“I pray in words. I pray in poems. I want to learn to pray through breathing, through dreams and sleeplessness, through love and renunciation.” — Anna Kamienska, from “In That Great River: A Notebook” (tr. Clare Cavanagh)
There is anger, again.
It is a fear of waste.
There is nothing left
to do but wake up,
make coffee, write.
Salt, a mineral.
Soft truths with edges.
It is also true we lived in temporary houses.
No one was home so we self-supervised.
Neglect and despair kept us full.
Competition thrived. Like ocean waves,
we conformed to the landscape
beneath a rough water’s surface.
I remember when the city air smelled like summer,
longing and loss. Trees were shaped
by ocean breezes, bald on the west side.
Country twang bled past Mission bar doors opened early.
That moment, its energy, left an imprint.
like the breath
just beneath this prayer.
Yet listen well. Not to my words,
but to the tumult that rages in
your body when you listen to yourself.
If it is true we are floating through space
& each of us contain the stardust of a million galaxies
then the sun glittering receptive is our asylum.
Exuberant in this signification,
we propel beyond daydream nations.
Expressive attraction becomes its own tender gravity.
Change is accelerating
is feedback looping.
What do you believe in: violence or power?
It is our right as poets to be suggestive
to value a secure spirit & apply logic of affect.
We know why the grace of a curve invites.
“What is secret never has total objectivity.” — Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space
Am I repeating lies? The Australian wildfires were started by humans and we live in a democracy or you can say no, which is a choice. I read an audacious headline and followed clicks and threads shiny as trolling lures. In the thick of seduction, I confess I may have shared images without acknowledging an artist because I wanted the frame of reference to reverb. I’ve posted songs that had no accompanying album, which means its context also wandered unattended. I have repeatedly liked things I never read, and never will. I’m exclusive, in a trapped kind of way. Eulogies for the cancelled are stored in clouds stacked miles deep. An echo wags the dog. Empty space occupies sound. We are pixelated into our own repetitive concepts of an othered likeness. Are you repeating lies? Please remind me tomorrow that non-knowing is stasis, sacred affect, and a series is a pattern is a sentence.
“She peels an orange, separates it in perfect halves, and gives one of them to me. If I could wear it like a friendship bracelet, I would. Instead I swallow it section by section and tell myself it means even more this way. To chew and to swallow in silence with her. To taste the same thing in the same moment.” — Nina Lacour, We Are Okay
My dreams were unpleasant so I changed the subject.
Crooked clouds, galloping waves, open sky, rapid heart beats,
30-mph curves, a quiet moon. I feel invited to be in witness
differently. Superstitions abound this time of year.
Ebb, the movement of the tide out to sea, is a noun.
It is also a verb, to recede. A delicate pull to want
complexity in concrete form and a desire to contract,
its own learned impulse. This withdrawing is not quite grief
but something deeper—like prairie grass roots growing
fourteen feet into rich Northern Plains soil or inversely
the stretch of centuries found in straight-as-arrows Coastal Redwoods.
I want nothing but that kind of time to observe the unfolding
of our revised lives. How far will I let this instinctive incantation
take me and what existence can we carve out in the shadows of endless wars?
Maybe the answer is where our holy and mundane days adjust into
a darkness soft as our breath subsiding and just as gracefully rising.
“Walking on the land or digging in the fine soil I am intensely aware that time quivers slightly, changes occurring in imperceptible and minute ways, accumulating so subtly that they seem not to exist. Yet the tiny shifts in everything – cell replication, the rain of dust motes, lengthening hair, wind-pushed rocks – press inexorably on and on.” – Annie Proulx, Bird Cloud
I’ve learned enough to be dangerous. I’ve failed enough to feel successful.
Lessons learned, in the order they showed up:
Expectations are different than boundaries.
Shame is a form of self-abuse.
Distinguish the difference between meaningful work and paid work.
The stories I tell myself matter the most.
Maintaining a conscious awareness of abundance is the work of being open to inspiration — being fascinated feels good. Acceptance is eternal work.
Establishing new routines takes time.
Trust in self is a sacred commitment.
Patience is its own desire and trust in myself is sacred energy. Learning stimulates: both focus and curiosity are required.
Creating poetics inquiries deepened my capacity for patient discovery.
Breathe through the urge to have answers.
Staying present and having curious inquiry is the process of accelerating joy.
It matters how you show up.
2020 is one of those future-forward years, like 1999 and 2000. Every year has its own biography of echoes. The list above are some of my loudest.
“Be wicked, be brave, be drunk, be dissolute, be despotic, be an anarchist, be a religious fanatic, be a suffragette, be anything you like, but for pity’s sake be it to the top of your bent – live fully, live passionately, live disastrously [if necessary].”
