

But here is the best part. She says, “Hope you get some turkey over there,” and he says, “I blew something up, does that count?”  A day ticks by before she responds: “If it made someone safer, yes, it counts. Now go eat turkey.”

The specificity of the turkey is what kills me. So many unknowns in this “over there” – where war is happening, who “someone” is, how to score the war that never ends.  But let’s give thanks for that big uncomplicated bird.

Life exposes the fallacy of “over there.” Boston marathon bombs in pressure cookers. American kids in mansions stock-piled with ammo. An Afghanistan or a US in which two things can exist side by side: a girl in a princess tiara and a soldier’s severed leg.

If life exposes the fallacy, so too must literature. Often war writers use second person or first person plural, injecting us into what is foreign, the battlefield – Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried – or home ground, alien ground for those left behind. “Our fathers, so many of them, climbed onto the olive green school buses and pressed their palms to the windows and gave us the bravest, most hopeful smiles you can imagine, and vanished. Just like that.” Ben Percy’s “Refresh, Refresh.” Siobhan Fallon: “You also know when the men are gone. No more boots stomping above, no more football games turned up too high…no more sneakers on metal stairs, cars starting, shouts to the windows above to throw down their gloves on cold desert mornings.” These writers don’t leave blanks.

Maybe it’s the writer’s job to complicate what’s “over there.” Maybe the job is to simplify. A soldier’s brain, plain gone. Legs gone.  A brand new face.

Now that you’re looking at them, are these the least or most complicated of images?

The best writers let us decide for ourselves. Put us inside it. Make it here, where it counts.