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Poet of the Month: ‘Could it be in Longing We are Most Ourselves?’ by Liora Mondlak

The Big Mamou is closed
now. You used to be able
to go in and order a dish
called southern eel, and stay
all night.


Liora Mondlak is The Inquisitive Eater's Poet of the Month for December 2017.

Liora Mondlak remembers accompanying her mother to the market in Mexico City, where she grew up. She remembers the chickens hanging by their feet, and the sawdust around her saddle shoes. Years later, she would return to the market to buy ground chameleon, a well-known love potion, which she uses sparingly.

She lives in New York with her teenage daughter, where she teaches art and poetry. Lioramondlak.com

Featured image via Pixnio.

Poet of the Month: ‘Jell-O Mold Day,’ by Virginia Valenzuela

When I was a kid, I loved Thanksgiving. It was an opportunity to eat all day—pastries and fresh fruit in the morning, olives and cheese and sliced veggies with dips throughout the day, and then dinner and desert at sundown. It was always held at my Great Grandma Mary’s house in Dobbs Ferry, New York, a trip which meant going to Grand Central Station to catch a train upstate.

While my mom was at the ticket counter in Grand Central, my sister and I would look at the astrological signs up on the green and gold sky. My sister’s Capricorn and my own Aquarius appear next to each other, so that’s usually where we gawked. Then on the train, we would find one of the four-seaters which made a little cubicle for us, and the ticket man would pass by and clickclickclick, clickclickclick our tickets, placing them in the flap by our heads.

When we arrived, Grandma Eddy would pick us up and drive us through that small town where my grandparents met. Then she’d unload to the rest of the family for hugs, kisses, and bad puns.

Great Grandma Mary always pointed out if you looked funny or if you needed a haircut, so Thanksgiving was the best time to see her because I always got a haircut and a new dress right before the holidays. (Thanks mom and dad.) I wanted to impress her because she was so charming and so funny, and I could tell it was hard to gain her approval by the way she would criticize my mom’s funky 90’s outfits.

She had beautiful crystal animals and gems that sparkled in her windows, a huge yard and a hidden garden, which reminded me of my favorite movie at the time, The Secret Garden, which later turned out to be one of my favorite books. There was a mother goose statuette Great Grandma Mary dressed for the different seasons, and for Thanksgiving it wore a turkey outfit.

Grandma Mary didn’t trifle with the food those days. She was much more likely to be sitting in the indoor patio with a martini, entertaining guests with witticisms and stories. She did, however, always make this lime jell-o mold, which was served at dinner along with everything else. It was not only the weirdest looking thing on the table, but the tastiest. It had chopped nuts and dried berries in it and it was somehow creamy and sour at the same time. I would later find her recipe handwritten on a card that revealed the secret to this incredible dish, which I now make every year for Thanksgiving.

My whole family was gathered there, my mom’s brother, Uncle Kris, who was so tall and with whom I always felt so shy, his beautiful wife Karen, my maternal grandparents, and my many cousins and family friends who lived along the boulevard.

I think back to this place whenever I get swept up by unwarranted family drama, which now dresses every holiday escapade. Both my Great Grandma Mary and my Grandma Eddy have passed away, and my uncle barely talks to my mom, sister, or me. The house in Dobbs Ferry has been demolished, and Thanksgiving and Christmas are always up in the air. No one seems to be able to fill the space Mary made for us.

I wish I could see Mary and my grandmother and my mother and my sister together now. We would clink martinis while the guys watch football, share compliments on what radiant women we are all becoming.


Virginia Valenzuela is The Inquisitive Eater's Poet of the Month for November 2017.

Virginia Valenzuela is a poet, essayist, and yogi from New York City. She is a second-year MFA candidate for Poetry and Creative Nonfiction at The New School. She is an Education Associate with Teachers and Writers, a Research Assistant at The New School, the Prose Editor for LIT, and the Curator/MC for a monthly reading series at KGB Bar. You can find more of her work on her blog, Vinny the Snail and on the Best American Poetry Blog.

Featured image via Flickr

Poet of the Month: ‘Fable of the Starfruit,’ by Virginia Valenzuela

A drunken star fell from the sky
and looking nothing like the others
he felt much relief in leaving.

A drunken star fell into the trees
and the crickets, thinking him a God
took him into their arms.

A drunken star, engorged with heavy light
looked down on the crickets, feeling
unshapely, and rather green.

He looked not like a star
but a cricket without any legs
and the crickets, thinking him a God

decorated him with many leaves
offered him a cloak with magic sleeves
quoth the crickets: we will be your legs.