— Violet Keppel, in a letter to Vita Sackville-West (1918)
Monday’s sky rolled out baby blues and soft power pinks with creamy lilac contrails. Yesterday’s news was the same as today: promotional micro-divisions, myopic hyperbole, and regrets familiar as hard-coded hegemonic language.
Cloud banks wander wistfully south where it is summer.
For almost fifteen years, I’ve willingly come to this empty, open place. This returning is one of my most illicit love affairs. Responsible only to self and the swells of intuition, I may decide to write passively because that shadowed edge has the most depth or I show up with a cathartic vendetta that has begged for its own release. This virtual space a catalog of conversions, an alchemy of early-morning meditations transmuted into an ever evolving contemporary poetics. Here, time is measured as equal parts fumbling through curated distances and urgent absolution. This is a sacred practice that I’ve revised, distilled, and kept wild.
The redwoods are watching, thinking, and breathing just like me — and you.
Even now this landscape is assembling. Neither melancholic beast nor hyperconsciousness of a benevolent god’s perversions could keep me away from this erotic ritual of pleasure making. It is glorious how I have taken, and keep taking, what is useful to me. The violence of past sins have not failed me. It is precisely this ancient chorus that has finally connected curious inquiry to my formerly disembodied soul.
“but i am running into a new year and i beg what i love and i leave to forgive me”
— Lucille Clifton, from I am Running Into a New Year
Always, an airplane in the sky. Our big, beautiful world is dying. We string colored lights in windows. This time of year requires letting go of what cannot be undone. The freeway flows forward, always. Birds sing in tune with worn out brakes of city buses. Today I will laugh. Where does the grotesque fall away and where is the real? Knees. Ribs. Pelvis. Hips a spacial reference to another’s manipulation. My body woke me in the middle of the night. I wasn’t sure if it was fair to tell you this truth. I disassociate enough to protect my sensibilities and made myself small to accommodate your vision of a world that owed you. I kept my mouth shut for fear of casting a shadow on your carefully carved out spotlight. I need new vocabulary to describe this headstrong ritual. Joy and excitement is replicable but they won’t be to scale. Yesterday I watched a woman kiss pigeons. Gently and respectfully, she kissed the bravest on their greedy beaks. In a sea of bread crumbs and feathers, she shared her love with those who surrounded her. Come back into it. My body won’t relax. I pick up the slack. Evening’s receiving light follows me home.
Always to shine,
to shine everywhere,
to the very depth of the last days…
-Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky
celestially speaking, we all belong to a restrictive social class
cumulative in our longings, we render dependency as emergencies
[how romantic to feel each other’s interdependent commitments]
we take our love-starved coordinates and plot collective orbits
moving at the textured pace of gravity’s grace, time fragments
do not worry, this scattering happens every year. remember?
what will you pick up and carry into tomorrow? the new year?
Answers are just echoes, they say. But
a question travels before it comes back,
and that counts.
— stanza from “The Research Team in the Mountains” by William Stafford
When I met Dev Aujla in April 2010, he asked me a simple question about a sandwich. Connections with such lasting integrity enabled the answers in the interview below to unfold so seamlessly. Dev enabled this excavation. I wouldn’t have wanted to plumb its depths with anyone else.
This interview occurred through email August-September 2018.
When did you first discover Audre Lorde?
I was in my early 20s. I discovered Audre Lorde through her Black feminist theory, not poetry. Her vision of feminism, shaped by her lived experiences, was accessible and provocative. I was drawn to her unapologetic and direct writing about race, sexuality, and difference. Audre’s biomythography, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, broke open my repressed queer heart.
Tell me about your own poetic practice and how it led you to the poetics inquiry that you pursued in Berlin?
I’m self-taught and forever a student. Over the last seven years, I’ve had an intentional poetics practice. I owe my technical knowledge of amazing contemporary poets and craft, and the confidence to claim a love of poetry to my partner Edward. The other major influence has been William Stafford’s You Must Revise Your Life. My poetics practice is a state of evolution and curious learning.
The poetics inquiry of Audre Lorde’s time in Berlin was catalyzed by being unemployed. My thoughts were my own and open to possibility. I had a different sense of time and connection to productivity, which allowed myself to trust and really practice Stafford’s artistic process. I believed my devotion to writing and learning would get me to Berlin, somehow. Those beliefs were refined and actualized because of the generosity of others – family, friends, and supportive community. I wanted and needed this poetics inquiry, my first, to be a collaborative process.
Audre Lorde’s concept of the ‘poet’s way’ weaves together emotion, self-discovery, and the act of resistance. How did your understanding of her life and this concept deepen upon spending so much time with her correspondence?
I read the personal letters between Audre and Dagmar Schultz when I was back home. The letters added texture and tenderness to the over 60 hours of audio recordings I listened to while at the archive. It was a privilege to witness how they shared their struggles of daily life and their love for each other. The letters spanned eight years of their relationship. Everything I knew about Audre was that she lived her life holistically, critically, and with integrity. When I learned she defined a radical practice of honesty and vulnerability as the ‘poet’s way,’ I felt a new sense of validation. A ‘poet’s way’ is an elegant strategy for creating and sustaining social change.
