The Braid, by Carla Drysdale

First, my cry, then yours, split the sky
above that Brooklyn hospital
as you, limbs curled and purple
slid out of my body
after a prolonged and irreversible journey.
Pain, then
absence of pain.

The midwife held you up,
newborn body, alive in this world.
You peed an arc of urine
sparkling over the bed
and over her.

The champagne cork popped.
We all drank to life.
You suckled on a nipple.
Your lips still rimmed
with watery blood from that
other life inside.

We lay together, suspended,
holding on to each other.
Tough braid of blue and red
still binding us
cut for the first and last time.

From All Born Perfect, by Carla Drysdale. Published by Kelsay Books. This poem first appeared in the chapbook Inheritance from Finishing Line Press. Republished with permission of the poet.

Cucumber Psalm, by Lisa Bellamy

Flourish, unwashed, unpeeled, bouncy boys;
grow, citizen-workers, clothed in good dirt—
dearest ones, I place my hope in you—
your green is king, in my garden. Chopped, you are cukes,
(my Wisconsin mamma loschen)—fluted, celebrated,
bobbing in vinegar and dill; tastiest brine.
Emperor Tiberius, whom Pliny the Elder called
the gloomiest of men, enjoyed cucumbers every night
with dinner—yes, an attempt to self-medicate depressions—
but was his gloom depression or prophetic vision?
Caligula succeeded Tiberius. Today, the sky is blue—
so what. I cannot stop worrying about the republic.
When a Roman woman wanted a child, she tied
cucumbers about her waist; what, you ask,
do I want? Regime change. I want a sister or three,
subversive, fomenting coffee klatch, chatter,
plots against fascists over our Gurkensalat,
lopped, swished with sour cream—dearest cukes,
delight, nourish, fortify me—I want insurrection.

by Lisa Bellamy. Originally published in Salamander No. 50, Spring/Summer 2020. Reprinted with permission of the poet.

Dispatches from an MFA: Final Semester, First Packet

This is part of a series called Dispatches from an MFA which details my experiences in the low-residency MFA in Creative Writing program at Lesley University. In the final semester, I studied with poet Erin Belieu. We spent the semester working on my MFA thesis, which became the basis for the manuscript I began shopping in 2019. Graduating students are also responsible for teaching a seminar at their final residency. This is the cover letter to the first packet of the semester.

Dear Erin:

This month I’ve felt like I’m thrashing around in a very shallow pond. At one point I shouted, “I have no idea what I’m doing!” My partner Mark laughed and said, “It sounds like grad school.”

In spite of my angst, I have been making progress. The manuscript has gone through a number of iterations. I’ve put in way too much and whittled it down. I spent a lot of time researching the stories of Rapunzel and Snow White. I read the stories from The Complete Grimm’s Fairytales, and also The Poets Grimm (there are an awful lot of poems about Cinderella in there). I did some online research and found a great exploration of the Rapunzel story by Terri Windling, which gave me some historical context. The Windling article led me to a YA novel by Donna Jo Napoli called Zel that retells the story in great detail from the perspective of the witch, Rapunzel, and the “prince” (in this case a minor nobleman). She doesn’t innovate very much from the original, but it certainly drove home the story in a more concrete way. I also downloaded and printed out lots of different photos and drawings of Rapunzel and Snow White and pasted them next to my desk.

I’ve been trying to figure out what draws me to these two characters in particular. What about their stories is compelling to me, and how do I want to re-tell them? In the case of Snow White, I’m drawn to the elements of her story that have to do with unpaid physical and emotional labor. In my version, I see her as having an eating disorder and body dysmorphia. And her ingestion of the pills (red-and-white, like her) is the beginning of a voyage into the underworld that mirrors Inanna’s. I started the Void poems in my first semester and they’ve gone through a number of iterations. Snow White is a recent addition. Please tell me if she feels pasted on.

Rapunzel’s story resonates with me in that it has to do with the sturm un drang surrounding a young girl’s budding sexuality and the necessary differentiation from a mother figure. I’m also interested reimaging the character of the witch with more nurance. I realize the setting of the Rapunzel poems is inconsistent: in the first, we’re clearly in some medieval setting, and in the later ones in a modern one. All of them need work.

Part of what makes this manuscript so challenging is that I arrived at the princess poems late in the course of my MFA. I only began writing them in the third semester. You may notice that the more finished poems (I hope we agree on what those are) don’t deal with the same themes. Prior to this series, I’d been writing more about race, class, and sexuality, and the speaker of the poems was more closely allied to myself. The princess poems delve a lot deeper. The ones that explore and try to explode the archetype (“Dirt Princess.” “Fox New Princess,” “Xena, Warrior Princess,” “Buttercup, Warrior Princess”) are more public and cerebral, and that’s why I discarded some of the less successful ones. But the deeper I go, the more troubling the subject matter becomes to write about, and the more I feel the need to differentiate between me the poet and the characters in the poems. This is why retelling the Rapunzel and Snow White stories has become so important to me. The little princess poems go even deeper. I’m aware that most of the poems in these series don’t stand very well on their own and would like to do all I can to polish them up so they do. Your suggestion of how to rewrite one of my poems in workshop bore great fruit.