A young girl fell from the sky
and feeling cold and uncertain
she wept beneath the trees.

A drunken star fell out of the branches
fell right beside her, and glowed.
The young girl wiped her tears

and brushed them over the star
which began to shine brighter.
The little lost girl, thinking it a gift from the Gods

bit into it, hoping to find her home
but beneath the glowing, green skin
were constellations.


Virginia Valenzuela is The Inquisitive Eater's Poet of the Month for November 2017.

Virginia Valenzuela is a poet, essayist, and yogi from New York City. She is a second-year MFA candidate for Poetry and Creative Nonfiction at The New School. She is an Education Associate with Teachers and Writers, a Research Assistant at The New School, the Prose Editor for LIT, and the Curator/MC for a monthly reading series at KGB Bar. You can find more of her work on her blog, Vinny the Snail and on the Best American Poetry Blog.

Featured image via Pxhere.

TIE Poet of the Month: ‘I Prefer To Be Amazed,’ by Sabrina Hayeem-Ladani

after Wisława Szymborska

I prefer black tea.
I prefer the green olives.
I prefer depth to shoreline, the marshlands
to the safety of the riverbed.
I prefer noticing.
I prefer to bend the corner of the page.
I prefer to let the rice be.
I prefer to be curious.
I prefer to wash my vegetables.
I prefer the pop of my teeth
through the apple skin, to the smooth grain of its flesh.
I prefer Madrid to Barcelona.
I prefer wandering.
I prefer to breath.
I prefer to be spanked.
I prefer duende.
I prefer the dad who cooks breakfast
to the one who drinks.
I prefer not to trust my wiring.
I prefer to pin the tail on the donkey.
I prefer a soft mouth—to be kissed often, deeply.
I prefer heat.
I prefer the authenticity of your flaws
to the implausibility of perfection.
I prefer the palest flower of your heart to the red one.
I prefer the bullet in the gun
to sweet blood syrup.
I prefer the symmetry of placement
to the absurd chaos of the random.
I prefer to wait my turn.
I prefer to list the ways I am alone,
to accept this ripe truth.
I prefer to say less.
I prefer you.
I prefer never to regret
what I’ve had to do to survive.


Sabrina Hayeem-Ladani is a native New Yorker, poet, and multi-genre performer. Her work weaves poetry, dance, and song to explore themes of love, family, grief, and what it means to human. She has performed across the United States, as well as in Europe. Sabrina’s poems can be seen in various publications such as in the anthology So Much Things To Say: One Hundred Poems of Calabash (Akashic Books), and The Wide Shore, a journal of global women’s poetry. She currently resides in Brooklyn.

featured image via Alpha on Flickr.

TIE Poet of the Month: ‘Upon Telling My Sister I Fell Between the Train and the Platform’, by Sabrina Hayeem-Ladani

She decides that we need to celebrate, takes me to buy shoes:
black suede ballerina flats to show off the high arch of my foot.

I wear them out of the store, dancing and limping.
Next is dinner: we gorge on things we can’t afford to eat—

lobster, scallops drenched in butter lifted to our lips delicately
as a surgeon would an organ to the one who awaits it.

We wash it down with the best white wine on the menu.
Mashed potatoes on our forks, we rant about boys, the trip to Texas

where a cowboy made love to her with his boots on. Later,
after warm apple pie, she leans in close, whispers

you almost died.

She never asks to see the plum scar, where the skin purpled, swollen
from the force with which they pulled me from the tracks. Instead,

more stories about the Texan. Gulping down the last swig of wine,
she pays the check. My treat, she says with a wink.

And though I had promised myself I wouldn’t, I can’t help
but see her as the survivor—

Hers is the door that death passed over. She is the one
that kissed the tumors back hard on the mouth, dissolved them like candy

on her tongue.


Sabrina Hayeem-Ladani is a native New Yorker, poet, and multi-genre performer. Her work weaves poetry, dance, and song to explore themes of love, family, grief, and what it means to human. She has performed across the United States, as well as in Europe. Sabrina’s poems can be seen in various publications such as in the anthology So Much Things To Say: One Hundred Poems of Calabash (Akashic Books), and The Wide Shore, a journal of global women’s poetry. She currently resides in Brooklyn.

featured image via Prayitno on Flickr.

‘Alpiner’, by Amy Lawless

texascomputer

1

Let me tell you something: climbing a mountain builds character. On top of that, I believe that every young person should climb at least one mountain around puberty. It will teach all sorts of important skills [e.g., to increase spatial awareness, to maneuver tricky physical spaces, to hone a healthy fear of death, to increase an appreciation of trail mix and Good Old Raisins and Peanuts (GORP), and of course, to accurately sharpen the rage against whatever authority in their young lives made them climb that fucking mountain in the first place.

