In a house of so many first-floor windows, I was afraid someone was outside looking in. When I went upstairs at night, I would run past the foyer windows as fast as I could.
My bedroom had one bifold closet. At night, I was afraid that the two visible wheels on tracks I saw peeking out of the top were the ossicones of a terrible and possessed giraffe.
When I read Dahl’s The Witches, I was afraid I would end up living my entire life trapped in a painting in my own living room while my parents wondered how/where I disappeared.
When I read King’s It (at age 11: that was a mistake), I spent my entire time in the shower making sure blood wasn’t gurgling up out of the drain.
I did not like being the last one awake in my household, but that was hard to avoid with these fears keeping me up. My parents tried everything. They bought a special seat for me to read in, so that I would associate an active brain with a different part of my room instead of my bed. They had an extra mattress under their own bed that I could pull out and sleep on if my fears overwhelmed me. I saw a shrink who played Jenga with me and watched me doodle.
My irrational fears no longer keep me up, but they haven’t disappeared all together. They seem to only appear in the dark when I’m alone. Enveloped in blackness, it’s incredibly hard for me not to imagine the strange and impossible creatures that are lurking in it with me. When someone else is with me, it keeps them in check. I loved sleepovers when I was a kid because I knew I wouldn’t have the same problem falling asleep.
Mostly, now I have rational fears: global warming; dying bees; how many non-decomposable products I use; how my students who don’t own computers will ever pass my classes, etc. But I’ve been thinking about irrational fear and creativity. I feel at peace with my darker, embarrassing fears because I think that the wild leaps my brain takes to create these scenarios manifest in a more associative and grounded way in my poetry. To imagine environments and movements and questions that break the world open into new images and moods. The roaming imagination has brought many sleepless nights to my childhood, but a variation of this imagination allows me to feel that mercy is like the orange fringe of a newspaper or to ask myself, what if I fold myself into a leaf?
I am wondering, did you, BAP readers, also have serious irrational fears when you were kids? Do you feel like they connect somehow to the creativity you bring to your poetry now?
In a second, I want to introduce you to Better Magazine and the poet Lisa Ciccarello. It’s her work that’s made me think about terror, because in her poems, the terror seems to materialize from the lack of hiding spaces. There is no darkness, closets, or busy cities to hide within, only the terror of constant confrontation. There are serious moments of activation in this terror that I want us to consider.
Day 3 Journal: Better Magazine
Better Magazine just released its fourth issue this morning. It features poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and art. Each contributor’s photo is available so you meet the author’s face before you meet the writing or art. The website somehow presents as both corporate and inviting. In strolling through the last two issues, I appreciate that they publish more women than men. I also appreciate that there is a recording of most authors reading their work along with the printed piece.
Day 3 Poetry Spotlight: Lisa Ciccarello
Ciccarello has two poems up at Better Magazine in issue #3 and here is one of them:
We are not hostages so much as we have been tasked to hold up this wall forever
We want for humor to be our general
but our last general betrayed us
He is our enemy whose face is the clay of the dead
Whose eye is the eye of loss
Whose eye if it is placed in the tower will mean all is lost
Every wall is a bridge
What kept us apart connected us
It was an empty love
It was a curse we placed on the fire of our own bodies
A curse is a wall made of the burning dead
I find my body in the wall of the past
The wall is an altar & an army
I find my hand in the falling dust
A curse is a dagger that is placed inside you when you hear it
This dagger was my husband & the body of my love
This dagger was a daughter I raised to be a soldier
Why did the army of the wall not remain
the wall our enemy could not cross?
