Here is a tiny note just to say that I had two poems come out recently! One is online, with Pith, and the other is in print, for Gigantic Sequins. These are both very body-oriented pieces, one quite small and the other more expansive, one a shy watcher and the other acting upon itself. Both questioning the shapes I've been told I need to fill as a woman, both attempting overlap and triangulation, undoing, undone.
On Sunday, Entropy published my first creative nonfiction essay, and I suspect I haven't written about it here because it meant so much to me. This is definitely an essay about Doctor Who, but it is also definitely about reaching toward a void, returning to the missing, to the things you cannot and will not ever know. Like I said in this earlier post, I have been returning to this piece about returning since 2012. Talking about this yesterday, I explained that language, writing, the open field of abstracted thought—these are ways, for me, of reaching into that blank space. Literally: the blank page, but also the specter of what waits there. The nothingness of numbness. The silence between us. The space between the sections in this essay are just as interesting to me as the sections themselves. I leave it open-ended because if it was not open-ended, it would be a still and edible thing. You wouldn't have to reach for it.
Do you believe in the power of not listening
to the inside of your own head?
I believe in the power of you not listening
to the inside of your own head.
—Joshua Jennifer Espinoza
These five poems are up on the PEN America site today, and they are quiet / staring / not quiet / not quite /
I keep coming back to this linebreak:
Use words I don't have to go back
to college to understand.
I think it's the neat rhythmic package of "Use words I don't have to go back" like a well-shelved item—which feels complete even though it is a strange phrase by itself—suddenly shoved back into the realm of the not-strange, especially the realm of college, of academia, of sense-making. Use words I don't have to go back.
Would you have cut the gut
From the inadequate ribcage
What would you do to my resting bitch face
Bobbing unbelievable the accuser
Bearing up to me with your rotten
Little morsels of bonkers
As per my last post, I'm pretty attached to the word "bonkers" and I'm really pleased when anyone puts it in a poem. Read the whole thing at Sundress Publications today >>
[B asks, when I explain what I'm going to write about: is that really a ritual? And I'm not sure, but I think that thinking about one's repeated actions in the context of ritual is useful. For me, a ritual is a repeated action imbued with meaning.]
Every twelve hours, since November 2015, I have given my cat four pills. Every twelve hours, his heart needs medicine that regulates blood flow, musculature, heart rate, lung drainage. If you met him, you'd probably never know.
[at this moment, the alarm on my phone goes off and I stop writing to give my cat the aforementioned four pills]
Every twelve hours, I have to think about mortality. Every twelve hours, I plead with my cat, remind him that it's good for him, kiss his forehead between each pill, stroke his throat—it's spell-like.
[Vlad forgives me instantly, climbs into my lap and purrs across my wrists while I type.]
It drives me nuts, this mystery of materiality. Everyone knows Walt Whitman says we contain multitudes, and that is just bonkers. Why are we tethered to ourselves? Why is my sweet cat tethered to this malfunctioning heart? Why am I tethered to this cat? So many writers that I love are interested in the idea of expressing the inexpressible, of reaching toward that which cannot be known, and me too, me too, but what if you have to do it every twelve hours and what if it's not your philosophy but your cat?
[Does a ritual need to be chosen?]
[As if I had a choice.]
Language works for me when it comes at me slanted, when it's not quite on the mark. If poetry were just the exact replica of meaning, what point would there be? To get at the inexpressible, you can't quite express it, but leave a door open. No exact match between material and immaterial. A space for the leap, for the act of believing in it.
I started reading Marguerite Duras's The Lover today, on the heels of Sonya Vatomsky's Salt Is For Curing, and I'll follow it with Maggie Nelson's The Art of Cruelty, then Ocean Vuong's Night Sky With Exit Wounds. This post is just a reading list, but: lots of reading is happening right now, and I'm glad. Listening to others.
Today is the first occurrence of April 27 on a Wednesday since 2011, when sirens cut off my Wednesday afternoon poetry workshop and I ran to the library, where I huddled in the hallway while an EF4 tornado ground a diagonal wound into my town. It's a strange symmetry: five years, another Wednesday. Five is the kind of solid number you can depend on. I often count in fives. It's a way in which we can control time, by counting it.
The tornado changed a lot of things for a lot of people, and one of the things it changed for me was my sense of time. It made me realize that time is not so easily divisible (that nothing, actually, is so easily divisible). In a 2008 art history class on South American shamanic art, one of the cultures we studied had a calendar for which the repetition of the days was literal. Each Wednesday was the same Wednesday. Any meaning that was imbued on one Wednesday would be present the next Wednesday. Every week a slowly turning circle.
I started writing an essay about the tornado and repetition and Doctor Who in 2012, and I am still working on it. Still trying to figure out what I mean.
I have always thought of the calendar year as a circle, like a clock, with January 1 at the top, quadrants of the seasons. Each year kisses its own tail at the top. The academic calendar is the upper half of the circle, and in the academic calendar these months are their own kind of year. I know where the momentum will carry us, forward, swinging, but I don't live there anymore.
In the last months of 2010, I wrote a paper on The Consolation of Philosophy, on the way in which allegorical texts free us from linear time, on the recurrence of circles and circular movement, on the book itself as a circle, half in text and half beyond the boundaries of text. I didn't know that I was setting myself up. Half here and half there. Half beyond the storm and half huddled in the hallway. What would console me?
