survival & understanding

It’s been wild y’all. Some minor emergencies. Some heavy conversations in and out of the classroom and mentoring spaces that I work in. The thread continues to be survival and understanding, in that order.

These themes run through Dash Harris’ “No, I’m Not a Proud Latina” which I taught this week. This article, which calls out issues of anti-Blackness in the Latinx community, stirred up a number of reactions which had me lecturing on speaking truth to power, how marginalized writers are often necessarily making decisions at the intersection of politics, culture, and experience in order to survive and understand this world. I also spoke about how community should hold space for the positive while also acknowledging and working through the negative. That for community to matter it must be an inclusive practice, not just an ideal or romanticized gesture. At one point, I found myself talking about identity, how in the U.S. we often discuss it in terms of a possession or territory. The trope is how we have to “find ourselves” before we can be ourselves. What else can it be beyond this? What if identity, or really identities, are sides of the self we’re privileged to be able to honor and exist in, however briefly?

I also caught up with Aurielle Marie’s latest letter for The Offing and their efforts to engage their literary network in social justice and a value shift toward equity within their respective organizations. In “The Other Side of Imagination,” Aurielle Marie details their experiences and realities in the wake of the January 6th insurrection. Some moments that hit for me:

Photograph of the U.S. Capitol Building as seen through a security fence with a soldier standing guard.

On that violent Wednesday, some of my community organizer friends were checking in with one another in group messages. A good friend remarked with fatigue that he believed we were being out-organized. I disagreed. “White supremacy means we out-organize our oppressors, word-for-word, bar-for-bar… it means in the heat of battle we don’t miss… and we STILL lose,” I offered, “because our oppressors do not need intention or strategy to have their ultimate political goals met.”

*

Black people have always had to prepare themselves, their children, their communities for the impact of state violence. This, too, is an imagination of some kind, the preservation of the very people being hunted by the State. My partner and I, like many Black and Brown folks across the country, spent the 6th and the days following planning against some of the terrible possibilities that could find us as two Black queer femmes in a Southern state. This imaginative genius, this survival is exhausting, and this month, I have only that: my exhaustion. 

I appreciate Aurielle Marie’s honesty about this event and personal aftermath. Part of me has been working non-stop, another part of me remains shaken and beside myself. If you’re reading this, I wish you deep, necessary reflection as well as rest.

writer feature: Saddiq Dzukogi

Book cover for Your Crib, My Qibla.

This week I’m delighted to feature friend and poet Saddiq Dzukogi whose book, Your Crib, My Qibla, is currently available for pre-order from University of Nebraska Press. Here’s a bit about the book:

Your Crib, My Qibla interrogates loss, the death of a child, and a father’s pursuit of language able to articulate grief. In these poems, the language of memory functions as a space of mourning, connecting the dead with the world of the living. Culminating in an imagined dialogue between the father and his deceased daughter in the intricate space of the family, Your Crib, My Qibla explores grief, the fleeting nature of healing, and the constant obsession of memory as a language to reach the dead. (book description by University of Nebraska Press).

I have had the pleasure of knowing Dzukogi over a number of years, sharing correspondence over poems and life. In his work, I have always found a paced, meditative way with the line that develops emotional depth across images that hold for a reader like sunsets: intense, clear, and with a momentum one can feel.

“Wineglass” below is a good example of this. Through intimate narration, the poem develops from its title image into a vessel of its own, holding the speaker’s grief while also moving through the experience of it. Physical details such as “Hands, cloudy from rubbing the grave,” evoke the speaker’s state of mind through the image of cloudiness and emphatic action of rubbing, while the word choice of cloudy/grave parallel the speaker’s desire to mix and be heard across worlds.