I love the idea that poetry as you define it is a creative structure where desire meets experience that shows effort. Talk to me about specific moments where desire met experience for you? What does that intersection enable?
That definition came from an attempt to describe what a “good” poem is: “A temporary place of collaborative movement where desire meets an experience that shows effort.” I wrote that before Berlin. It was a statement learned from Stafford and included all the thinking that had gone into planning the Audre Lorde poetics inquiry. The trip to Berlin was the most intense and immediate test of that kind of experience! I also feel that effort every Sunday when I post on cacheculture.
I feel joy at those intersections.
Today more than ever it feels like there is a sense of urgency in bridging ideological divides. How can the tools and ideas that you uncovered during your Berlin trip help people wrestle with conversations with the other?
Audre’s belief that identity is not competitive (an intimate and personal reflection when I think about being an identical twin) is a strategy of resistance in our consumer-centric culture and extractive capitalist economy. Identity is abundant, a creative expression, and a practice of self-preservation. A solution is sharing power and living a life of critical examination. I recommend reading Audre’s brilliant collection of essays, Sister Outsider, to get some of her best writing and vision around this work.
I like this quote from Audre at a poetry reading in Amsterdam (15 July 1984):
“The first step around difference: the parts within us learn to sit down together so that each of us can come to our work, as we define it, whole within ourselves – and then by extension reach out so we can do the work that we must share. That is a very long process. It must begin inside if it is to go out…”
What did the day-to-day feel like while you were in Berlin, spending time in the archives? What was your daily rhythm like while you were there?
It was incredibly important to treat my time at the archive like a job. It was work! I got up early and walked half a mile to the S-Bahn. Before I’d transfer to the next train, I had a strong cup of coffee and a croissant for breakfast. Then it was a short neighborhood bus ride to the archive. The computer was already turned on and set up to access the Audre Lorde files when I arrived around 9am. I listened to digitized analog audio recordings of Audre teach poetry in 1984 Berlin. I transcribed her lectures into two notebooks. The same kind I use in my daily writing practice. I needed an element of the inquiry process to be writing by hand – familiar. I didn’t know what I was going to discover since the archive guide was only in German. That physical movement helped me stay present (and it kept me awake, especially those first days of adjusting to the time difference). I took an hour lunch at the student cafeteria. Those were the only times I felt acutely alone and really far from home. I’d listen and transcribe more recordings until the archive closed around 4pm and 2pm on Fridays. Occasionally, I’d walk back to the train from the archive. The autumn air smelled sweet with rotting leaves.
I’d usually spend the last hours of daylight walking through Neukölln taking pictures of street stickers, graffiti, and whatever else caught my eye.
I did this routine for twelve days, each day the archive was open. The only days I wasn’t at the archive were weekends and two public holidays to celebrate Reformation Day.
Tell me about the relationship between the street art fragments and material you were engaging with in the archives?
I’ve been taking photos of street art for a long time but more consciously since I moved to the Bay Area. The first time I visited Berlin in 2014 I started taking photos of street art fragments of what had been and what was current. My friend Andrea’s reflections of her first time in Berlin influenced my awareness that most of Berlin’s architecture was an attempt to replicate what it was pre-WWII bombing. I was fascinated by what was replica and what was “real.” Time was nine hours ahead of what I was used to, and Audre Lorde was in 1984 – five years before anyone knew the Berlin Wall would fall. I wanted to try and capture that contextual experience of my time in Berlin.
You had a privileged view into the relationship between Dagmar Schultz and Audre Lorde both reading much of their correspondence and meeting Dagmar herself. Tell me about your relationship with Dagmar.
I love this question! It made everything more real. I was unprepared for how it grounded this experience. I was so honored (and so nervous!) to meet Dagmar. Her documentary, Audre Lorde – The Berlin Years 1984-1992, was the reason this poetics inquiry and the archive even exists. There’s probably a German word for the particular feeling I have when I think about Dagmar’s generosity in taking the time to meet with me when I was in Berlin.
I have even more respect for Dagmar after reading the correspondence and then meeting her a few months later when she screened the documentary in San Francisco. When I watched the film for the second time, I was hyperconscious of how inspired I had been from seeing it years prior — and realizing Dagmar was at the first screening I saw in Oakland. It felt divine. Sacred in purpose.
What do relationships like that enable in a time like today? Where do they exist today?
I think it reflects a desire for openness and enables our need for non-competitive mutual experiences. These kinds of relationships can feel rare, but they exist in all of our daily lives. It exists in relationships where we make long-term and deep commitments of time and energy to others and in those magical fleeting moments of human interaction. It also exists in reading writing that makes you feel (versus writing that informs or sells you something).
