Springtime smells like breakfast, manure, a little sour sunshine breath. I feel more awake / alive / in my own spacetime / you name it. All our windows are open and last night a dog somewhere yelled all night long for the joy of it (which was not our joy). My 5K orchid is in bloom again, for the first time since we move here. Alice Girl orchid continues to grow roots. Yesterday I buried my face in a cone of gelato and ate it desperate in the sun.
I took this picture a week or two after moving to Alabama, more to show how I set up the room than to demonstrate the light. But look at that window. It's bright and green and streaming, where the window is now simultaneously gone. I have tramped through this room after the doors were removed and the dark swarming tiles piled in the corners, pipes out, damp leaves on the floor.
I'm simultaneously working through both Eleni Sikelianos's The California Poem and Cheryl Strayed's Wild, thinking about statehood and homeland and the mapping of the self and how lucky for them two to be writing about California, this big / fertile / varied / brightness. It's that place across the country where people go to be dreamers, the endpoint in imaginings. Me, I'm writing about/to/from New Jersey, the kind of place people leave to go to California. CA is big and important and beautiful, and NJ is small, kind of cruddy and specific. I'm realizing this sounds like a complaint, but it's not—I'm learning, from this contrast, how to write about place in a different way. I don't begrudge California. It's just that writing such a personal thesis has made me think about how I create my self in these poems, in relation to my small, cruddy homeland. And the extent to which I have created my own homeland, because really, it spins around and won't settle, won't let me see it clearly, just a blur in the lens.
Every year, my MFA friends and I have some sort of conversation during the summertime about when we start calling ourselves second-years instead of first-years, third-years instead of second-years. No one's brought it up yet this time, probably because it's intensely frightening and sad and exciting and overwhelming to think about leaving this place. The latest batch of first-years are starting to arrive over the next few days, so to avoid thinking about leaving, instead I'll think about getting to live somewhere new. My list of requirements includes: coffee and food culture, public transportation, a medium-sized city, a natural landscape to explore that is not very far away from the city center, modern art, a writing community.
Please, future: give me any one of these things.
Boyfriend and I are back from a speed-tasting trip to Kansas City, MO, where we ate barbecue and drank incredible cocktails. While driving, we did a vertical tasting of Kanye albums. Twice, we had the best ice cream I've ever had. We hunted down fancy cocktail ingredients so we could make them at home. We ate the world's best fried chicken in Memphis, TN. We (okay: me) internally-heart-scampered through the contemporary wing at the Nelson-Atkins Museum. We drank crazy good coffee. We drove through Arkansas. We had a 10-course meal at this restaurant. We ate foie gras with pickled cherries. We sat in the Cauldron for a Sporting Kansas City match. I drove so much a piece of my car fell off yesterday. In all this driving and eating and drinking, I think I picked up a book once. I'm telling myself it's still only midway through July! and I have time to settle back into reading and writing. When I finally checked my email after the last long drive back to Alabama, I found out that my book is not getting published by an awesome publisher due to time and $, but they loved it and want to put part of it in their online journal. So, okay. It always stinks to get another no, but also, this was a wonderful email because this person out there in the world read my book and enjoyed it. Someday, other people will do the same thing. So in the meantime I'll sit on the couch with the cat and my laptop and a homemade Martinez and my new Cindy Sherman The Complete Untitled Film Stills and words that scatter and shrink.
Today I have flea-medicated three cats. Have I found a new special skill set? Also, I think, maybe, I don't know, we MIGHT be moving at the end of this week. O to have a home!
In the name of shaping things, in the name of movement and transformation, in the name of central air conditioning and mornings sandwiched between boyfriend and cat, I am leaving this open, lighted space. I'm giving my ladybug house to someone else, and paring down the long list of objects I've compiled. Our new apartment will be a small puzzle, and I do so love it when everything fits together neatly [See: my grading spreadsheets]. This past year has been the only time that I've lived alone, and I've enjoyed that sense of control, but I want a shared couch and an interlocking library. I spent a lot of time, in college, longing for a stable living space, but moving into this new space is the thing I'm longing for now. I wrote 33 pages last semester about the moment of interface between states of being, and I can feel myself approaching this point of breakage, the halting lock that opens, the lapse. One month and one half month until the chaos of boxes and sweat rises and subsides into a new sense of daily reality. The cat likes to curl up in my lap and press his forehead against something stable, so that he is entirely contained, the pressure of the other reminding him of the safe walls of his own body, I imagine. Like being tucked into bed, I imagine. The shower curtain is making the move this time, though. That thing is a beauty and it's going to live with me until it molds.
These abstractions grow an impossible lie, and perfection forms slowly, flopping to one
region of pillow, hair awry like a cow tongue
and lathers. I fall asleep. I keep this to myself:
I asked for dog ears. And this: always claim
there's night available for darting words
that sing there's some other version you don't see.