Saddiq Dzukogi

Wineglass

When your mother found strands of your hair
hung up in the teeth of your comb,
your father squirreled them into a wineglass.
It bites him hard that your life happened

like an hourglass with only a handful of sand—
this split to the seam of his body, a split
of darkness that won’t kill him but squeezes
adrenaline into his veins, so he lives

through the pain of your absence. He’s not alright
to speak. His voice rims with bereavement,
and he wants to sing by your grave, child,
now that birds blow songs through

the window—counts sadness on the prayer beads
necklaced around his collar. If he had known the sky
would inhale you out of him so quickly,

he would have stayed with your toes forever

in his hands. Your face is still everywhere,
even in the places he is not looking.
He presses a deep kiss on your grave,
on your forehead.

Hands, cloudy from rubbing the grave,
as if on your tender skin.
The distance he feels is more

than the 400 kilometers that often stands
between you. He will travel this far
to hold you against the moon.
They say you are like his reflection

pulled out of the mirror he stares into.
To pull you out he plunges his hand
inside himself and pulls.

*

Your Crib, My Qibla is available for pre-order from University of Nebraska Press.

Photograph of Saddiq Dzukogi

Saddiq Dzukogi holds a degree in mass communication from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (Nigeria), and is pursuing a PhD in English at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. A 2017 finalist of the Brunel International African Poetry Prize, he is the author of Inside the Flower Room, selected by Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani for the New Generation African Poets Chapbook series. Dzukogi’s poems have appeared in the Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, Gulf Coast, World Literature Today, New Orleans Review, Oxford Poetry, African American Review, Best American Experimental Writing, and elsewhere.

Author’s Twitter: @SaddiqDzukogi

viscacha vibes & recent pubs

Meet my new friend, the viscacha. He’s got a look that is simultaneously wise, weary, and worked-over. While I can’t claim to be wise, I am definitely feeling weary and worked over by the world. Introduced this friend to my students this week and one responded with: “What does he hear that we don’t that he needs ears so big?”

As I continue to ponder that, I thought I would share some recent happenings:

If you’re reading this, I hope you’re managing.

Also, if you find out what the viscacha hears, do let me know.

in memory: Alfonso M. Gomez

Poetry’s ability to connect with us in essential ways cannot be stressed enough.

This is a sentiment I share on a regular basis in my teaching and conversations with writers. As much as I repeat it, I can’t claim it. What I can claim is the evidence that fills my life and the connections my life is blessed with through the work of poetry.

This week, I dedicate this post to the memory of Alfonso M. Gomez, father of friend and great poet, Rodney Gomez. I have admired Gomez’s work for years now (here’s another point of connection and another). I have shared his work in classes at both the undergrad and grad level (his “Our Lady of San Juan” is one in particular that keeps teaching me). He has also been kind to my work as well.

Along with poetry, we share South Texas between us. Much of my childhood was spent with driving from Corpus Christi to Matamoros, often stopping to visit folks in Brownsville, where Rodney himself was born and raised. Through South Texas, we have mesquite trees and hot summers and community forged through a mix of perseverance, hard work, and hope. Now, we are connected in absence.

Life in the pandemic has made it hard for me to reach out to everyone I would like to when I would like to. I saw news of Rodney’s father passing online and sent my condolences to him. When Rodney later shared the art piece below, which he said was inspired by my poem “Scripture: Hour,” it is not enough to say I was moved. I felt seen. This particular poem–one of a sequence of poems that engages with how little I know of my own father’s death, down to not knowing what day he died–was a hard fight to get right.

“Right.” Not sure what I mean by that. I do know that I wanted those flies in there to keep moving beyond me. Then years later, to have them visualized like this by another poet. Well, damn. It’s an honor to connect. to have one’s work read, and to have insight into how others see it. As much as I make a life out of words, I cannot stress how important, how precarious, yet how necessary connection is.

To all of you affected by the pandemic, by life itself, I wish you kindness and strength.

To Alfonso M. Gomez, I wish rest. ¡Presente!

