“What happens when you reposition agency away from power?” —Ocean Vuong, episode 227 of Talk Easy with Sam Fragoso
I’m writing this down
as proof of memory.
The sky is almost always
a solid backlit blue
unless it isn’t.
A specificity shared
by anyone who lives beneath it.
Not unlike knowing poppies don’t unfold
until midmorning and being aware, now,
how summer here blooms—
if you’re paying attention.
Gradients of time punctuate
while light cascades unnoticed.
In other words, there’s devotion
and there’s feral experience.
Beneath a gray sky, backlit bright,
the persimmon tree is full of leaves
as if it hadn’t just been naked for months.
If you find an orange
on the sidewalk,
one solitary orange,
what kind of luck is that?
In Olivia Laing’s opening essay in Funny Weather, “You Look at the Sun”, she references Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s concept of a paranoid reader. “A paranoid reader is concerned with gathering information, tracing links and making the hidden visible. They anticipate and are perennially defended against disaster, catastrophe, disappointment. They are always on the lookout for danger, about which they can never, ever know enough.”
Distilled: “to prove what we already feared we knew”.
I fingered the begging-for-it jade trees.
As the flowers slept,
still curled tight,
the sun floated above me
already round and bright.
Abstract as repentance or glory—a transitory representation—is the distinct learning from unknowing, an experience of active living. A day of rituals, smooth from habit, bloom into conscious discipline. Nothing less than a lived response will do in these warped times.
Another week soft as cat paws sneaks past me. The sounds of the radiator and freeway now so familiar, I consider the silence around the noise. Maybe this form, an oblivious infinite loop, finds function waiting like the persimmons? Or maybe this release continues to demand merging threads fleeting as sunlight passing through morning clouds. It’s just as possible all that happens is that I learn to love myself a little more.
this whole time
I’ve been writing my future?
My stride is for life, a far place. —William Stafford, Run Before Dawn
The first thing to know is everyone but you, and a few precious others, will move on. Push that reactionary and perceived disrespect to a corner in your heart you’ve saved for petty grievances. Forgive them, eventually, for they simply did not know your joy. You’ll be better served, in these early days, to center your scattered energy by paying attention to the way your days and weeks advance as you begin to revise your life. This or that part of your previous life is no longer applicable but you’ll still find yourself performing the phantom shapes of a visceral routine. The memories you form in this emerging now will feel like new bones growing, indescribable aches. When you notice you’re no longer performing for the past, breathe. In that space of awareness, allow laughter and evocations of pleasure to strengthen you. Remember, most of all, to praise the mutual life you were able to create together.
The next number of infinite steps is to continue gathering the integrity of love.
“All of our reasoning ends in surrender to feeling.” ― Blaise Pascal
I was told salvation is coming. It could be any day now. My earliest memories integrated this knowing as a worried occupation, equal parts faith in and fear of the odds. Much later, I learned trees share similar survival stories—expressed urgently as generosity with occasional pause to report danger—through elaborate, networked underground comms systems. This year, they’ll wait for a response not aware their friends and family didn’t survive wildfire season. We all wait in this sense of unknowing as predictions of unimaginable loss dampen relentless holiday sales pitches. Our cumulative temperament is tuned towards intermittent reinforcement, an addiction to hope.
Lately, as a ritual of escape, I wander between landscapes of turning Japanese maples and persimmon trees, flickering reds and faded orange, as palms stay evergreen while limes and lemons transform sour. Take this lust and ride its crest. I want to believe this could be a new beginning as waves of survivor’s guilt swell, then spread.
Poetic principles like allowing for improvisations and diligence of testimony guide my guarded thinking these vanishing days. I create deliberately, in curious inquiry of being in a state of suspended exile. Forgive me as I loop.
Birds commute along shoreline drafts as surfers gather before waves build. Calm blue sky pulls from water’s light moving along corduroy swell lines. Sun burns through fog. Temporary, temporary, temporary. We’ve begun to thread what was held together—memory and a different future.