They went out to fight him one by one
My heart was an army & an altar
I could bring my husband back in body but not in flesh
I could bring my husband back in body
at the cost of my own body
I could not hope to live forever but I lived forever
I lived to guard what I could not keep him from
To stand guard at the tomb of your enemy
is the definition of eternity
I lived until I pushed the blade through my body to possess the blade
This was not the revenge I had dreamed of
I tried to crawl across the sand
The sand became a jade comb
The sand became my weeping daughter
The sand became a clay body
I folded my body inside
The sand burned until I did not understand what was the fire
& what was my own curse
I forgot to tell you the eternal was gone
You were waiting for me to stay a dragon
You were waiting for me to be younger than you
I went on without you
though I could pretend I didn’t
Day 3 Brief Thoughts
How do you protect someone with the residue of betrayal? How do you pursue someone when your hands are gulls-eyes and your face is a curse? How do you avenge someone else when the only thing you accept is the instability of the human form, in a landscape that offers no oasis for the eye? Ciccarello’s poems walk into environments and resist the urge to scramble for set meaning in strange occasions: animals pool at the bottoms of glasses, fingers are white roads, and armies are everywhere. They question the concept of the quest and reread it as lonely yet relentless footprints twisting around objects blinking in and out of visibility. Her poems remind me that to rescue is to unfurl, it is an accident or a milky option, it is a comb that asks for agency. I’ve been reading Ciccarello’s poetry for years and am excited to write about a recent piece here. It has been a long day of emphasized formality and structure in my English 101 class (see Feb 17 blog post) so if it’s okay with you, I’m just going to free-associate my way through the poem:
Land(e)scape: The desert does not give anyone much to hide behind. It does not give much to distraction. For scenery, we have the dusty air around the altar; a wall and tombstone jutting in the sand. In an embattled environment, there is little manifested to fight over, few demarcations of cultivated territory. The war, the quest, seem motivated not by the desire to conquer land but by the ruthlessness embedded in confronting those who negatively shaped one’s personal history. This physical exposure seems both vulnerable and confrontational.
There is an awe and rawness to the transformations in this poem. As well as an assertiveness in claiming the ability to morph from human to weapon to utterance. Or to observe and accept the mutations that transpire through the act of repetition. The verb “to be” bridges these shifts and builds the self-assurance in the speaker even as the shifts themselves seem to indicate unspoken loss, “This dagger was my husband & the body of my love / This dagger was a daughter I raised to be a soldier.” Each change is anchored and seeping with emotion. This seems brave as opposed to evasive.
A tension pulsing through this piece stems from: 1) these constant slippages in form and relationality that allow for movement with 2) the obligations of an unknown source that seem to commit people to eternal stasis. For instance, the title, “We are not hostages so much as we have been tasked to hold up this wall forever” implies an agreement to follow through with an impossible command. Yet, the wall becomes a bridge, an alter, an army, and the speaker’s own body. Ciccarello writes, “To stand guard at the tomb of your enemy is the definition of eternity.” I couldn’t agree more. Protecting the dead body of one’s enemy translates temporality into a crushing emotion. But an emotion to which slippage may allow an escape.
Revenge is tenacious. It can empower, it can thrust us forward with unparallel determination. It calls for a set interpretation of the past and an exacting pursuit of a calculated future outcome. Yet, it’s also trapped in Zeno’s dichotomy paradox: the conception of revenge will never reach the intended destination. The speaker admits, “This was not the revenge I had dreamed of.”
In such a biblical landscape, the atmosphere seems decidedly in the human relational realm. There are curses and altars, but they seem to appear and disappear through the whim of the speaker’s mind. For instance, eternity is “gone;” it was a feeling and it has been felt. The eerie magic, the mystical elements, they spring from personal interpretation. As the last couplet terrifyingly points out, “I went on without you / though I could pretend I didn’t.” Even if revenge can never arrive via the form of its original conception, the imagination lives within transformation.
In this poem, the pronouns shift from a we/us mentality that cooperatively pushes against the “they” to an I/you dynamic that seem to break down. Without this pretending, the poem ends with the “you” left behind. I am left to wonder about the side of imagination that alienates us, that drives us away, and the side that collaborates.
You can find Lisa Ciccarello at her blog: http://punchinglittlebirdsintheface.blogspot.com/. She has numerous chapbooks available, her latest is almost out of print at Greying Ghost Press. Grab a copy before they’re gone.
Day 3 Poetry Exercise:
In Ciccarello’s poem repetition is essential for transformation.
1) Pick 2 abstractions you care about. This poem uses “eternity” and “enemy” multiple times. Maybe you spend a lot of time thinking about jealousy? Or faith? Or fluidity?
2) Write 2 lines; both lines should use your first abstraction. These lines should not introduce any other abstractions into your poem.
3) Write 2 lines; both lines should use your second abstraction. These lines should not introduce any other abstractions into your poem.
4) Pick two concrete nouns. This poem uses “sand” and "dagger” numerous times.
5) Write 3 lines using your first concrete noun.
6) Write 3 lines using your second concrete noun.
7) In your final line, use both abstractions and both concrete nouns. You can unite them, as in “the enemy’s sand.” Or, “the sand’s faith in daggers.” See what happens when they collide.
8) Keep #7 as your last line, but mix all the other lines up until they feel like they’re building toward something you’re excited about.
9) Think about landscape. What time of day? What location? Add in details (whole lines if you want to) that create a certain mood through the landscape.