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.
We used to ask what might come after the orgy — mourning or melancholia?
Jean Baudrillard, The Illusion of the End
I’m trying to remember if spring always starts out this slow. Cherry blossom photos start popping up online. Winter’s scandals begin to blend into sales for sandals. Days stretch beyond blue twilight.
We desire soft power, wash out our ghosts, and pleasure places we neglected.
Us dandy men and hard women eventually repent the same—on our knees. Quietly, let us break down to the softness of desecration. Vandalize public anticipation, then escape into too much artificial light.
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.
“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.
“Know that you are prior to the first day you witnessed.” —Nisargadatta Maharaj
Audre Lorde was light years ahead when she said our visions begin with our desires. These fragments glitter. I integrate language queerly. This seriousness is earned as the contemporary moves at the speed of drones.
Some still apply ancient alien theories to the present.
I want off this boring ride.
cache culture is a collection of intimacy and a consecration of infinite justifications. My Sunday best. I source symbolic actions because they structure the silences I see between each chosen word. I am in active witness.
Finding the shape of darkness, I rejoice. That means light is at the edges.
I want a revolution as reckless as cowboys with broken backs.
Throwing restraint to the western winds, a favorable direction,
& towards that edge where darkness is shaped into possibility,
I wait familiar in shy quiet impatient.
I want a revolution as prolific as chants for collective safety.
Born from burn scars so large you can see it from a distant
universe, a reminder we will never be in control so long as
money motivates our hustle for pretentious liberation.
I want a revolution as tender as loving in present tense.
An immediacy that respects our inherited kinetic energies.
Until then, I’ll gather productive & discover curious tensions
sensual as thunder replying to lightening’s transfiguring danger.
In protest and in wealth, I want a revolution that gives as much as it takes.
Last year’s fire season wasn’t the first time
I took my breath for granted.
I had been choked before,
by father and daddy alike.
My body memorizes such feelings with appreciation.
This way of knowing a matrix, a structural ethic.
As fire’s light establishes rapidly diminishing distances,
tradition finds strength in time passing.
Our days are paced aggressive, a seasonal norm.
History is recorded furiously as language reflects
fractured frontlines. Be worried.
These western fires will reach you, soon.
I almost never buy in bulk, although I appreciate the expression of commitment. My lack of bulk desire is rooted in one of those childhoods funneled through scarcity politics, of all kinds: spirit, body, voice, resources, access, stimulation. My earliest taste of cultural politics were synthetic extractions grounded in epic narratives of fatherly protection. A practice endured through sacrifice.
There was a seduction to all that nurturing, an attention and encouragement to focus on one’s most intimate self—the soul. If followed correctly, there would be saving.
In all that repetitive redemption, there was a sense of safety—false as it was. I ache for those early feelings of learning about abundance. When the simple was profound, like the sound of snow falling.
These days are starting to feel retrograde, astrologically speaking an illusion. My dreams are looping, again. I’m taking all these memories, the bulk of them, and feeling nothing but an offering to grieve for what was taken, withheld, starved. An invitation of acceptance, a different kind of suffering.
“Are we witnesses or actors?” – Carolyn Kizer from “Twelve O’Clock”
From a tender age, we learn to anticipate expansive boundaries. This is how we survived.
Our inheritances can be found folded into cornered spaces where silence occupies itself. A similar appreciation to realizing how much our eyes have adjusted to darkness. We trade today’s exhaustion for speculative futures. Assassinations happen daily.
Diversions become elegant beginnings when you realize resistance has immortal roots. That’s why performing for an absent savior is a dishonest practice and violence is a loop of fractured sounds. Do you hear that echo abdicating its own existence?
The sun feels yellow today. Birds still relay their news through song. Incantations woven over and through the roar of their own destruction. A natural and honest alchemy. Such revision signals there is enough, a gathering of effort.
When they ask how you survived this century, what will your answer be?
I have to start somewhere and this is a good place to begin. I want this early reflection of my time spent at the William Stafford Archives to be a conscious wandering.
I knew I couldn’t finish. There was too much. I needed a respectable and intuitive pace. I had to make quick and deliberate decisions on what to capture and what to let go — a practiced, indulgent impulse.
“I would like to be known as an action philosopher.”