And always I wanted the “I.” Many of the poems are “I did this. I did this. I saw this.” I wanted the “I” to be the possible reader, rather than about myself. It was about an experience that happened to be mine but could well have been anybody else’s. That was my feeling about the “I.” I have been criticized by one editor who felt that “I” would be felt as ego. And I thought, no, well, I’m going to risk it and see. And I think it worked. It enjoined the reader into the experience of the poem. (emphasis mine)
and later stated “there is no nothingness” I found an edge of where I had been wandering disassociated these tangled smoky days.
I, too, posted a flurry of orangered sky photos on Wednesday, a sky Australia experienced during their “Black Summer” the final months of last year. I did not want to believe what was in front of me—what was real and happening.
I am, now, acutely conscious of feeling triggered by the mere recognition, now a pattern, of that very specific hue of red and orange mixed with smoke and sunlight. When that extraordinary color and any adjacent approximation catches my scrolling eye and peripheral sense of self, I am physically reminded how saturated a lived experience can be.
During World War II, we bought sealed plastic packets of white, uncolored margarine, with a tiny, intense pellet of yellow coloring perched like a topaz just inside the clear skin of the bag. We would leave the margarine out for a while to soften, and then we would pinch the little pellet to break it inside the bag, releasing the rich yellowness into the soft pale mass of margarine. Then taking it carefully between our fingers, we would knead it gently back and forth, over and over, until the color had spread throughout the whole pound bag of margarine, thoroughly coloring it.
As these days surge on sensory overload, I am suspicious of receiving and having to interpret new information like “unhealthy” versus “very unhealthy” air. I understand how conspiracies comfort the masses by creating gaps in perception. I surrender thoroughly (to borrow from Lorde), when I realize all of this—this living, this breathing, this give and take—is a radical synopsis of cognition, dear possible reader.
“Instead of becoming preoccupied by the extraordinary things the deluded individual believes, we should turn our attention instead to the ordinary things they no longer believe, the absence of which have allowed the bizarre to flourish.” — Huw Green, “Deluded, with reason”
I was born on the east side of the Missouri River. U.S. Route 12 segregated town into north and south. If you drove west, time moved backward one hour from Central to Mountain. A sign on the bridge let you know you were crossing the threshold when you reached the middle of the river. Everyone west, within a certain driving distance of town, set their clocks to Central. Awareness of time in this way, coupled with growing up immersed in seductive Evangelical promises of attaining an afterlife, shaped absolutely how I perceive time and place.
Living in a community that so willfully defied authority (whoever put that arbitrary line of what time was) and persistently yielded to a prophesy that believed you were doomed unless saved, was ordinary—normal—to me. Technically, every day was urgent and distorted.
What was delusion and what was habitual enough to thrive in that unique cultural echo?
Learning so young to measure time as both borrowed and flexible expanded my ability to conceptualize reality, an immense landscape of what I knew and what I saw. It also helped to construct a very specific concept of suspension of disbelief. I recognize and am familiar with waiting as an anchor of suffering and its twin—earned anticipation of endurance.
As the contemporary drags hot and dangerous, I wonder if these times, right now, are worse than other times of war, protest, fire. To pull an image from the last line in William Stafford’s A Ritual to Read to Each Other…the darkness around us is deep.
What revelations lay at this undulating edge?
I don’t know. For now, I’ll keep translating evocations into poems and finding pleasure in trying to answer unanswerable questions. Where I come from, we call that feeling for miracles.
“Some days in late August at home are like this,
the air thin and eager like this, with something in it sad and nostalgic and familiar…”
— William Faulkner from The Sound and the Fury
Its salience starts inside you —
an intersection, a portal, a punch.
Greed is an expression of fear,
that kind of penetration measured
by depth, loss contextualized.
A landscape of insatiable memories
bordered by anodyne forgiveness
and tectonic imperfections.
Take comfort in knowing
plants turn light into sugar.
Tell me what you notice, and why.
I want to cross reference
my slanted smoky sunlight
with your details to create
time stamps, a rescue map
dispersed into winks of blue.
“Pears cannot ripen alone. So we ripened together.” — Meridel Le Sueur
I remember helping my father feed the boss’s cattle.
My sisters and I would watch him shovel hay
from the bed of the slow-moving pickup, driverless
and pointed in the general direction of home.
In winter, the cab’s heater blasting,
we were witness to the cattle’s eager breath
etch a chorus of hungry moos into the frozen air.
