Painting the Personal Essay

Denise Gess

On a warm Friday morning at the Philadelphia Art Museum, twelve men and women gather to hear a lecture on Mary Cassatt’s painting A Woman and Girl Driving. We’re art apostles, staked out on tiny, collapsible, green vinyl, aluminum stools. Some of the listeners are painters; others, like me, would be hard-pressed to sketch more than a stick figure.

My Plan

Joe Lombo

The polluted breeze blowing off the Frankford Creek smelled like melting tar and felt just as hot. I sat with Bill and Rufus at the end of my block under a shadeless, wilted cherry tree. Almond Street was wedged between two chemical plants, an arsenal, and a funeral home, where everybody who lived on the street expected to end up sooner or later. Chemicals in the air ruined the paint jobs of nearly every house and car on the block. Outsiders claimed the air smelled like rotten eggs. I never noticed it except when we came back after driving someplace else.


Ivy Goldstein

Boarding to Siyang is called. It’s early morning, and the bus station is filled. I have to push through the crowd to reach the doorway where my bus is waiting. Everyone is carrying red plastic bags filled with food to give— fruit, peanuts, seeds. I am carrying my own plastic bag containing ten oranges and ten bananas. A middle-aged Chinese woman stressed the importance of

Petals Mark Our Paths

Margaret A. Robinson

It’s a chilly day, but despite the cold, a guy stands at the intersection where drivers wait for the light. He’s selling bouquets of long-stemmed red roses, the kind men who forget may seriously need. The kind my aunt sent for my father’s funeral because, as she wrote, “red roses are for someone you love.”

The Prettiest Lie

Curt Smith

Your life is going to change – how many times was that prediction offered in one form or another during my wife’s pregnancy? Mothers often spoke with a bliss-touched smile; fathers, with a smirk that was both sardonic and conspiratorial, and a distinct, cross-gendered handful uttered the words with an unblinking intensity that rattled me more than any of the bloody videos we watched in our childbirth classes.

The Hairdresser’s Daughter

Jennifer Baldino Bonett

Larger-than-life beauty shops may occupy the Hollywood set, but in South Philadelphia , it’s all about getting real. And there’s no better place to get real than in the beauty shop mirror.


Patrick Brennan

It was Friday afternoon. We had been throwing around the Frisbee, but the collars of our Oxford-cloth shirts were already sweat-soaked, and we were tired of feeling out of shape. We lay on the back of Jon’s Toyota Corolla in our cheap aviators as the sun slowly started to go down on another day in Northern Virginia.It was September of my senior year and I tasted real freedom. I was seventeen and for the first time in my adult life I was almost content.

Over Five Foot

Melissa Doyle

My size defines me. My circle of friends consists of the New Yorker, the Chemist, the Chesty One, the Red Head….and me, the Little One. For a long time I searched for a bigger, better way to describe myself. When I least expected it, I found the answer. Ironically, size had EVERYTHING to do with it.


Emma Mellon

Harry is home now. He slipped in on a perfect spring afternoon while hundreds of thin yellow ribbons fluttered like tinsel on the Japanese maple. He didn’t want any fuss, so he and his family spent the rest of the day quietly at home.

He is twenty years old and he has killed since I saw him last. On Christmas morning, he returned Iraqi fire to save his own life and continue with the job he was sent to do.

Pierce Street

Mathew Jordan

I first see the cat on my way out to the Super Fresh to pick up Portobello mushrooms. He’s lying on the other side of our one-way street, a single lane narrow enough to be an alley really, a place where he never would have lain normally, smart stray that he was. I didn’t look for long, only enough to confirm that his body had been crushed, though not which part, to acknowledge the red pool spreading slowly beneath him, the flies already buzzing inside the mouth that the car wheel had forced open.