An art interpretation by Rodney Gomez of a poem by José Angel Araguz

what I cannot call hope

Another round-up of thoughts as I’m finding myself consistently and effectively overworked but wanting, needing to connect, to word here:

  • That it’s been hard to hear others speak of hope this week.
  • That it’s been hard to hear others sign off on emails with some reference to vaccines being “on their way!” As if they had a hand in the accomplishment. As if it brought loved ones back.
  • That it’s been hard to feel what I cannot call hope but can neither call despair.
  • That it’s been hard to hear others share that they feel relief for the first time in four years.
  • That I’ve been feeling what I cannot call hope but can neither call defeat much longer than four years.
  • That what I cannot call hope has me like the speaker of this poem by Rio Cortez, wary, certain while also uncertain of what’s there ahead.
A close-up photo of birch by Harrison Haines

This be stark, I know. Times be, too.

Something that brought some insight and inner movement was the latest letter, “On Resolutions,” by Aurielle Marie in their “series of 10 dedicated to engaging The Offing’s literary network in social justice and a value shift toward equity within [their] respective organizations.” In this letter, Marie pushes against the usual practices of New Year’s resolutions, which typically emphasize discipline while arousing shame and fear, and shares how:

It would serve us all better to start our year with an acute awareness of how we want to live it, to be loved inside of it, to learn from it, and to lose ourselves within it. What do you want — really want — for this country and our world in the new year? What political goal or dream comes to mind when you allow yourself the capacity to imagine?

Aurielle Marie

This sentiment gives me something I cannot yet call hope, but I want to, as it implies ways that hope can be sparked, invited, gestured, and called forth from within who we are and where we’re at.

Wherever you’re at, may you be kind to yourselves.

poetry feature: Lisa Summe

Book cover for Say It Hurts
by Lisa Summe.

This week I’m excited to share two poems from Lisa Summe’s upcoming collection, Say It Hurts (YesYes Books). This collection is due out on January 15th and is currently available for pre-order.

Here’s a brief description of the forthcoming collection:

Say It Hurts grapples with queerness, love, grief, masculinity, coming of age, and coming out in the context of cultural violence rooted in misogyny and familial violence rooted in catholicism. In these poems joy and loss hold hands—at sleepovers and haircuts, at symphonies and haunted mazes, among fathers, on dating apps, during car sex, in matching tattoos, on Pinterest boards, at funerals. Lisa Summe’s debut collection queers the love poem by demanding that the whole story be told—what it means to love, to grieve, and to heal by saying it out loud.

About Say It Hurts

One thing I’m continually impressed by in Lisa Summe’s work is the range of lyric voice she’s able to tap into. From direct intensity to nuanced, meditative insight, there’s always an emotional pulse to her work.

“Always a Man” (below) is an example of direct intensity. The lyric voice charges forth, interrogating the pervasive effects of toxic masculinity in women’s public and private lives. One effect is evoked through the speaker’s stating “I am not the kind of woman,” then using this “not” as a counterpoint to heteronormative examples of “kinds” of women. This reckoning is then forged by the verbal sexual assault women face. Through an example of a hypothetical couple hearing about “sexual assault on the news,” the poem gets to the question: “how many times in a year / do you think you get catcalled.” When this question garners a response “incalculable / like the number of times in a year I stub my toe,” we are as readers hit by a harsh reality. This harsh reality becomes all the more harsh as it occurs within the speaker’s own experience, that the poem has moved from hypothetical example to her referencing “my coworker or sister or best friend.” The poem continues listing various instances of women being catcalled, illuminating the opening line’s counterpoint through indirection. What develops in the first half of the poem is the harsh reality of straight and straight-presenting women in heteronormative society. The poem takes a turn with the line “but there is always a man” which takes us back to the title, its implied binary, and the interrogation via the poem of said binary. The speaker goes from detailing the effects of catcalls to sharing her experience of outright threats of violence. The poem ends on a note that makes clear how insidious misogonynistic subjugation is in women’s lives, queer or straight.