The chore was done when the hay was gone.
Wavy furred lines transformed the barren prairie landscape.
I remember the weight of your loudest threats
mapped onto your hands. You hit us to teach us a lesson,
to be quiet, because you couldn’t hit the boss.
As we got older, and bigger, you perfected words
into weapons, making your impact invisible.
Then came tender gaps of amputated time
when your anger spilled vengeance
against those you had declaimed to love so fiercely.
Forced to move into the deepest parts of nowhere,
packing tempers and testimony this time would be better than the last.
Starting over was the goddamn point when all you have for a legacy is your name.
That may have been one reason why
no one knew us where we were headed.
Our mutual legacy now an extension of reputation,
much like how only female cottonwood trees
shed their obnoxious cottony seeds
into the most distant, wind-driven places.
“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.
“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.
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)
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.
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 on 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.
“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.
“with the evolution of awareness came the possibility that existence could be more than survival, or that survival could be more than a response to fear, and could include the encompassing of joy” — Jeremy Wolff, excerpt from the essay Thots on Pot
Northern Plains’ cottonwoods spread their seeds this time of year
thick as snow their white progeny coat lawns and 4×4 pickup trucks
a soft blizzard similar to the way Saharan dust reached Texas this week
both are dramatic
all that settling
(it’s probably nothing)
this feeling of apocalypse came on swift
like bad news
when adoration and permissions share the same open mouth of devotion
it is recommended that you consult your prophesies to justify blanket explanations
transpose unknowing into thoughts and prayers
a crash disrupts into eventual silence
born from a place stubborn as time
untamable as the patience of trees
a place whose history begins with land stolen then plowed
now transformed to weed-filled lawns anchored by rusted swing sets
as early-to-open Main Street bars drown committed repentance
a place where there’s nothing left to let go
where abandonment is a reluctant hero
& stacked clouds convert prayers into myths
like there can be no forgiveness for sins
we commit against ourselves
Our inherited risks are not equal. This is an urgent incantation.
As visceral affect, I want to disembody and divest.
My father tracked weather patterns in free pocket-sized bank calendars.
Constrained, he archived basic data (temperature and precipitation)
occasionally punctuated with significance: two daughters born;
weight and height nearly identical.
His daily notes arranged into a practical devotion bound by time and repetition.
For point of reference, children and livestock born in storms were not isolated incidents. Shaping a landscape absent of variables, his pattern recognition became a survivor’s catalog.
Our futures signal forced reliance, an intimate risk. This is an urgent incantation.
As righteous affect, I want to feel god everywhere.
what survives in me
i still suspect.
–Sonia Sanchez, “Fragment 1”
time signatures bridge memories spread wide, open as my early childhood landscapes
we moved most often when work got too hard or you simply wanted a change of scenery
self-destruction a competitive pursuit, or why my syntax lacks a particular kind of self-love
I found an aesthetic: beg
more of a grasp than a hold
& I define how tight
shattered pieces create the best whole
naked sounds vibrate the loudest
most thoughts end
“I knew the tension in me between love and power, between pain and rage, and the curious, the grinding way I remained extended between these poles – perpetually attempting to choose the better rather than the worse.” — James Baldwin
I read all the names of the sacred rivers and creeks
as roadside memorials blurred into permanent mile markers
horizon x distance = distortion
horizontally speaking it was a longing
pressure folded into seductive resistance
when you knew you were in trouble, what did you do next?
these days and for some time since
I move with spiritual abandonment
neglect now atmospheric radiance
habitual as landscapes
my divided thoughts pulled to you
Experts have named our environment “rape culture”
fueled by an economy that exports & imports incertitude.
Funny how even the state’s gospel won’t accept no,
even with a sovereign request,
another way fringed borders bleed reciprocity
thick as oil as war as water.
Desire can transform anything.
Corporeal physics as vim and vigor,
like soft kisses melting hard intentions.
It’s why embodiment alludes enlightenment
& landscapes matter when our eyes close.
Horizons become their own grounding binary.
Pressure is a gilded warning signal.
Jouissance its own casual experience.
How deeply our metaphors inform us
as angels, as deviants, as complicit.
Love is in here somewhere, or should be.