What is that you wanted to come away with from your poetic inquiry and trip to the archives?
I wanted to experience what intellectual pursuit felt like for its own sake. I wanted no pre-determined outcome other than bravely learning more about Audre Lorde, poetry, and Berlin.
Audre Lorde’s way of living seemed to be so connected to the poetry, writing, and workshops she created. That tight weave between practice and theory seems so rare and powerful. Tell me about how that connection came across or was evident in the workshops and writing you spent time with?
I made that connection when I learned Audre was in Berlin for the first time. She admits she is practicing her racial and gender justice theories in real time: “I felt it was something I needed for my own honesty [visiting Berlin]. … I think of so much of what American civilization takes from Western Europe is a phrase I use frequently, and I thought at some point I cannot continue to use that phrase without knowing first-hand what I’m talking about.” [source]
The other moment was when I listened to her reading poems from The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance: Poems, 1987-1992. I read these poems on a sunny September day in San Francisco as preparation for this poetics inquiry. The recording was dated less than two months before she passed away. Weaving practice and theory – praxis – is a habit of integrity. Audre lived a life of authentic integrity.
In your collection [for the Sorted Library], the Poetic Forensics of Power you have chosen poetry that transports one towards the feeling of revolution. I was struck by the sense of immediacy in all of the writing. There is a lack of flowery language. They seem to do what they need to do and make you feel.
I like your description of immediacy. That’s my favorite kind of poetry: breathless and to the point. I wanted a collection of poems that were political but not didactic. Audre believed poetry was a weapon, or “tools of surviving.” It’s an active stance.
Is poetry the common ground or is it our differing reactions to the same poem that provide that starting off place for dialogue?
It’s both. I’m hesitant to claim one situation over the other since most of my engagement with poetry is alone and in conversation with a poem.
How do these poets speak to what Audre Lorde described as Poet as Outsider?
Audre said, “As we think of the poet as visionary, in every circumstance there will be those people who have begun to see beyond what has been defined as the place from where they must write from.” [source]
Audre believed poets are reflectors of the future. Outsider poets are poets who can envision what does not yet exist – what must change – while reflecting the contemporary history, politics, and social cultures of their time. The poets in that collection hold the future, the current, and the past seamlessly.
I want to talk more about the idea of sharing power and the power implicit in the positions that we talk from that we never see or notice unless we are the subject. How can we make these more visible? How was this dealt with in the workshops?
Making power visible is embracing the truth that power is complex and an adaptive process. It requires us to get really good at being active listeners. These kinds of conversations often make us nervous or uncomfortable, feelings we associate as negative, yet it’s within in those moments that we can practice sharing power. It’s about making subtle and profound choices of engagement. We do it every day, even when we’re not conscious of it.
Audre gracefully facilitated these kinds of conversations in her classes by requiring radical honesty, establishing a safe place to critically examine one’s own feelings, and staying grounded in personal experience. She was clear about her intentions for the class and the expectations she had of the students. She admitted she had only enough energy to bridge the cultural and racial differences, not gender, and requested the male students not return to the Black Women Poetry session. It was incredibly brave and necessary for her purpose and limited time in Berlin. She would not allow white guilt to be used as an unconscious defense or distancing mechanism when the students were challenged with feeling uncomfortable. She diffused it by confronting it. She showed how power is a learned behavior. There was no shaming (the idea you’re inherently a “bad” person). If the student felt ashamed, it was on them to understand why. It was their work to do.
Agnate Falk has a poem called otherness that came to mind when you were writing about the scarcity that we feel with identify. The threat that my identify can’t exist without taking away from yours.
OTHERNESS by Agneta Falk
It’s not because I don’t love you that I can’t see your face, It’s just that I can’t face your face without eliminating mine.
When you look at me, I turn away so I don’t quite notice your eyes. If only I could look at you without your looking back at me, I could begin to see you, discover the curve of your lips, resembling mine; that on the slope of your cheek runs a river as deep and dark as one I grew up near, as shallow and dry.
And maybe, if you dared look back at me and saw your tears filling my eyes, we could begin to replace that never-ending fear with love.
How can poetry help us see each other across difference?
This is a beautiful poem! Audre spoke a lot about how we can’t dismiss the poet’s experience, which is the “illumination of the poem.” Poetry is an opportunity to acknowledge feelings of intimacy in yourself and with another person (the poet) who you may never meet. It’s a moment to see both self and poet reflected and honor those differences.
If you become a committed reader and listener of poetry, you have a creative practice around understanding difference. I think it’s important to say that differences are never static. We always, every one of us, are in a constant state of change. Engaging with poetry is one method of staying flexible and open to multiple possibilities.
Poetry as empathy. Chance to feel what it means to be in someone else’s position. To understand the experience of the subjugated and actually understand the power implicit in my own voice that I may have never seen otherwise.
