Richard RothUSAWriting2012

Richard Roth received a Kirby Family Affiliated Fellowship, which included a residency at the Civitella Ranieri Center.


I thought and fretted and adored the smell of sun-baked cypresses. I listened to baying hounds and a crowing rooster across the field outside my window; and also to criticism and compliments, worries, complaints, idle conversation and inspiring talk. And, writing about love and social insecurity, I learned to listen closer to my very own voice.


She came back late last night and early this morning, she called.

“I need a dose of your cynicism.”

Coffee's on and the bed’s still warm. Come over for it now.

“Oh God I’d love to. I can’t. Pen’s got a half day off and I need to spend time with her; it's like she doesn't know her own mother. I need to spend time with you too, but it’s gotta wait. But I’m really shattered.”

Talk to me.

“I don’t think Laila knew all she was getting into when she got me a visa. She really pushed for it and she was the one who made it happen but I don’t know if she understood…”

You told her what working for you meant.

“Yeah but when she came to me Thursday and said she’d been told by the goons from the Bureau I had to leave, I said ‘that’s ridiculous - there's too much in play and I can’t possibly go. My visa’s still good. There’s no reason to leave.’ ”


“So she argued. She didn’t say it outright but you could tell they're putting on pressure. I mean she came to me just at the moment when – it was the whole point of being there. It wasn’t just the job. It wasn’t just New York – Christ, they wouldn’t have had a clue. I had to stay. I had to stay, and then I’m feeling -- am I putting her in harm’s way?”

That’s what we do.

“Well, she's gone. She disappeared. Up north somewhere,'family emergency,' she said. I don’t know if she was just scared, or if she figured she’d need to have an excuse, you know – deniability – if the police come looking for her. For god's sake she could be punished, tortured. They’re doing that, you know. Savah’s never going to walk without a cane.

So, she made herself safe. She did what she had to do, what she was supposed to do. She understood.

“I’m feeling really torn. Like I used her.”

That’s what we do, too. You know this. We do it all the time. We seduce them. We tempt them with a little bit of high purpose and a little bit of money and a little bit of excitement, and we make them act against their better judgment. And we tell ourselves they’re grownups, they’re profiting, they’ve given consent; and it’s all for what may someday be seen as a noble cause. Most times, there are no consequences.

“I’m really, really worried, this time there may be.”

Was your work good?

“That’s not the point. You’re not getting it.”

Of course I am. You said you needed a dose of cynicism.