– Banana Yoshimoto, from the novel Kitchen
I wrote what came to my attention and catalogued patterns — wind, mountains, snow, trees, rocks, and secrets to name the most prominent. It felt the best, and most honest, way to honor Stafford’s daily writing practice. It was what I had learned to do from You Must Revise Your Life and Writing the Australian Crawl: Views on the Writer’s Vocation.
On August 17, 1993, eleven days before he died, he asked:
“What can butterflies do if they get mad at each other? Should they express their anger? Stop and get even? Are these questions about a butterfly trivial? And about you?”
And on May 13, 1951, at the age of 37, Stafford wrote:
“How do we know our perceptions have the same feel as others’?” (emphasis in original)
Graceful inquiries such as these found their way into Stafford’s daily writings, which also included his dreams remembered in the darkest shadows of morning light. Intimate and rooted in place, Stafford recorded the present in all its creative movements.
I learned how deeply mountains listen when trees and rocks tell their ancient stories.
Stafford’s lifetime dedication to following and listening — carefully — to what wasn’t being said, or said loudly, was powerful to witness. His repetition was seductive. A rhythm visualized into meditative language that demonstrated “…all living things are afraid (20 June 1975)” and a steady truth that “your hope keeps you awake (20 May 1975).”
What comes next is unknown and that’s exactly how it is supposed to be.
All those years and I still remember the exquisite details. This specific memory does not have a year attached without much difficulty nor can I remember the time of day it occurred. Yet I can summon the sweet smell of ozone and hold onto the thought of how my own breath, in concert with yours, folded into one timeless moment.
We had pulled off a mostly deserted I-90W to wait out a thunderstorm witnessed hours earlier, which we assumed was fleeting from a distance reserved only for endless and empty horizons.
We found temporary refuge in Blue Earth, Minnesota. Waiting in a potholed parking lot, bordered by a 55-ft Jolly Green Giant statue and a gas station that sold cheap pizza and cold beer, you read A Ritual to Read to Each Other by William Stafford as rain poured hard and thick from a dark sky.
There was so much we didn’t know about each other – or the world – and a sublime anchoring in such fearless truth.
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
This moment, which probably lasted no longer than an hour before we got back on the road, forms the shadowed edges of how I’ve been preparing myself for this upcoming poetics inquiry of William Stafford. I want to be witness to his early morning and honest daily writing practice — his golden thread. I hope to explore how he taught poetry that centered curiosity as a method of facilitating an effective learning experience, his own and his students.
I feel a pull to reference an intention I outlined before I went to the Audre Lorde Archive in Berlin, my first poetics inquiry. This poetics inquiry is also an artistic project, which will explore how lived experiences of the “boundaries of one’s imaginative sympathy line up, again and again, with the lines drawn by power.” I use this quote by Claudia Rankine to bring attention to the phrase: lines drawn by power. This expansion of reference feels necessary in context to what I know about Stafford’s personal history and the now.
For it is important that awake people be awake, or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep; the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe — should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
At the age of 27, Stafford chose to be a conscientious objector when he was drafted into WWII — a few years older than I was during that thunderstorm. He chose not to participate in a war that was framed as moral, just, and unquestionably popular. He served four years in various prison camps for his decision. I want to learn what it means to live a life grounded in a commitment to practice non-competitive creative integrity. A life, like mine, lived when the United States was never not involved in wars and conflicts.
I am reminded that I know only what brought me to today: a poem, a ritual, that has not broken the line.
“As if a tenderness awoke, a tenderness that did not tire, something healing.”
— Sylvia Plath, from The Collected Poems; “Three Women,” (1962)
I was born into an isolated, literal Evangelical culture. A place where time was on always on trial and faith was righteous as pride. Our promised future had already been written. We were urgent. The rapture was past due.
All of us who knew even a fraction of the story internalized why Jesus hadn’t returned. Acts of a vengeful god are common and welcomed in this scenario. It was also true when you knew the ending tipped in your favor, knowledge became seductive. A blessing disguised.
To have learned about the world this way feels like a subtle theft. Trauma works that way too. False recognitions bound to real sounds, smells, touch, twists of phrases, and, if lucky, fading re-creations. A true con.
Decades later, I am still carving an existence that is receptive to invitation. There are no answers inside all these non-moments of relentless judgement. That clarity is its own rushed reality. Adapting gracefully to change is an ancient sermon. This is a map to all this undoing.