“You will never find the bridge until first you recognize what is different. Plumb that difference. Examine it. And examine the feelings that go with that. You will find in those feelings that there are very much feelings you have also. You may have them out of different experiences but you have the feelings. If you try to have an easy connection of similarity it’s not going to work.” [Audre Lorde]
Tell me about the differences you experienced and recognized in traveling to Germany today that you alluded to describing the practicalities of your poetic inquiry? What was informative in that difference?
I learned to practice being humble and feeling confident in decisions I had to make with limited information. I didn’t know the language, written or in conversation. I was forced to admit over and over to myself that I did not know the culture despite my childhood nostalgia for German culture. Because I came with an intention of having no pre-determined outcomes, it was an interesting experience to take in so much information with confidence. I was open to possibility. It worked at the archive exploration and when I wandered unknown streets.
I like the idea that it isn’t in finding common ground that we find true bond or connection or bridge but rather it is in plumbing the depths of difference and understanding our corresponding feelings to that. It is such a different way of building relationships than we are taught today. Find common ground, ask questions, build a relationship. Did Audre Lorde facilitate people through these types of interactions during the workshops? How did this idea show up with her students coming from different backgrounds?
I love this question so much. What makes this observation so beautiful is that it assumes it is ongoing. There’s an expectation and honesty that it’s going to take some work. Not all relationships should be or can be forever, of course.
My favorite moments from the audio recordings are when Audre is facilitating conversations of difference! She shares German is not her first language, which she admits makes her vulnerable around discussions of interpretation. In tandem, she took considerable time to politically educate her students about the American welfare system and disenfranchised Americans – Black, lesbian, poor, women, Asian, Indigenous – all through conversations woven through a curated collection of poems.
Tell me about your experience of holding a question, or pursuing the question so thoroughly through travel, visiting source materials, turning to poetry and creating a collection? Why is this type of thinking and inquiry needed today?
Almost a year later, I’m still learning and integrating everything I saw, heard, and felt from this experience. It was an incredible immersion. I went to an edge of what I had internalized around risk, woven from my own identities and experiences, and was conscious of that dismantling. The value of this work was made even more clear when I heard others reflect their own learning and emerging ideas from this inquiry.
Having a critical examination of our daily experiences, especially those shaped through normalizing culture, is always needed. It can feel like that’s more the case today, but every generation has faced or denied their differences – and made choices about what tomorrow could look like. Audre’s essay, Poetry is Not a Luxury, outlines why it’s important that we feel as deeply as we analyze: “It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.”
Opposites are abstract concepts belonging to the realm of thought, and as such they are relative. By the very act of focusing our attention on any one concept we create its opposite. … Since all opposites are interdependent, their conflict can never result in the total victory of one side, but will always be a manifestation of the interplay between the two sides. — The Tao of Physics
her dreams were filled with spooked horses and rabid wolves
allegories of courage or danger or obsession
shallow interpretations, her repressed energies a spark
threads of eternal poems with narrow slanted voices
waking, she stuck pins in her eyes to filter in more light
Do me a favor this morning. Draw the curtain and come
back to bed.
Forget the coffee. We’ll pretend
we’re in a foreign country, and in love.
Raymond Carver, last stanza of “The Road”
There’s an urgency when you wake up in darkness. Instinct tells you to trust that light is coming. The sky opened a hazy lilac. Morning shadows sharpen. I’ve misinterpreted the danger inherent in matter cannot be created nor destroyed. Navigating productions, stilted formations misunderstood as lyrical responses, becomes a performance. Often, soothing a distraction.
I learned early that soft touches were to be saved for moving someone to confession, then towards salvation. For all those end-of-days Sunday warnings, I am not prepared. This is a special kind of denial, an abject version of faith.
“We should have known” has signaled subtle shaming. Didn’t you hear all those rumors?
The moon is new. At the moment, there is no wind. My body remembers this fear. My sense of distance expands in the pink layered light.
I’ve kept this on the tip of my tongue, at the rim of my mouth, inside my lungs sweet like a curated secret. I tried to write around the noise but this is the silence that found me.
Who will touch me in the middle of this war. — Zaina Alsous, from “On Longing,” A Theory of Birds: Poems
in the darkness, I whisper red sky at night
this ancient prayer breaks
its positive predictive power
when the sun rose red, again
highly sensitive weather machines
translate falling ash as snow and rain
smoke spreads heavy in the amber colored night
in the darkness, I whisper red sky at night
“They are not allowed to distract the attraction.” The Tao of Physics
your hands wrote notes on the arch of my back
a syntax of bruised blues
confusing the map with the territory
you left elegant traces of comparative expressions
a relatively exalted possession
to sublimate time unspoken as gilded pleasure
a glitch forsaken, tender undulation
Police found nothing but pairs of empty shoes inside abandoned cars stopped on the freeway that carved edge lines between city and suburb. Stereos were still playing upbeat songs or blaring ads for insurance, spicy chicken sandwiches, eradicating skin rashes, and a cloud that promised to secure memories. Coffee left warm in secure cup holders.
