Neil Shea



Writing the Future

January 09, 2014

Some faces you remember, like seasons, for the story they offered. Not always true, not always real, but beyond image or the geometry of attraction our eye moves toward stories, possibilities. We fill in details without thinking.

Wedding Crashers

August 29, 2013

It’s your wedding day. In the village a bull has been slaughtered. Relatives prepare soups and steaks and drinks from the fullness of its body, while beyond the kitchen friends dance and sing for you in a muscular circle, pulling in, pushing out, a sound like breathing. There is a song about the ostrich, another about the leopard. Today is an oasis in the long, hot wash of winter. Today celebration is like water.

Then two white guys show up.

The young men looked at each other for a moment, then back at me, eyes flitting, smiles shy. They were deciding how to avoid my question.

“We don’t talk about that stuff here,” said the larger student, shifting on his feet.

His companion nodded. “Yes, we leave those things.”

[ This story was originally posted on facebook ]

Many of the students here were teenagers during the worst days of the Iraq war, 16 or 17, watching the soldiers chew past in convoys of dust, alien in their black sunglasses and heavy armor. Now they are grown, their English wet with American slang, their memories of war gathered into papers for composition class.

Al Taqaddum

April 18, 2013

The dispatch below was written in July 2006. Violence in Iraq was reaching its peak, and photographer Jim Nachtwey and I were in the country on assignment for National Geographic magazine. Journalists know that most of the stories they gather will never be published; we are, essentially, asked to find ways to gracefully omit most of our observations. This short piece, which describes a particularly intense moment in battlefield surgery, was no exception.

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