These are the poems I’d like to begin working on:

• the map to the inner world (p. 6)
• Snow White Tries Becoming a Prince (p. 8)
• Fat Snow White (p. 9)
• What Snow White Swallows (p. 10) – This is the rewrite you suggested. I think it’s almost there.
• The Rapunzel poems (pp. 15-20)
• The little princess poems (pp. 21-26)
• homing princess 1 and 2 (pp. 27-28)
• St. John’s Towers 1 and 2 (pp. 31-32)
• The Wedding China (p. 33)
• The rest of the princess poems (pp.37-45)

According to my notes, there’s nothing for the graduating seminar due in the first packet. I did want to begin discussing it though. There are so many poets graduating next residency, I wanted to do something that would appeal across genres. Specifically, I was thinking about the use of white space and how it affects pacing and tone. Texts to include “Hills Like White Elephants,” by Hemingway, an excerpt from Skinny Legs and All, by Tom Robbins, “to the fig tree on 9th and christian,” by Ross Gay, “The Bandleader Calls it the Angel Position,” by Gabi Calvocoressi, “The Window is One-Sided It Does Not Admit,” by Rachel Zucker, “Poetry Machines,” by Cate Marvin. I welcome your feedback on both the topic and the preliminary reading list.

All my best,

Frances

When Was My Anger Conceived? by Jennifer Martelli

The summer of assassinations?

By the man-made lake? A hole
so shallow and muddy, all the men
held hands, formed a human net and
walked toward each other to the center
to feel for some kid who might have
gone under–there,

on its shore, in the Kodak, me,
in my little terry cloth bikini,
all round as the moon stomach.
I’d worn a Batman mask attached

by a thin rubber band all summer,
my hands fisted, the nails bit crescents
in my palms.

The summer of my menarche? I stood

against the lazy Susan in the kitchen and
watched the President resign on the small TV:
I cried because of the cramps and blood,
the garter belt biting me. My mother said
we’d never see this again and she was wrong:

even married to my father,
she couldn’t predict the depth
of a man’s rage.

A year after my abortion?

The clinic three stops down
from my dorm, three quick stops
on the Green Line, and no one shot
there yet but escorts needed, one pink
set of rosaries flung at my face.

That year, the year of Ferraro, my aunt said she wouldn’t vote
for anything

that menstruated, could get pregnant,
could bear a child.

– Jennifer Martelli, from In the Year of Ferraro, published by Nixes Mate, 2020. Republished with permission of the poet.

Buy Jenn’s chapbook at:

Please consider supporting small presses and local bookstores.

See all of Jenn’s publications on her website.

Read an interview with Jenn at Broadsided Press (where you can download broadsides and spread poetry in the streets).

Read an interview with Jenn at The Rumpus

Slower Than Turtles, Slower Than Bees

How do I tell the turtle that I am slower than he? — Pablo Neruda, from The Book of Questions

Vaster than empires and more slow – Andrew Marvell, “To His Coy Mistress”

I would spend the whole day dreaming, nestled in my comfy chair, the wind making music from the wind chimes, the sun making its slow round in the window. Once, after the hospital, my husband took us to a cabin in the woods built by hippies out of old houses, and I nestled on the couch and watched the sun make it slow round over the cathedral windows, while Mark brought me oatmeal, and tea, and sandwiches. He took his snowshoes out and came back smelling of woods and winter, but I sat there and watched the window change, watched the shadows of the trees bend from one side to another and was happy.

After days and days in the comfy chair I stop being able to put on my shoes. The door develops a sort of static at its edges, an invisible field made of vertigo and fear. In summer I can venture barefoot onto the porch to sit in the sun and watch the bees and butterflies — and once a hummingbird moth — in the flowers, but the concrete tears at my tender soles, and the complicated laces of my walking shoes unravel in my hands.

Sometimes I force the laces tied, force myself outside, take those dizzying steps off the porch and trudge through the neighborhood — curiously light and not-quite-there. Now, in this our first infected winter, I have to remember my mask, and in the cold my own breath condenses clammy and chilled against my mouth and nose. Curiously light and not-quite-there, stunned at the lack of catastrophe that follows me down the sidewalk, I cross Poplar Street and pad down the footpath carpeted in wood chips to the tiny piece of conservation land my neighbor has turned into a garden. In the infected summer of 2020, she wangled a mountain of free wood chips from a tree company, and a host of donated plants from Needham, and Dover. The lot had had its beauty before, but in the summer of the plague she and her wife shoveled and dug and rolled wheelbarrows until it became something more. She’s placed educational signs: “Why let the nettle grow?,” “Why a bug house?,” “Why the rotten apples?” (which she harvested from our apple tree and rolled downhill to make good soil). Why a fairy house?

Why the buds that came last spring as doctors named the marks of COVID in the lungs “ground glass?” Why the cherry blossoms in my driveway, as millions lost their jobs and the lucky ones confined themselves to laptops, and pajamas, and InstaCart. Why a madman in the White House, driving his minions to storm the Capitol? Why the Q-Anon believers, rife for recruitment now to the Proud Boys and the Hammerskins, the Aryan Resistance and the Boogaloo. Why the virus that still rides the waves of humans’ breaths into our lungs, into our vessels, into, into, into.