I have my own, obvious, working hypothesis for the dispossessed.
I can feel you wanting more. More analysis, more details, more quantifiable truth. I recognize that desire. If left unchecked, it is a serial and extractive response.
Instead of getting stuck in that kind of particular production, what spiritual inclinations were you born with? Will your future prove the past?
The ending is coming. How wild is your hope?
title is reference to seven years and a day is often the period of trial in fairy tales (Denise Levertov, The Poet in the World, page 13)
But where I come from withdrawal is easy to forgive. — William Stafford
She said she loved me
she loved me
it became an anthem
a melodic hook
stacked like clouds
ready for a fight
bent over or
how horizons form
don’t believe me
study the moon
and sun’s partnership
a story of graceful friction
literally magnificent light
now wild from abandon
“If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.“ —Saskatchewan farmer saying
a quietness calls
stars still groggy
from shining all night
our tongues found light
in caves of darkness
bound by touch
we hold tight
such ritual informs
grand obscene thoughts
unseen feedback a risk
strung across suffering
that has no reflection
Our days contain the same hours despite abbreviated light.
Fevered images imprinted on soft flesh remind
this planet orbits a beloved and nuclear star.
Sorcery or science, that’s not for me to declare.
I record the sky every morning to create fragments of an unseeable whole.
Daily witness a veritable surge measured against distance as response.
I stop when I remember your happiness is not my responsibility.
That’s the small print of being in relationship to you.
We’ve burned through time by excavating the past.
I warned you verb tenses are subjective when coupled
with mutable concepts of time. Didn’t you hear that echo?
In suspension, I ate my tongue and swallowed our blood.
I know how much you appreciate a dramatic and proper exit.
The hills are thick with creamy fog these late-August mornings, then fade into brilliant blue. My dreams have been performed in airports and church vans. I rode a mechanical bull pleading to get to where I thought I wanted to go.
a different summer morning
you joked that Red Delicious
was put there by a witch
I’m disciplined to distraction
the peek of a thigh
roses at the edge of on-ramps
yielding to pressure
In the same way orange trees are dormant in winter,
I saw a way to be — abstract as light, silence, form.
I am only a singular present self carved in this body.
I found time by counting the clock’s soft tick-tock
In tempo with the whoosh of a kneeling city bus & claw clicks.
I made a wish the Sequoias below live longer than me.
Dinner was the same: ground beef — a portion
of a six hundred dollar monthly salary — tomato sauce,
and elbow macaroni. That winter night, when he reached
for another helping, she noticed a thin red line
flowing from his thumb to his armpit. The blood infection inching
forward in proportion to the pounds of noodles, canned sauce,
and slaughtered cattle that filled our child-sized stomachs.
Weeks before, he cut his thumb skinning a dead lamb.
Orphans are draped with the skins of the dead to deceive
mothers in lambing season. A forced rebirth through the smell
of the familiar. When they left for the emergency room,
we watched the trace of their brake lights in the empty darkness.
As orphan bonded to new mother, we ate alone in committed silence.
When I added the dimension of time to the landscape of the world, I saw how freedom grew the beauties and horrors from the same live branch. — Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Planets square, conjunct, and align according to ancient calculations. A replicable physics of perpetual routine and abstract distance. The wise have correlated collective visceral feelings to this constant celestial movement and, of course, gravity’s determinate pull. There is grace in this kind of emotional profiteering, an abundance that forces us to confront unknown questions inside a mapped-out-for-you future.
I’m days away from another year around the sun. Three hundred sixty-five unbroken days of editing mistakes and expanding my realm of intuition.
These accumulating memories are a landscape bound to cycle back around to vanishing points. Gathered as collages and smelling like warm marigolds, all those shades of consciousness tend to the task of a well-paced axiom eventually becoming their own runaway speculative fictions. Nostalgia clutches just as much as it cascades.
The sky is always moving. I intend to continue investigating the figurative dancing light from that motion. Etching inventions into my own shameless shadow.
Maybe if I loved her enough, my mother would heal. – Chana Wilson, Riding Fury Home
My mom officially disappeared from our family when I was thirteen. To be fair, she did not know she’d be leaving her four daughters that day either. When she left the house, she had packed nothing but her purse. Dispossessed, my memories are inscribed into a tight buzzing chest, rushed breathing, and anxious as self-doubt. These memories are my limbic system, the circuits of my mood board. I learned decades later my father took her purse as the only door out of the mental institution shut in her face.
The memories I have exist because I was there but that is as far as my truth can extend, the rest are now privatized myths. To be honest, my mom had been disappearing long before that fateful day. The silence in between seeing her was seasonless and evokes the dreamy concept of eternity for me.