There's something comforting in the return, every year, of April 27. That we all remember together. That we create the safety that we did not have. That collective grief might swing us forward for another year, that a tornado is a turning circle, that I might be again in my old body, that the wound might be undone, that we might capture it more clearly.
Yesterday's post was hard to write and harder to click publish on, but I'm glad that I did. I'm still trying to listen better to what I need, to consider that what I need is worth needing. In the swarm of those emotions, I signed up for a writing workshop this weekend, on embodied ritual in (Jewish) writing. Great timing, right?
My favorite holiday is happening right now, and I spent much of my weekend at family meals. Passover has always been my favorite because it is the most ritualistic, the most structured, the most focused on conversation, the most gefiltefish. I have a strained relationship with Judaism, but not with Passover. I love the symbolism and the groupthink of the haggadah, the way we can never follow instructions properly. One year we wore masks to represent the plagues, one year finger puppets. Ten years ago I skipped Passover to visit a college, and it turned out to be my last chance to see my Bubbe. In grad school, I longed for Passover and attended seder at the only synagogue in Tuscaloosa, where I read a paragraph in Hebrew and the rabbi made fun of my stilted pronunciation. Years ago, I kicked my legs under my aunt's dining room table and watched Bubbe shovel in magenta horseradish and grin at us kids, red teeth and slim fingers.
My family actually isn't that big on ritual, so maybe that's why I love it—what is content without form? A thing to come home to. Every year I wonder / how we'll last / this the last. This year we put an orange on the seder plate, so this will be the year we put an orange on the seder plate. Am I trying to hold onto something that I never had? Will it stay? The seder is the strange embodiment of a spirituality that I don't keep, a form without content, but repetition breeds meaning, and maybe in this way I'll find it.
[TW: eating disorders]
"How did you do it?" asks one of my aunts, wanting advice. It is 2003 / I am 15 / 5 feet 8 inches / 144 pounds. I mumble something about diet and exercise, instead of: I skip breakfast. I eat one apple for lunch. I guzzle water instead of eating, drag the same Poland Spring water bottle around with me wherever I go, despair when I lose it. I obsess over the calorie content of my food without actually looking it up, because I am too afraid to know. Instead, I make it up, overestimating. I exercise every night to the same hour-long DVD, in front of the wide window in our living room, in front of my father, who likes to stand by and watch for a few minutes (me? the DVD?). I know I'm making him proud by making myself smaller.
In 2016, I am a full inch taller, and my doctor suggests that 145 pounds would be a "healthy weight" for me to aim at.
The first time that I remember being weighed at a doctor's office, the scale hits 103. This is not good, it is proposed to me, still in elementary school. My mother takes me shopping for pants later that day, bringing me pairs that are too small, in the sizes she had assumed I was. One after another, they stop at my thighs. She wrinkles her nose and sighs. "I just didn't realize you were that big."
At age 4 or 5, my mother and Bubbe take my sister and I to a diner. They order my sister a milkshake, which she doesn't want. I ask for one and am refused, told that I don't need it.
Everyone on my DVD is muscular and energetic. They sweat all over the place, just like me. I get used to the rhythm of the music, the places where the song changes, where someone coughs, where the trainer makes the same joke every night. I know without looking when he'll change sides, kick backward, shake his head just so.
At a family dinner, I am casually referred to as the garbage disposal.
I sob and sob and sob in the car outside the gym because I have gained 10 pounds. I don't know, at this point, that I have also gotten taller. I just know I've done something bad. I am taken to a doctor who lets me know I should work out every day for at least 60 minutes and eat a lot less / that should do it! That should take care of me.
In 2016 I can benchpress 120 pounds and I am finally starting to appreciate what my body can do, instead of the things it can't.
I run around the block for as long as I can stand it, longer—I don't stop until I place my hand on my stomach and it feels cold to the touch. I read a book about a teenager who takes a summer job as a gardener and loses weight, and I hope it might happen to me. I read a book about a woman who becomes depressed and takes long, numb walks and loses weight, and I hope it might happen to me. I read a book about teens who take up running, one of whom becomes anorexic and loses weight, and I hope it might happen to me. It does.
In a dance class in college, I smile and say something about being larger than the other students in the class—this is an easy thing to make a joke about. My teacher looks right back at me: "No, you're stronger, and that's a good thing." I'm a little confused, because this is not how the conversation has traditionally gone.
In 2016, I can load 225 pounds onto a metal barbell and place the barbell across my shoulders and squat down and stand up. A woman in my gym class talks about her 1300-calorie daily limit, and I start to wonder if I should limit myself in this way again.
I faint. Someone tells me it must be the heat / I agree / my stomach is also empty.
My mother tricks me into joining a swim team, though I have expressed no interest in swimming. A few years later, my mother tricks me into joining the intensive summer training camp for middle school soccer players who are transitioning to the high school team, though I have never played soccer.
I try not to talk about weight or diet in front of other people, because I have been the person listening, and I fail, over and over. I am a good listener, but I've been listening to the wrong narrative.
When I explain to my doctor that 145 pounds would not be healthy for me, that I have only ever achieved that weight through disordered eating, that the number that appears on the scale is not inherently healthy or unhealthy and that the way we talk about weight and health should be carefully considered, she writes back: "OK"
Okay—I have never been satisfied. I have been told I should never be satisfied. I have been taught to love food, and to deny it. All descriptions of me as a baby are accompanied by descriptions of my weight. How it hurt to carry me around.