- Cynthia Arrieu-King
This morning I woke up an hour before my alarm and noticed that it's the kind of cold morning I usually miss, sunny but breezy, so chilly your toes go numb. So I sat on the porch and read a whole book. There's a tire repair place across the street, and when I first moved in I thought the sound of bolts and loudspeakers and machines would bother me, but it's become a part of the landscape. I like the thought that while I sit on my porch reading or writing, someone's over there fixing something, and the noises are necessarily strange, growling.
I'm still working on reading that book. It's been so long since I started reading it that I had to reread what I had already read, but I'm determined this time. After today, it's spring break at the University of Alabama, and I'm flying home tomorrow for Passover, so there will be plenty of time to read on the plane. Planes scare the shit out of me (much like most things that present opportunity for horrific death), but reading is one way that I can calm down a little. The drone of the plane helps me concentrate on the words on the page, instead of on my terror, and I really don't like small-talk conversations with strangers, so I have to keep my eyes on the page to avoid making accidental eye contact. Reading back through this paragraph, I sound incredibly neurotic, but I think that might be an accurate portrayal. I haven't been home for Passover since I was a junior in high school. When I was in college, I never went home on breaks, and my senior year of high school, I was on a college visit and I missed the seder. I knew I was going to miss it, and my Bubbe was in the late stages of pancreatic cancer, so I spent the night at her house before leaving town, and I missed the seder and then she died. Passover has always been my favorite holiday, but all the other holidays I've been home for haven't been the same, our giant family dwindling and shifting over the years, and when we get together around the dining room table now there are empty seats. My aunts always tell the same stories, repeat the same infuriating narratives about things I never actually did when I was a kid, but I let them tell the stories because it's a tiny piece of continuity. Remember the time with the bad cake. Remember the time with the choke-hold. Remember the time with the splinters. It's our oral tradition, and we have these holiday gatherings in a different dining room now, but we're still carrying around these stories. We're still getting angry at each other for old hurts. It's still my favorite holiday, because of the ceremony of the thing, the wine dropped like blood onto the plate, the calling of the plagues.
It's been so long since my last blog post that when I started typing the address of this blog into Chrome, it didn't do that thing where it fills in the site address. It just sort of looked at me blankly, like What? I don't...get it. The boyfriend has pointed out to me that it is incredibly ironic that I was so excited about getting Internet, being able to blog whenever I wanted, and then never did again. Well! This will show him. I'll start blogging again. It is literally a new year, a new semester. I'm currently fighting the urge to write about how school is going, because school and teaching are things that I apparently give my time to instead of writing. This is a lesson I am learning. My Paul Thek project is still a thing I want to pursue (maybe a thesis?), but right now I am just trying to write. Recently, a whole bunch of my work has been published, and there are still a couple more journals where more work will appear soon, and this year my first chapbook will be published with my dream chapbook press, and yet I am having the hardest time just writing. A while back I went through a phase like this and I was told it was a sign of change, of an evolution in my writing, and eventually I got through it because obviously I have written since then, but it is never fun to be inside of this space. So I resolve to write, whatever it is that I write (including this blog).
Since we last spoke my old apartment has been torn down, turned to rubble and then wiped away and then the ground underneath dug into, the shadow of a foundation for a condo appearing. It's weird. I lived there for two years, and the space in which I did so many things no longer exists. I could stand around in the vague sense of where my bedroom was, maybe estimate my coordinates, but without the enclosure I don't know, really. I went in there right before it got torn down, because the door was open and it was dark and there was a coffee table inside that I thought about taking. We shone a flashlight around, because everything was torn out, all the potentially valuable pipes--although I can't imagine that any of those pipes hold any value--and it was really just the walls and the shitty tiles that used to break under my feet when I stepped too hard. It looked abandoned, because it was.
My grandmother's beach house is also gone now, and that is a stranger sort of hole. After Hurricane Sandy, I got pictures of the street covered in sand, my familiar landscape made strange, almost moony. It wasn't damaged as badly as other places along the shore, but the water got inside, and it wasn't worth fixing, especially because it was going to be sold anyway. So now it's sold, and, we assume, torn down to make room for somebody's dream beach house. Feeling sad about the destruction of a vacation home is a luxury, I know, but there is more than one way to have a home. The closet where I hid in my cousin's nightgown is gone, and so is the dining room where I ate my grandma's terrible macaroni. The sunroom where I laid on the couch all day and cried about Animal Cops Houston. The bedroom with the beds always full of sand. The wood-paneled staircase that felt like it led to another dimension, and the pock-marked concrete backyard where I scraped the sand off my feet and sprayed my body down with hard water.
You can find these spaces in these poems in these spaces: The Journal, Sixth Finch, Spittoon, CutBank. The cat is currently making a tiny home in a box I left out for him, the container from an unexpected and completely wonderful gift. I left it turned over on its side, with the wrapping paper crinkled out the edges invitingly, like I used to leave out new shells for my hermit crabs, hopeful. He has finally decided that the box is worth his time, and keeps turning around and shifting the paper and scratching to make the most deliberate holes and poking his little head out his new front door.