My change in scenery read as resignation. In dreams he is often helpless or ineffectual and sometimes drunk. At the time my father lived in a den filled with green wicker furniture. I did not murder someone with a colander of pinto beans. Constipation and the mother. Someone shrieks as if there are turd sharks emerging. Last month I sent my mom an image of an “I POOPED TODAY” T-shirt and she texted back Gross!!!!!!!!! In ’88 my parents put the chain lock on the basement door before I’d reached the top of the stairs. I made pinpricks. This alone tests belief. I think we were in a Scandinavian city though I’ve never been so I can’t say for sure. In the Old Norse sense of the word husband, my mother was my father’s husband. He turned his will over to the bats living in the basement. What I did learn were reductive hero narratives filtered through the red-white-and-blue smoking lens of patriotic, racist history textbooks. On Valentine’s Day in 1997 I purchased anal beads for my college boyfriend. In myself and other things. It was an impossible invitation. We held our breath and prayed for the best, making exterior a shared fear of loving. The constipation, while having loosened its total grip on my colon, is still in charge and I’m really worried about my large intestine. An invisible centrifuge sucking everything up and spitting it out dead. After paying the cab driver, I held tightly to the change from the hundred- dollar bill so I could give it to my dad. The more I learn, the more I am able to see and challenge my own internalized racial superiority, the belief that white is better, an ideology by which my very logic and sense of reasoning have been trained. I did not recline into a spread eagle on the cold floor. Or at least that’s how I see it now, looking back, a line-drive sort of existence, a difficulty, not in adhering to beliefs, but in remembering what they are. The aporia of whiteness is its pervasive invisibility to white people. I said yes to what was still alive. The room raged with freewill and acid reflux. He’s both the angel in the choir and the bat in the basement. How are you feeling. I wake up and think that perhaps knowing the name is less important than the experience of the space in between. I learned difference early on and when I could see it, I made it real. She tried to protect us from the power of the den but her silence couldn’t will it away. My siblings and I tried to stay out of the way because my parents believed in the Eternal Law, which promises wretched lives to evil men. I dreamed my family at a wedding in an unknown city. I knew that warm-blooded vertebrates provided with wings are sometimes birds, but I couldn’t conceive of flying bodies as non-bat objects. In ’98 the house burned to the ground. The color of a maraschino cherry was not the color of a real cherry and the order in which siblings were born—first middle second fifth second to last—I knew that too. The fastest way to absorb magnesium into the body is through the skin if you can handle the sting. If depression is my slow landslide into darkness, lightness is my large intestine dutifully performing its undulation of peristalsis as a joyful muscular tunnel. I bent flukes. I snapped doors. The basement fell under jurisdiction of the Night, and of the Bats. I write sentences while standing up because I have sprayed dissolved magnesium all over my body to relieve my constipation, the side effects of which include “emotional stagnation” and a tendency to produce incomplete ideas. Sometimes he is near death. I know for sure that pooping every day won’t be on my list. The magnesium is working but there are still abstractions I cannot absorb into the skin. The word sentence from the Latin sentire, to feel. Joseph Bradshaw, the author of Healing the Shame that Binds You, writes that “[t]oxic shame looks to the outside for happiness and for validation, since the inside is flawed and defective.” I’m thinking of the binding power of flax mucilage. She held distress at bay with lilacs. If I stall long enough, I stop believing. He evokes both tender affection and dull anger. My dad pulled a fat roll of bills out of his gray suit jacket. I mixed drinks. To counter the onset of a sinking mood, I consider making a list of 10 things in which I have faith. No one died but everyone was hurt. We assumed that this law applied to evil children as well. I hope too that if _________happens, I will show up. This results in sentences that are incredibly insufficient in their ability to create meaning. I mean, if it isn’t able to absorb nutrients due to a layer of shellac from years of not pooping, then who am I? The den fell under jurisdiction of Temporal Law which protects the things a man can lose: an 18-inch TV, a portrait of Duke Snider, framed and signed. The space in between having known a name I no longer know and the disappearance of a rodent’s tail. To build a piece of writing might imply that the piece already exists and needs to be assembled. Then I texted her this tidbit about constipation, since my condition is hereditary: In truly serious cases, constipation can be a symptom of an impacted bowel caused by a large, dry lump of feces that’s stuck in your colon. And living happened under anaerobic conditions. My parents lived in the moment but not like zen masters — they didn’t know they were living in the moment, they couldn’t understand the present and canceled the future out with the past. On History of Whiteness
After Admit One: An American Scrapbook (2016) by Martha Collins