It is true some winters the prairie grass reached taller than the snow drifts. To be obnoxious, you can read snow drifts as a noun or a verb. In that way, my teenage years were a righteous alchemy of oblivion and riot. I remember watching my mom’s need to earn her perfection and how she absorbed all his taking. I deducted a respect for witness and learned early that quiet violence swells. Infinite in its exhaustion, my realities are at best uncertain, which means I have the capacity to refine and revise.
I learned the art and practice of possibility from my mom. To be obvious, I owe my mom my life even if she wasn’t there for most of it. I had to let go of any contempt for her absence years ago because, like me, she also holds dreams of an expansive horizon inside her.
We want what a god wants: to own it, all. — Beth Bachmann, from “Oasis”
Muses come and go. Some take root. Some show all their promise up front. With almost no context, I understood what he meant by “reputable entry.”
Dropping into a new line can feel like that.
We are bodies of evidence, revised. Show me, again, how to leave and return tender inside all this fragmentation. Generate reality out of hoarded information. Find traction at the edges and distill purpose in application as integration.
… :this page is confronting
you. Come on out. Be ready
inside your voice. People have read
too many names. Now, addressing
what was here before, remind them:
in the hollow after you have spoken
a whole world is trying to be right.
They’ll see, those people, how chaotic
a place this is, without us to hold off a reckoning.
Once this poem is over, all the unmanaged
begins to flood in. …
— excerpt from an edited copy of “You’ll See” by William Stafford
AN ARMY OF LOVERS SHALL NOT FAIL – title on cover of The Lesbian Tide, Apr. 1973
this feeling of war is different from other war feelings I’ve had.
it is a conscious scan of knowing where the exits are located.
it is a wanting of quiet and stillness
inside all this (up)loaded aggression.
it is a particular kind of collaborated knowing.
bodies bend closer in fantasies without violence.
a genre of collected mundane details:
dishes in the sink
airport air thick with fancy perfume
the memory of water.
I study nothing, obviously.
I like that space
crowded spaces. public spaces.
being ignored in isolation.
strictly speaking, we think we know
what is happening
because we study history.
if we believe we are more manipulated today,
do we fulfill our own prophesies?
I walked in the direction the bus takes to get me home.
A non-direct route through neighborhoods where curtains hold space
for sleeping cats. Each intersection an opportunity to wait within
a landscape of past lovers reminding how time renews.
Objects in such a mirror are closer than they appear.
Curved to reflect light outward, my old selves diverged.
I am learning to trust and when to leave
a refrain from speculation
and a practice of conscientious objection.
Just past the corners of trees, a distance
due west, urban sounds echo infinite.
Curated to reflect disappearance, I find home.
In three years and just shy of three months I intentionally curated one hundred hours of aesthetic meditation. For six thousand minutes, I listened and watched the ocean perform. The consistency of each unique breaking wave reminding me that this, too, is living. That doing the same thing over and over for no purpose other than feeling pleasure is the goddamn point. Time worth its exchange in salty kisses. I’ve written how empty landscapes are familiar, safe. Home. Blank page, empty horizon. Now, neither scare me.
I respect the crash and appreciate the ability to pull back into myself. It is energy in motion. To swell. To release. To be seen. To be heard. To be so elegantly agitated. To retreat. To join. To rise. To start again. Already good enough.
Home is here—and out there. I wish to never lose my quiet roar.
title is Dorothy Allison’s Two or Three Things I Know for Sure (1995)
Here is what we have to offer you in its most elaborate form — confusion guided by a clear sense of purpose. –Gordon Matta-Clark c. 1973
to the sky, to the land –
bowed in turn
that precious treasure
or a thought, maybe, too strange for us
This found poem was created from fragments of William Stafford’s daily writings (1975-1976).
I woke early to catch a bus into a city so rich it begs. Finding traces of the first quarter rising moon, I watched a skyline break blue. As ocean waves disappeared into infinite replication, news of another massacre weights the expansive and empty horizon before me.
In “How the Mind Works,” Patti Smith asks Can we truly separate the how and the why? This logic is why Midwestern letters from home are factual and often lack ornate descriptions. The news relayed is a list—bills overdue, doctor visit Tuesday, crops flooded—to extrapolate and to elaborate reason would only waste paper and time. The weight of how to get where I do not yet know forms my most elaborate creative patterns, and those lines buried between what is said are code switches. I want you to imagine what that would feel like. I assume you are real on the other side of this virtual divide.
she performs lived experiences
in educated rooms
swollen to appear more
giving to wait generously
a divine release
only certain truths liberate
her furious heart unrestrained
as oranges rot in the winter sun
and the sound of light folds
into warm submission
“Success is someone else’s failure. Success is the American Dream we can keep dreaming because most people in most places, including thirty million of ourselves, live wide awake in the terrible reality of poverty. No, I do not wish you success. I don’t even want to talk about it. I want to talk about failure.” — Ursula K. Le Guin, excerpt from her 1983 Mills College commencement address “A Left-Handed Commencement Address”
Mental maps are flashbacks of intertwined stories not to be confused with flash-forward dreams like visible clouds in the night sky backlit by 24-7 traffic lights, or knowing you are looking directly at an invisible full moon. I am sorry if this specificity of darkness is dense and complicated. I have historically avoided anchors of place in my writing because it feels safer to drift unmoored. It is entirely possible I do not want you to find me.
