Slow-Cooked Sentences

Writer’s envy

Rachael Conlin Levy


Sometimes a writer leaves me coveting their words, wishing to see the world through their eyes so I may own their descriptions and phrases. Fruitless thoughts, I know, but sometimes I’m so overcome with a yearning for ownership that I copy them into my notebook, hoping that by forcing my hand to write another’s words it will fire different synapses in my own brain.

Lately, I’ve been filling pages of my Moleskin with passages from Luis Alberto Urrea, a 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist. He’s the latest author I admire for his magical realism, the fusion between physical and psychological reality that also defines the gritty, lyrical prose of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and whimsical storytelling of Laura Esquivel’s “Like Water for Chocolate.” The fact isn’t lost on me that these three writers are Latino, and that their countries and cultures infused my own childhood. It was in Oxaca, Mexico that I tasted my first Twinkie (yum!) and had my first taste of exhibitionism (at school, curious brown-faced girls stood in the door of the bathroom stall to watch me peel of my black leotard and bare my tiny white ass to pee). I was 5, and reality was magical: Rain-soaked roads bounced and bubbled to life with small frogs, and loops of red thread dangling from my earlobes (recently pierced with a sewing needle) promised to one day turn to gold.

Here is some magic from “The Hummingbird’s Daughter.” Enjoy!

Tomas rode his wicked black stallion through the frosting of starlight that turned his ranch blue and pale gray, as if powdered sugar had blown off the sky and sifted over the mangoes and mesquites.

But I like this, too:


“What are you eating?” she asked.

“Cherries.”

“Cherries? What are cherries?”

He held one up. In the faint fire glow, it looked like a small heart full of blood.

And this:

As the light poured out of the eastern sea and splashed into windows from coast to coast, Mexicans rose and went into their million kitchens and cooking fires to pour their first rations of coffee. A tidal wave of coffee rushed west from the land, rising and falling from kitchen to fire ring to cave to ramada. Some drank coffee from thick glasses. Some sipped it from colorful gourds, rough clay pots that dissolved as they drank, cones of banana leaf. Cafe negro. Cafe with canela. Cafe with goat’s milk. Cafe with a golden-brown cone of piloncillo melting in it like a pyramid engulfed by a black flood. Tropical cafe with a dollop of sugarcane rum coiling in it like a hot snake. Bitter mountaintop cafe that thickened the blood. In Sinloa, cafe with boiled milk, its burned milk skin floating on top in a pale membrane that looked like the flesh of a peeled blister. The heavy-eyed stared into the round mirrors of their cups and regarded their own dark reflections.

Share your beautiful sentences, whether you own them or not.

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