I think I’m not alone, as a white American who went to public high school in the ’90s, when I say that my knowledge of history is meager. In my poetry my father is often an analogue for intergenerational shame or an aspect of patriarchy such as sexual violence, failed masculinity, or that shadowy threat of anxiety. I dream about how hard it is to get off the ground as a bird. Perhaps I am already showing up by continuing to live in the spaces between failing at everything. I trust this will have to be good enough because the other option is to stall. Small brown turds begin to float to the surface of the tub. In the ’80s my dad called me a commie pinko for putting ketchup on my scrambled eggs. About me writing. I mounted chairs. But the shame, there was no mistaking the shame. MARCH 29, 2018
THE FOLLOWING IS one of six pieces by former Emerging Poets fellows at Poets House in New York City. Not doing great today. I believe this is true but not the only truth. I felt my dad’s self-consciousness in front of the other suited men though they didn’t seem to notice anything. I blow-dry the hair on my labia then my armpits then my bangs for 30 seconds a piece in that order until everything on my body is more or less dry. I thought of anything that flew outside my window as a nocturnal mammal with webbed wings. He refused to participate saying something along the lines of, “I will not put those in my butt.” I can’t remember anything else from that night or the rest of that semester actually. I sit on a couch-like chair at Poets House and recall my dreams, massage my calf muscles, and think about the previous evening at the Union Theological Seminary, where Michelle Alexander asked Naomi Klein if she considers herself a revolutionary. “I’m here!” I’d volunteer and desperately untangle myself from the dresses in my mother’s closet. If I accept Klein’s logic that perhaps there cannot be a revolutionary without a revolution, I wonder can there be a poet without a ________? So when I started reading history in my mid-30s, I was super late to the game in having my head pulled up from a smoggy sleep. I have nothing but its diminishing line and a warning to not go through the motions (motion sickness). My sentences are often too heavy on the subject. In another, he died of a broken back and then surprised me by waking up. Constipation and fear of a lover’s fear of anal. You know how dreams work, not everything mirrors real life. I have a poor memory. ¤
After “A Letter to William Kinter of Muhlenberg” in The Jacob’s Ladder (1958) by Denise Levertov
I dreamed a name disappearing like the tail of a large rodent turning a corner. I’m in the bath with my brother Brendan. Aisha Sasha John writes that, “Knowing is a consequence of believing.” I’m starting with what I know. I read books and cannot retell or synthesize what I’ve read a month later. In very rare cases, straining to push it out can kill you. Constipation and dying intestines. I stood still and let a few pieces of grass fall between my fingers. How everyone has to bear the weight of the fragile fathers. Each of the pieces engages with the Poetry Coalition’s 2018 initiative, “Where My Dreaming and My Loving Live: Poetry & the Body.” Poets House invited the fellows to select five items from the House’s 70,000-volume library that address the theme of the body, and to write a paragraph or two on each of these items. This might’ve fucked me up if I hadn’t had a few of my own beliefs, mainly in things that I could see, like difference between a man-made lake and a bathtub, like frozen waffles. I meditate on the relationship between constipation and courage. In my 20s I discovered that the phrase γνῶθι σεαυτόν (know thyself) was inscribed on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. My family did not discuss feelings but my mom definitely asked me about pooping. On Writing
After “From 1928 to Whenever: A Conversation with Anne Sexton” in American Poets in 1976
I write to hold something together or I write to break it apart. I doubted windows. My thighs are burning. On Fathers
After Go Find Your Father / A Famous Blues (2014) by Harmony Holiday
My father arrives in my dreams and my writing. Handling this is crucial especially if there is a chance that your large intestine has stopped absorbing nutrients. I’m still not sure what my condition is. The scripture says that the kingdom of heaven is within. I was indifferent.
From an Aerial View the Family Unit Is Made Up of Individuals Corresponding to Their Environments
My family spent the nineties climbing over furniture. “How are your bowels?” she’d ask casually. I coveted the potential violence of baking soda and vinegar. A sagging green chair legislated my father. Sometimes he is dead. In one dream he died of natural causes. When I am tired I experience what my mom calls the “heebie jeebies” — restlessness in the muscles as if my body is complaining about its lack of options. Facts that I take in through the reading process might as well be dreams from a past life. I was devastated. Her chapbook FAMILY, A NATURAL WONDER is forthcoming from Reality Beach in 2018. History reveals how white supremacy reproduces itself and shape-shifts adapting to the contemporary, seeping into each aspect of my relationship to people, institutions, places, stories, and beliefs. On Anxiety
After “Parts of an Autobiography” in Milk & Filth (2013) by Carmen Giménez Smith
As a child I would jump from my hiding place during games of hide-and-seek because I could not stand the anticipation of being found. I knew the roll was made up of singles covered with a hundred-dollar bill which he peeled off cautiously when my siblings and I needed cab fare. ¤
Alex Cuff is a poet and public school teacher living in Brooklyn. She’s a 2016 Poets House fellow, co-founding editor of No, Dear magazine, a Pushcart Prize nominee, and a graduate of the Milton Avery School of the Arts at Bard College. And I wonder if the light from my large intestine is a thousand years old. Klein responded: “Can you have a revolutionary without a revolution?” She added that she hopes she’d show up if there was a revolution.