In “Your Pinterest Board Called Wedding” (also below), nuanced, meditative insight is created through the speaker’s reflection as she goes through an inventory of the title’s Pinterest board of an ex. Through this inventory, we get a variety of images and details whose emotional poignancy works through juxtaposition. For example, early on the speaker notes “so / you want an oval engagement ring” and follows that up with “my grief / circling around: coming back as bird.” This braiding of metaphor and image creates a palpable pathos, one that stands in direct contrast with the title. Where the mention of social media and the equally “social” weddings imply connection and celebration, the speaker grieves a loss of connection. There remains, however, a faint tone of celebration, the speaker in awe of the beloved even at a physical and societal distance, but this tone is modulated by grief and realization. The formal use of colons throughout this poem help in this modulation of tone, setting the pace while also letting the reading experience be one of rumination, speaker and reader side by side in awe and regret.

Enjoy the poems below. Also, White Whale Bookstore will be hosting a virtual reading & launch for Say It Hurts on January 23 featuring Summe as well as Sara Watson, Jari Bradley, Micaela Corn, and Diannely Antigua. Check out this link for info on registration and more about the event.


Always a Man*

I am not the kind of woman
whose boyfriend asks
in the midst of all of the sexual assault on the news
how many times in a year
do you think you get catcalled
I do not have a boyfriend first of all
but even if I did my answer would not be
that of my coworker or sister or best friend
incalculable
like the number of times in a year I stub my toe
I am not the kind of woman who looks like a woman
not the kind of woman a man whistles at near the gas station
or calls honey at the bank
or tells to smile because I’ve got a pretty smile
at the farmer’s market
the Jiffy Lube
the coffee shop
the bar down the street
my own porch
because the upstairs neighbor
the mailman
I am not the kind of woman my exes are
women who got hit on right in front me
while I held their hands at the gym or at the movies
or at the fucking Olive Garden
I am not the kind of woman
who has to use her energy to politely decline these advances
or gets called bitch
or gets a bloody lip
or gets it anyway
but there is always a man
while I walk home from work
in a button down & bow tie in broad daylight
there is always a man on the corner by the CVS
a man wearing a hardhat on the corner of Bayard St.
there is always a man
who wants to put me in my place
I see what you really are under there he says
you’re a girl

*previously published in Bone Bouquet


Your Pinterest Board Called Wedding

I swear that’s your actual finger: so
you want an oval engagement ring: my grief
circling around: coming back as a bird:
as a wing: fragile as the inner ear:
my alabaster heart: you: lace
everything: sleeves of your dress: lingerie: twitch
of my thigh: now you will marry a man: I don’t know
his name: twitch in my eye: when we were
together: we made words:  let’s get married: our idea
of save the dates: Scrabble tiles: getting
married: back of your dress wide open: your finch
tattoo bursting through: my grief flying out
the window of you: what you like
about the finch: it always returns home


Say It Hurts is available for pre-order from YesYes Books: https://www.yesyesbooks.com/product-page/say-it-hurts.


Author photo of Lisa Summe.

Lisa Summe is the author of Say It Hurts (YesYes Books, 2021). She earned a BA and MA in literature at the University of Cincinnati, and an MFA in poetry from Virginia Tech. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Bat City Review, Cincinnati Review, Muzzle, Salt Hill, Waxwing, and elsewhere. You can find her running, playing baseball, or eating vegan pastries in Pittsburgh, PA, on Twitter and IG @lisasumme, and at lisasumme.com.

ending & starting: shiki masaoka

Photo by Marta Wave of a bench by a building with snow-covered grass.