Better yet, if you are a young person, climb a fucking mountain with a parent, relative, or mentor! That way you’ll be able to take note of this older person’s mortality lay bare—perhaps, as in my case, for the first time since the moment of my own birth.  While I don’t remember experiencing my own birth, it certainly happened because there are photos and stories and well, I’m here. Hearing my dear mother curse in disbelief that we had ever stepped foot on Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire with my CCD group from Holy Name Church in West Roxbury, Massachusetts was life changing. It was informative to witness her struggle up and around weird boulder formations and to see her slide down the face of the mountain on her tush as she encouraged me to do the same by example.

First of all, our parents are supposed to be models of behavior.  If she could do it, I had to at least try.  My mother has not the patience of Job. Instead, she has the impatience of a comedian who truly loves to complain by cracking jokes and giggling and talking shit about the priest who led us there. When confronted with her own mortality, she transforms from a nice devout Catholic woman into an observational comedian: think lovechild of George Carlin and Joan Rivers.  Sigmund Freud once wrote that all jokes are about either sex or death. Well, these jokes were all death. It was almost as if by joking about dying and dangers, my mom was preventing us (me and whoever else would listen) from giving up. This was ever more helpful to me than Father Sughrue and his giant walking stick. We get it, you’re supposed to be the shepherd, and we’re the sheep! A little on the nose?  

 

2

Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau adored Mount Monadnock. They couldn’t get enough. Emerson loved it so much he wrote the poem “Monadnoc,” and some consider it his most famous poem. Galway Kinnell wrote “Flower Herding on Mount Monadnock,” which you can find  in full here.  In this poem, Kinnell’s speaker laughs at himself and considers his own death.  If death is the great equalizer, then a mountain is death’s doorstep with all its dangerous charms.

1

I can support it no longer.

Laughing ruefully at myself

For all I claim to have suffered

I get up. Damned nightmarer!

 

It is New Hampshire out here,

It is nearly the dawn.

I, too, stood on its peak, which was absent vegetation or trees due to two fires set many years ago.  The first fire was set by settlers in 1800 in order to make room for pastures for farming. Twenty years later, settlers set it on fire again because of wolves.  But this second fire turned into a devastating one.  Things went out of control. This fire lasted weeks and spread up the peak, taking off the soil and removing the chance of anyone farming on it for a long, long while.  However, because the mountaintop is without trees, the view is just stunning.

Galway Kinnell may have also believed that he was going to die on Monadnock  when he wrote this:   

3

The last memory I have

Is of a flower that cannot be touched,

 

Through the bloom of which, all day,

Fly crazed, missing bees.

And  saw his own death in his reflection:

6

I kneel at a pool,

I look through my face

At the bacteria I think

I see crawling through the moss.

 

My face sees me,

The water stirs, the face,

Looking preoccupied,

Gets knocked from its bones.

 

7

I weighed eleven pounds

At birth, having stayed on

Two extra weeks in the womb.

Tempted by room and fresh air

I came out big as a policeman

Blue-faced, with narrow red eyes.

It was eight days before the doctor

Would scare my mother with me.

We both climbed the same mountain.  And there he goes, talking about the moment of his birth (see the first and second paragraphs of this piece), and his own mother.  I see you there, Galway Kinnell.

 

3

On this peak, Father Sughrue said a quick mass, gave us communion and a vanilla “inspirational” sermon about overcoming obstacles. He wanted the very fact that we had made it to the top of the mountain to serve as a metaphor for achievements and our relationship with Jesus Christ.  Something about Jesus being with us on that peak. For a moment on the top of the mountain, I felt slightly intoxicated with a sort of victory—I was a rat to Sughrue’s Pied Piper:  I was on the top of a mountain!!!!!!!!!  This high wore off quickly after my mother deadpanned that the communion, this body of Christ we consumed/ate, would also be our Last Supper as we likely would never make it to the bottom of the mountain to the group’s bus or to safety.  She vividly described our dad and little sister blissfully unaware of our present peril while they enjoyed the warm creature comforts of our home in Roslindale. Maybe Jesus was back home with them too: we couldn’t see him on that peak.

Saying the thing that was true lightened the atmosphere. In that moment, to state that we felt in a little bit of danger was funny and necessary because that was the truth. We needed to hold on to something. The ground was not secure or even, but laughing was stabilizing for us. Of course we made it down the mountain. We made it home, but the world was much bigger and more hilarious than it was when I had awoken that morning.

