Best of ATM 2017, Nonfiction

As 2017 comes to its close, Across the Margin takes a look back at some of its most treasured moments in Nonfiction…

Throughout this final week of 2017, Across the Margin has been be seasoning the air with thanks for all those who have spent time within our pages while sharing our picks for the “Best of Across the Margin, 2017.” Our best-of compilations continues with a look at our choices for our finest Nonfiction stories of the year, and an excerpt from each to wet your whistle…


“Donald Trump And The Fear Of Death” by Robert Levin

Propelled by a pronounced extinction anxiety, white America’s dread has led directly to a heightening of racism, and with it, the presidency of Donald Trump…



“To varying degrees, everybody lives with a fear of death and, in one manner or another, attempts to deny death’s finality. In the case of Donald Trump, all those steel and granite edifices emblazoned with his name have long struck me as evidence of a terror of extinction. Their presumed endurance is intended to at least assure him of a symbolic immortality. And the achievement of symbolic immortality is also, I’d submit, the underlying motive behind his decision to run for the presidency, an office for which he has no discernible vocation but which guarantees him a place in history.

A pronounced extinction anxiety is what afflicts the majority of Trump’s supporters as well, and it’s precisely this anxiety that—coming from his personal angst?—he recognized and addressed. I’m speaking of the white population’s declining preeminence in America and of the existential dread it has stirred in much of that demographic.”


“Exposure” by Christina Rosso

“Why must being a woman equal disgrace? Why must I hide my body? My sexuality? Why do I have to fit inside a box?”

“I was five the first time I felt the shame of my sex, my pale pink lips exposed to a classmate, my oldest friend, a boy named Connor. It was the first time I remember feeling a fiery heat rising in my cheeks, the pressure of emotion hammering the space of skin between my pale yellow eyebrows. A part of me was exposed for the first time, and somehow I knew that it was supposed to be hidden.

When I was eight, I chopped off my long strawberry-blonde locks and starting wearing jeans and rainbow-colored tank tops from the Gap instead of floral pattern Heartstring dresses, patent leather Mary Jane’s, and large pastel bows. I declared that my mother would never decide for me how I dressed again. I strutted around my third grade classroom like I would a crowded college bar ten years later. This confidence was short lived however; for a classmate, Marissa, had developed rosebud breasts, and she started wearing a bra to school.”


“Anatomy of Shadows” by Patrick Dalton

“At some point, we are expected to do the best with who we are with what we’ve got. When that’s either squandered or surrendered, we must own it…”

“Even after the lights come on, the shadows remain. In most circumstances, they’re permanently affixed. The glow that would generally diminish their presence isn’t guaranteed to come from within us, but from those amongst us, those who fear their own darkness and personified silhouettes, lurking above their prone, vulnerable form. Other times, these haunting voids of  emptiness taunt us for years, even decades, like smudged ink that’s permanently bled into our periphery, masking any alternative to a past transgression. We don’t emit a light of our own that would shrink the stains we ourselves didn’t cause, just as we’re not permitted to elude the dead ends which offer neither solace or solitude. Instead, our own crippling absence of light is often eclipsed by those shadows that frame our earliest memories and mold our own personal fears.

Most of us will try to ignore the dark blotches that threaten this paradisiacal view, donning blinders of myopia nailed firmly in place, conveniently stripping the shadows of all validity or pertinence. Others will absorb these cadaverous remnants into our very flesh, defeatedly handing them the reins which steer us, preferring the familiarity of our open wounds over the risk of washing them away.”


“Another Day In Trump’s America” by Michael Shields

In the wake of the violence in Charlottesville, and in consideration of the response of the current administration, President Trump’s role in igniting the will of white nationalists in America is examined…

“This past weekend the world was offered a chilling window into the version of America Trump promised during his presidential campaign. Seven months into a scandal-plagued presidency, the United States came face-to-face with a glaring example of what Trump might truly have meant when he pledged to Make America Great Again. For what we witnessed, in a normally quaint college town in a state whose motto proclaims itself as a home for “Lovers,” is inarguably a product of an administration, and of a president, that has consistently shied away from denouncing groups such as the KKK and neo-Nazis — hate groups who now believe they have in place leaders who champion their racist causes. Personally, I am still processing the images that transfixed our nation this weekend: Nazi flags; angry young white males dressed in khakis and white polo shirts with torches held high, unthreatened by police; armed neo-Nazi militias marching in the streets; a car viscously plowing into a mass of peaceful protesters; bodies tossed like rag dolls into the air; and a president walking briskly away from reporters who are simply asking him if he wishes to condemn the white nationalists that support him.”


“Words For Her” by Richard Brea

An ode to all the amazing mothers, daughters, wives, girlfriends, queens, angels, givers of life, and goddesses in the world…

“I take great pride in being a mental health advocate and knowing that I am doing my part to break the stigma attached to mental illness. While sharing my story, I have come across many brave, strong, inspiring, and beautiful souls. If you aren’t familiar with the stigma attached to mental illness, it’s a condition that causes many people (especially men) to suffer in silence.

While taking a National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Peer to Peer class last summer I realized something very upsetting: Most of the women that I have met during my mental health advocacy work have been victims of physical abuse, sexual abuse and/or rape. It broke my heart to hear these women share their stories because it made me think, Damn. How can men do this? What’s wrong with us? Why do we do this to our women? I’ve had people tell me I’m brave for sharing my story of living with a mental illness, but after hearing what these women have been through it’s difficult to consider myself as brave. I haven’t been raped or physically or sexually abused. Don’t call me brave. These strong and fearless women are the true definition of brave. I admire their strength and courage to keep moving forward in the face of such horrific experiences.”