Today the sun has turned to clouds and I’ve fed myself and dressed myself and done my work, and I have yet to tie my shoes and go outside. Will I? Or will I do ten jumping jacks and call it a day, nestle in my comfy chair and read my Mary Russel novels, safe in my home, lazing with my cats?

On Marriage Equality and Why I’m No Longer a Catholic

I’m happy for LGBTQ+ Catholics that Pope Francis said that monogamous, same-sex families are kinda sorta okay. Since the initial story broke, it turns out that he was endorsing civil unions while vehemently fighting gay marriage. Now that we have full marriage equality in the USA–for now, anyway–it still feels like too little too late. I was happy being a Catholic until I read the Baltimore Catechism during Confirmation classes, and until I realized exactly how conditional the Church’s “unconditional” love really was. It still pains me to think of the Franciscan Friars who treated me with such love and caring as a little girl, versus how they would have viewed my “lifestyle choices,” if I’d been brave (or stupid) enough to tell them about them. It makes me bitter to think that they’d approve my marriage to a cis man but would have condemned the other relationships I’ve been in. Those particular Friars are mostly gone now, and their political views were more conservative than many other Catholics. Those were the ones I grew up with, though.

I know there are LGBTQ Catholics out there, and I’m glad that they’re working to change the system from within. I just couldn’t reconcile myself with the Church’s basic theology (original sin, the sacraments, transubstantiation), let alone its positions on social issues near and dear to my heart. Yes, Catholics continue to do a tremendous amount to help the most vulnerable communities across the globe. Yes, they provide real spiritual succor to many, many people, including my husband, my mother, and my family in California. I’ll always have a deep grief for having to leave the Church. I’ve tried to go back to services but always end up crying in the middle of them. But it’s also a relief to have left an institution so completely out of step with my own view of the world, my concept of Divinity, and the life of the spirit.

Continue reading “On Marriage Equality and Why I’m No Longer a Catholic”

Corners, by Enzo Silon Surin

My conversation with Enzo Silon Surin appeared in the The Rumpus in August. Here’s one of the poems from his book When My Body Was a Clinched Fist, out now from Black Lawrence Press.

Here’s a poem from the book.

Corners

Outside Papi’s Bodega, young boy in
summer’s native garb—white tank-top,

doorag’s a smooth blue crown garnishing
the stubbles of a week-old fade—regulates

a stereo knob while sitting shotgun
in a chromed-wheel Escalade—the ghost

of Tupac Shakur magnified in a subwoofer
like an opus—as long as

music’s kept all’s good where we come
from. If only a glare didn’t easily stumble—

if only manhood wasn’t tenured with black
powder in metal capsules, brown boys, free

to chase arcade mortality, wouldn’t have to
warily long for a ghetto’s heaven or if grief,

inherited each day they step into the a.m.,
would follow them into an afterlife.

But corners often treble the soul, a cold hope
in the fold & on Winthrop and Thorndale

the sidewalk pleats, stumbles a man in hooded sweatshirt
and blood-sodden jeans, fresh breaths

breaching his lungs—if only keeping eyes off
the karma and on the prize was what made this

world go ’round, it would be what was always
wanted—any landscape better than what’s here

—where on most nights, a native glare renders
a chamber empty as winter flower boxes.

From When My Body Was a Clinched Fist. Black Lawrence Press, 2020. Reprinted with permission from the poet.

The Deep Longings of Emigration: A Conversation with Poet Carol Hobbs, Author of New-found-land

Carol Hobbs carries herself with a quiet competence that I associate with Canadians. The fisheries collapse of the Maritimes in the 1990s forced her and many other Newfoundlanders to emigrate, but she carries her homeland with her, in her mannerisms, and in her poetry. Newfoundland, her debut full-length collection, is a testament to perseverance and an continued commitment to honing her craft. This has been a difficult year for Carol–the COVID pandemic found her scrambling to adapt lesson plans to the new realities of online learning, and she has been undergoing treatment for breast cancer. In spite of these difficulties, she found some time to talk to me via email about her craft, her book, and the writing life.

Continue reading “The Deep Longings of Emigration: A Conversation with Poet Carol Hobbs, Author of New-found-land”

Justice for George Floyd: What I Can Do to Help

I don’t post nearly as much personal content on this site as I used to, but from time to time I feel the need to veer off the poetry path. Now is one of those times. I feel like I’ve been watching my country slowly disintegrate since 2016, but I know that the underlying conditions that have led to today’s crises far predate the Trump administration. Overpolicing of Black communities — and in particular Black men — dates back hundreds of years. The Black Lives Matter movement dates back to the Obama administration, and the George Floyd protests make it clear that we still have a lot of work to do as a country. Trump’s not-so-tacit endorsements of white supremacist groups hasn’t helped, and neither has the continually growing wealth gap. The COVID-19 crisis and its resulting effects on the economy have created even more stresses for communities of color, who have been hardest hit by them.

Continue reading “Justice for George Floyd: What I Can Do to Help”