 

4

As a child I played a Texas Instruments Home Computer video game called Alpiner.  

When I set out to write this, I wanted to argue that I had prepared myself to climb Mount Monadnock through my mastery of this old video game.  But that would be massively fallacious reasoning.  Playing Alpiner prepared me for only one thing: playing more video games. Climbing the mountain, however, prepared me for life, nuance, and even responsibility. It also, as I think is clear, gave me a new appreciation of my mother, whose humor radiated when fussing over her mortal coil.

After selecting the option to play Alpiner alone, I slowly selected the three letters in my first name (A, M, Y) by toggling a joystick and pressing an orange button. Then I set a course up a mountain. A digital version of the classical piece Peer Gynt by Edvard Grieg played as I climbed. I viewed my avatar from behind: third person—as a whole figure who could see his entire surroundings.  (The avatar was always male.) Falling rocks were avoided by jamming the joystick hard right or hard left.  A bear would appear in the distance and would always remain in the same space so could thereby be avoided quietly and quickly.  Same for mountain lions and snakes and trees.  The only hazard difficult to avoid were the skunks, which would appear quite suddenly misting a red net of dots toward my “guy.”  This net was hard to miss.

A skunking is not fatal, but it always sends you to the bottom of the mountain.

Has a skunk ever sprayed you in your life? No. Me neither.

One night my mom smelled a skunk while driving in the car or during a walk or while we were hanging out in the backyard. She said “I don’t mind the smell. I kind of like it.” I believed her.

The world was, indeed, always much more interesting when something was actually happening. I also thought it was fun to imagine taking a bath in tomato juice, the only cure known to me for a skunking in my limited understanding of the natural world. What if our showers rained red juice? What if the slanted walking condition portrayed in V8 commercials could only end with a red bath?  I’ve never been sprayed by a skunk in my waking life, so I still don’t know what it’s like to sink into a cold tomato juice bath.

But I have come to know what it is like to bleed and feel blind rage at the same time, for I am a woman in a body.  I shed blood on a monthly basis. For me, a brief, spiritual rage precedes each monthly bleeding.  It is not a rage at anything/anyone (i.e., it is not directed at anything or anyone), which makes it ever more terrifying and curious.  It is a rage that craves an object, and when it finds no object is shelved. My rage is like a skunk on an abandoned mountaintop looking for climbers.  Krista Tippett, host of the On Being podcast, once said in an interview that  “anger is often what pain looks like when it shows itself in public.”  

To put it another way, a skunk in a video game is what pain looks like.

When I read Homer’s Iliad senior year of high school, I gave intense and curious side-eye to the rage of Achilles. When Achilles’ best friend Patroclus was murdered by a Trojan fighter named Hector, Achilles flew into a rage.  He was so angry at Hector that he told him “my rage, my fury would drive me now to hack your flesh away and eat you raw – such agonies you have caused me.”  That’s serious brotherly love. This rage consumed him with such a totality that Achilles compared the object of his anger to another object: a meal he would consume in a cannibalistic fury.  See, he’s so “consumed” by the death of Patroclus symbolically, he says he might as well eat the guy who he blames for his death in order to bring the whole thing to a sort of completion.   

No, Achilles did not eat Hector. He killed him. And after he killed him, he dragged the corpse around attached to the back of his chariot defiantly for many days like tin cans on the back of newlywed couple’s car. Those newlyweds want you to hear their tin cans. Achilles wanted everyone to see Hector’s corpse. Achilles was like a skunk on the mountain in Alpiner in his own way. He aimed his wrath at anyone who messed with his territory (e.g., his best friend).

In Alpiner, the skunking seemed to be a consistent response to the mountaineer’s presence as an intruder on the mountain. Unlike the bears, snakes, mountain lions, and rocks, which exist on their own regardless of the player, the skunk and its scented anus secretions seemed to be aware of my avatar’s presence.  If I stayed off the mountain, if I didn’t play the game, if I stayed inside reading a good book, I would be safe from a skunk’s red netted orb of rage.

I just Googled “How to Get Rid of Skunk Smell” and it appears that there are many, many treatments. I’m good at Googling things.  Tomato juice isn’t even on the list; in fact, it is said to just cover up the smell and does not actually clean a body of a skunk’s spray, which can cause nausea, vomiting, and short-term blindness in humans.  I’ve got nothing in my anus as powerful.  