“Some Build Some Destroy” by Bonnie Wilkins Overcott

While contemplating a sand sculpture contest, harder truths about the nature of humanity, and the current U.S. administration, are unveiled…

“My son looked at me and asked, “why is he doing that?” The only answer I could conjure up was to tell him that “some people build and some people destroy.”

Frivolous endeavors, meant to entertain and delight before the winds and rains washed them back to mere grains of sand on a beach, the sand sculptures were intended to be temporary. Their destruction by the child, while disconcerting, didn’t seem that serious at the time.

However, now thirty years later, that child is an adult. Our world is filled with angry adults bent on destruction, and more often than not, they destroy that which was intended to be permanent. They destroy what teams of people have worked tirelessly together to build, such as governments, families, cities, and civil societies that were intended to last, and be improved upon by future generations.”


“The Parnhash Manifesto” by Christopher Carr

“To benefit from violent or horrible acts is equivalent to being a proponent or advocate.”

“Do you believe that Black people are human? If so, how could you allow us to be treated this way historically in America? To be complicit in a crime is not the same as being an accomplice but it is part of allowing the acts to continue. To benefit from violent or horrible acts is equivalent to being a proponent or advocate. The way America treats Black society and people is and has been violent.

How many Africans were killed in the colonial process prior to slavery as Britain, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Portugal (and how ever many others) ravaged various geographical regions of Africa taking land, people and resources? How many Africans died in transport to the new world never to make it to South America, The Caribbean or North America? How many Africans, once brought to those places, were tortured, enslaved, had their culture or language stripped from them and were treated as non human? How many died while enslaved in or in the process of seeking freedom and abolishing slavery?”


The Liminal Liquid And Other Vignettes by Brian Michael Barbeito

A series of affecting vignettes, inspired by the delicate, abstruse, and altogether wondrous realm of nature… 

“Thick mud, and the birds calling out where the tops of the trees meet the overcast sky. The farmer has not been seen in a long while, and there are branches that have fallen and blocked certain pathways. They will have to be cleared, but such work is for the light of day, and in the dryness and clarity where tasks like these can be tackled. For now, there is an amount of chaos. No snakes. Some flies. A bird that has flown overhead. A squirrel rustling amongst the trees in the distance. The Chaga hiding, in a secret place only I know where. Far away it waits on trees, past the fields, past the purlieu that houses the fields. It’s by a stream, a stream practically unknown. That area is like a fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm, mystery, story, poem, painting, spirit, devil, angel, witch, shade, dark, branch, dream, quiet, still, fright, sounds in the distance, away, away, away from the path, from the world. If there is a secret passage, an entrance to the astral plane, a hermit undiscovered, a spiritual vortex positive, negative, if there is anything otherworldly, it is in that place for certain, if anywhere. I shall have to go back there. I shall go so quietly. But, for now, the thick mud and the birds calling out and the bits of rain in thousands of pieces that wait and rest on leaves, flowers, branches, blades of grass are there waiting. Water that is here comes from heaven, like manna, but has not yet reached the earth completely. It’s the liminal liquid, below the cloud cover yet above the dirt.”


“We Must Ask Ourselves (Gun Control Questionnaire)” by Frederick Foote

Yet again, Americans are forced to ask the tough questions about guns and the Soul of the United States…

“Facing the reality of another mass shooting, many of us are left asking ourselves questions, yet again, about what the United States of America stands for. The following questions are not rhetorical, and feedback is encouraged, as together we must find a way to sort out the rampant gun violence in America. In the wake of the events in Sutherland Springs, Texas we must ask ourselves:

1. Are we, the United States of America, a civilized nation?

2. Are we, the home to routine and increasingly violent mass murders, a beacon of peace, freedom, and democracy?

3. Are we fighting fourteen and sixteen year-old wars, and engaging in multiple conflicts around the world, while failing to address the threats of violence at home?

4. Are white males with assault weapons a threat to our domestic tranquility?”


Arrows” by Jill Jepson

“My parents. My poor parents. So earnest. So simple. Blundering their way through life, even so much as to being persuaded into raising and loving a kid who turned out nothing like they expected or could even imagine. A kid who wasn’t even the right race.”

“When I was twelve, I lost my parents in a mall outside of Sioux Falls. We were on vacation and miles from home. We’d come to the mall to buy my dad, Stanley, some shoes. He’d accidentally left the tennis shoes he’d bought for the trip in a motel room in Boise, Idaho. He needed tennis shoes for our birding walks. My parents’ idea of a vacation was going birding in different states. We lived in Delaware, and birding in the Western states was a big adventure.

We were standing by the map to the mall just inside one of its entrances, my parents trying to locate a store my dad could get the kind of shoes he wanted, when I saw some crimson plastic beads in a store window that caught my eye and I walked over to look at them. They were bright and tacky, and I liked them, plus the violet ones hanging next to them. I must admit, I became lost for a few moments in those red and violet plastic beads.

When I turned around, my parents were gone. It seemed as if they had vanished into thin air. I stared around at the crowd, turned this way and that, walked around, and then went back over to the map. I searched the map as if I might find an arrow showing me where I was in relation to my parents. They were nowhere. Or else, I was.”


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