Stephen Graham Jones

Modern Love

1. My son’s first-grade teacher doesn’t shoot heroin anymore. If her pupils are dilated now, she says, it’s with wonder. The children are supposed to have infected her with it. Maybe, I don’t know. At dinner, anyway, my son wears long sleeves, to cover the ball-point pen track marks they all do to be like her. His breath through the baby monitor just five years ago is still so clear to me.

2. Once when it was Paint-Your-Baby day at the stadium I hid him in blankets and smuggled him to the park. I’d meant for us to sit on the grass and make talking sounds, but instead just stood, clutching him, watching four women with a tarp stretched between them, taut as a trampoline. Every few seconds a straw man would rise up limp from the tarp, hang midair for a few impossible seconds, then fall, smiling the whole time. There was a rhythm to it I couldn’t deny. It was my son’s first sunburn.

3. My father was the kind of physicist who, in his later years, wore his oxygen tank on his back when he came to visit. As if he was scuba-diving, just visiting from some higher place. Like this place would kill him if he were to accidentally breathe it in. In the science he taught my son, people didn’t die, couldn’t. His world was gluons and leptons and anafranil in controlled doses, when necessary.

4. In the garage last week I found a letter my wife wrote to my son when she was fifteen. She’s thirty-four now. The letter starts out ‘Dear Robert: Today the man who would have been your father died in a stock tank. He was the first one to dive in. It was beautiful. What can I tell you other than that he couldn’t imagine breaking the surface of the water with anything other than his body?’ The thing is, my son is named Robert. And my father was named Robert. It all seemed so natural a few days ago.

5. Picture this: a man sits in a bar after his father’s funeral, and though he’s hunched protectively over his beer, still, the fight raging around him slings a dollop of blood into his mug. The afterimage of the red arc lingers in the mirror longer than nature should allow. The man follows it down to his beer, now with blood blooming in it upside down. He looks from side to side, for who might be watching, and, when no one is, swirls his mug gently, keeps drinking.

6. The most terrifying moment of the twentieth century has to have been when I walked into the living room one night and sat beside my wife in front of the TV. We watched it together for a while and I didn’t tell her that my love was like a wooly mammoth frozen beneath the tundra, a half-chewed daisy in its teeth, and she didn’t tell me what I wanted to hear, that topiary gardeners dream of a naturally occurring shrub in the form of a horse. Instead I asked her if this was a commercial we were watching, and she shrugged, and we waited it out.

7. A strange attractor in a system of repetitive motion is a point which seems to be organizing the system when, in fact, it’s the product of the organization itself. Which is an excuse, I know. But picture this: a woman’s finger resting on the plunger of her cherished syringe. One day she pushes it down out of habit and forces me up, through the green surface of the water, into another world. The grocery store, aisle after aisle, until there’s the policewoman who patrols my son’s school. Who keeps him safe. She’s in the perfume aisle, trying on scents, as if any of them go with polyester. I fall so in love with her.

Stephen Graham Jones teaches at CU-Boulder. He earnestly hopes to figure out either why humans went bipedal or how they can go faster than light. Until then, he writes a lot. More at


  1. This took my breath away and gave it back sweeter.

  2. Bravo, really. After the first one, I was like, OK, I like this. I can do this. After the second one, I think I kinda gasped. Then the third and after the fourth I started taking deep breaths before I would begin the next. #6 just about killed me.

  3. This is amazing and surprising and original. Number 7 is about as perfect as you can get, which is not to suggest anything about #s 1-6, which are lovely too.

  4. this is just so, so smart. not to mention cool and beautiful and sort of a mind trip.

  5. Beautiful write. So curious. I would love to try reading this as three different people, maybe trying on everyone else's head as they read this. Surely we're all seeing a million things that aren't there, and they're dead on.


    Oh, and:

    Leslie F. Miller said... "This took my breath away and gave it back sweeter."

    Leslie, that comment did, too.

    ~~Tracy Lucas

  6. Great work. The last para made me dizzy.

  7. Cool. We sing with our heroes 33 rounds per minute. I just stole that. Dicto.

  8. stephen,
    always impressive, never disappoints