I’m writing this not feeling great on the last day of the year to be posted on the first day of the year. Feels like I should have something grand to say but I don’t. 2020 had me heart-sick for most of it. Here’s to 2021, may you deserve us. Enjoy some life sketches by Shiki Masaoka. May you sketch out newness from the old you bring with you.

life sketches by Shiki Masaoka

in the evening glow
as they range in a vast sky,
these huge pillared clouds,
each radiant on one radiant side,
all crumbling, all dissolving
together

*

on this long long day
in which the shoots of young pines
have lengthened
my fever has come out
toward evening

*

on these pine needles
thousands of raindrops
all trembling, all swaying,
and still not one,
not a single one, falls

*

beyond this pane
of the closed window
in my sick room,
that pole for drying clothes
and on it a crow crying out

*

my wish:
to be carried
in a glass palanquin
through fields
piled silver with snow

(trans. Sanford Goldstein & Seishi Shinoda)

surviving & Ikkyū

This week I’m sharing a set of 5 poems by Japanese Zen Buddhist monk and poet, Ikkyū. I am unable to attribute a translator to these as they have come to this post in a haphazard way. Let me explain.

I wrote these poems down while at work one day back in 2011. More specifically, I caught them on a livejournal without attribution and scrawled them down on scraps of paper which I later transferred over to my journal. Years later, here they are.

Photo of a pine forest by Brandon Montrone

These poems hit urgently then and now, and I hope they bring something to your life. I think the carrying forth of words that brought these here parallels a life of poetry. Sometimes we carry the words, sometimes they carry us. After a year of so much unnecessary death, oppression, injustice, fear, stress, and upheaval, the words that matter now have to surprise us, connect in ways that make themselves known within. Which is to say that the words have to be poetry.

If you are reading this, be kind to yourselves. We have survived. It doesn’t have to mean happiness. It just means that we’re here. Your presence today is another word toward the rest of your life.

5 by Ikkyu

this ink painting of wind blowing through pines
who hears it?

*

it’s logical; if you’re not going anywhere
any road is the right one

*

ten years of brothel joy I’m alone in the mountains
the pines are like a jail the wind scratches my skin

*

your name Mori means forest like the infinite fresh
green distances of your blindness

*

my monk friend has a weird and endearing habit
he weaves sandals and leaves them secretly by the roadside

some quick thoughts

Thoughts for the week include:

  • Helpful to have found this spread at leftnortheast to add further info on the *ahem* holiday celebrated this week. It’s a weird holiday and you know it.
  • Sorta related: this article about the toll the pandemic is having on close relationships, friendships, family-ships, etc. Read it aloud to Ani over breakfast yesterday and considered how much is at stake in how we shape each other, how we shape ourselves.
  • On the note of community, here are poems by Raquel Salas Rivera and CAConrad from the recently released poetry anthology We Want It All: An Anthology of Radical Trans Poetics edited by Andrea Abi-Karam and Kay Gabriel and published by Nightboat Books. Both poems dive into respective kaleidoscopic momentums, offering complexities and insight along the way, a good representation of the range of depth in this anthology.

Here’s to surviving this month together.

dispatch: last week’s events & this week’s thoughts

Just a quick post to share the recordings from last week’s events!

First up is the Far Villages Anthology Talk, “Poetry as a Way of Seeing the World.” I joined Gillian Parrish, and Kathryn Hummel for a conversation moderated by the insightful Abayomi Animashaun. Our conversation included a discussion of what we termed the “empathetic imagination” as well as working across different languages, different countries, and different practices. Check it out below! Also, check out the Far Villages anthology here.

Next up is the Salamander Issue #50 Virtual Reading with readers: Rajiv Mohabir, Joan Naviyuk Kane, and Anne Kilfoyle. I had a great time hosting this first virtual event for the Salamander community. As part of my intro, I included a few words in memory of Leslie McGrath who passed away this summer. I also read her poem “Ars Poetica” which I encourage y’all to check out. Here’s the event itself!

Lastly, I am writing and posting this a little later than usual for me. Main reason being that my mind’s been overwhelmed with the election which has yet to be called. It’s been a trying year already and this seems to be taking us deeper into the crucible. Whatever the results, it shouldn’t be this close. The gravity of what it being this close truly means is crushing. I wish you all sleep and peace of mind.