My past has too many inconsistent waypoints to map accurately—my mother is an unreliable narrator and my father’s sense of direction was absorbed as gospel, narrow and aggressive. Gathered, these scattered memories take shape as a specific form of isolation. The truth is, wrapping myself in distance feels like home.
This dark and expansive landscape I pull from is as familiar as counting landmarks on long drives back home, de facto mile markers such as wind-sculpted trees, mirage plateaus, and the occasional 4-way stop sign scarred with casual bullet holes. My expertise in understanding subtle changes as a sense of direction was earned honestly.
As an identical twin, separation is a practice of abundance. Do you recognize that gift in yourself?
Stars are born when clouds of gas called nebulae infinitely collapse. The center of this collapse, a result of carefully balanced external gravitational forces and internal rising temperatures, fuses into light brilliant enough to witness from Earth’s distance. In this nearly empty darkness, collapsing coordinates are not fixed either. All these simple steps broken into a discovery of self, in excellence and always in evolution.
the tail end of consequences is probably not the best way to start off but proportionally speaking, I suppose I am ok. it’s exchange rates I always have trouble with—their constant change and their false equivalencies derived from broken treaties. I learned last week remorse is an uncertain form of knowledge. I have to be ok with with this too. wanting can get costly.
that same day I learned a new approach to remorse, I saw a man deliver, under weighted wraps, a bunch of floating silver alphabet balloons. the balloons were claimed by a group who had walked in earlier and said oh good, the ropes are here. I’m wondering if I may have been over-influenced.
I have a junkie mentality when my class triggers flair. last night my dreams were so strong I woke up to the smell of wood fire heat. a connection to childhood when we’d spend Saturdays in the dead of winter trespassing and gathering wood pieces near frozen creeks, a wild and rare oasis on the Northern Plains landscape. my heart holds space for what could let this go.
it’s in these moments, between the waves, where future memories rise.
I’ve realized I have seen more Passion Plays than I knew. I come back, here, again. Today is another dispossessed day. News forms around emotions. I stopped believing in Saviors a long time ago. The ending is predictable. From above and from below, inside and out, this internalized desire for external validation starts feeling like an intentional defense. In 1971, James Baldwin said something will rest something will remain. Retraction survives in all this chatter. Context protecting accusers are familiar to me. I learned that language at home and in school. Resale is always at a premium. Redo. Undo. Redo again. Coffee and tiger’s eye stone, water, land and sky meet angled. This, now, is the everything I’ve ever wanted.
I find peace inside California’s winter weather changes. They remind me I was never in control. During the eclipse, I dreamt girls were fist fighting under street lights. I woke up centered and kept all that scattered energy lodged between the spaces of my teeth.
Shock. Then awe. This is what they warned us about. Civic intimacies have been breeched. Residents clutch their pearl-handled pistols. Our movies show us acting surprised while winter mouths stay covered. Sighs are lodged inaudible.
Bound by the length of light, time arouses. I take these sacred fascinations and wrap myself soft and deep as the high tides. I search for conscience affect in its rawest and wildest form. This is a new year of stimulated objections. We have been warned.
title reference to: ‘The grave of the Russian composer Alfred Schnittke in Novodevichye Cemetery in Moscow is surmounted by a stone on which is engraved a rest beneath a fermata with a triple forte noted at the bottom: A very, very loud extended silence.’ —John Biguenet, Silence (London: Bloomsbury, 2015), p.49.
What a savage year. Calendar time and actual time disassociated. Let go or be dragged. I got dragged and then I let go. In this protracted state, I mended critical boundaries and broke open new patterns. I made the days useful to me. I wrote about cowboys while breathing in fire. I listened and was seduced. I transmuted silence, my way. Drowning in manufactured violence and drama, we held each other longer and tighter. I saw urgency extract exquisite ideas and leave behind ghosts still in motion. Recognizing that glitch, I give myself infinite permission to fail, to risk, to revive. I still believe revolutions are frenetic desires and armor myself contextually. Curiosity is my ideal pace. I follow cats and poets. I came into this world greedy. I need reminders when my body grips fear: be awake for soft pink sunrises and orange suns floating into fading darkness. It is my responsibility to source these personal validations and ritualize inspiration. Reflex grace. Find balance in distractions and create sacred ceremonies with your hands on my hips.