If you really want to get the stink of a skunking off yourself, try mixing hydrogen peroxide with apple cider vinegar and some water and dish soap.  Shampoo your whole body with this mixture.  Shampoo your whole body like you’re not yourself.

amy2

In Alpiner, you progressed the chapters in the game from mountain to mountain the way any professional mountain climber’s career would. You started with the mountains of lowest elevation and you progressed with experience.  You started with Mount Hood (11,249 feet), then Matterhorn (14,692 ft), then Mount Kenya (17,057 feet), then Mount McKinley (now called Denali) (20,310 ft), then Mount Garmo (21,637 ft), and finally Mount Everest (29,029 ft).  Once you successfully climbed Everest, the game was over.  The glitchy digital Peer Gynt “music” crescendoed again in volume: but not to tell you that danger is present, but to concede that triumph was yours. You won!  You’re on the top of a mountain!

I could Climb Mount Hood in approximately ten seconds.

I practiced a lot and did indeed climb to the top of this digital Mount Everest. I have no recollection of playing the game after that fine achievement. While it felt pretty good to reach the peak, in doing so my hunger for playing this game was satiated with finality.

Did you know that sometimes when a person actually dies climbing Mount Everest, no one comes to get the body? Did you know there are some corpses up there in the peaks there totally frozen? If the dispatchers can, they talk to you on your walkie talkie until your voice fades, your breath becomes shallow, and you die.  Every search party costs something (the time and energy of those looking for the lost, money, resources), and the risk of additional human life is often  not worth it. Would you want others to risk this treacherous trip only to also die–just to allow your loved ones to reclaim the frozen husk of your corporeal form? You’re an angel dancing through the gilded gates of heaven strumming tunes on your shiny new harp, what do you care? You’re clinking champagne flutes with Satan in hell, what do you care?

In Alpiner, when you aim your character to the side end of the screen  (perhaps to avoid falling rocks), the avatar disappears off screen for a moment, only to appear on the other side of the screen. This kind of thing would never fly in 21st century video games. Yeah, when you disappear, you just appear again nearby. Continuity errors like this remove a suspension of disbelief the game’s creators had, I guess, failed to cultivate.  

In Back to the Future Part 2, Marty McFly has to avoid seeing himself during the “Enchantment Under The Sea Dance” while securing the Sports Almanac from Biff because one version of himself is already playing guitar on stage.  If the two Martys ever, by chance, saw each other, something horrible would happen.  When I look in the mirror, my goal is to not dislike whatever it is that I see, so I can only imagine the horrors of seeing a time traveling version of myself!  I would happily slip away stage right with a hat over my face only to reappear stage left with my hat in hand.

I won my sixth grade Geography Bee at Holy Name School in West Roxbury, Massachusetts by identifying the second highest mountain in the world (it’s K2).  This won me a copy of Rattle and Hum by U2 on audio cassette.   

unnamed

I carried Rattle and Hum home proudly.  My parents were proud and excited. They loved and love rock and roll. I had never heard of U2 in my life up to that point, but they sure had.  We listened to a few tracks together as I recounted my victory, and then I squirreled away the double cassette tape set into my bedroom and played it on my tiny red cassette deck. One song U2 covered called “Helter Skelter” boomed. It was messy. I liked it. I didn’t know that this was a cover of a Beatles song or of Charles Manson’s culty appropriation of the term to explain away the brutality of his violence.

When Paul McCartney wrote the song, the term “helter skelter” in UK slang meant “disorderly haste or confusion.”

When I imagine taking a V8 shower, I think of the film Carrie and the prom scene:  all the blood and the bullies. When I think of bullies, I think of Charles Manson convincing his Family to do horrible bullshit. I think of the greatly pregnant dead Sharon Tate and her blood pressed first into fingertips and then into the arcs and lines of blood to form the word Pig written on the door.  

Pig.

I refuse to make sense of someone (Charles Manson) using rhetoric (say, like the performative utterance as popularized by J.L. Austin) to make things, horrible things happen.

I read the nonfiction book Helter Skelter by Vincent Bulgosi and Curt Gentry about Charles Manson and the Manson family while commuting on the bus from my parents’ house in Roslindale to Boston University one summer for my summer job.  The bus pulled wide high hilly turns in Brookline as my stomach pitted at the violence of Manson’s life.  Manson took the phrase “Helter Skelter” from the Beatles song. The house Sharon Tate was murdered in by Manson’s family was situated in a deep ravine called Benedict Canyon. Benedict Canyon was created by rainwater dripping over a tremendously long period of time and runs north to south.

5

I am pretty fearful of new climbing experiences because I am afraid of heights. When I am on the edge of a cliff, or the top floor of a skyscraper, even one rung up a stepladder, or the edge of a subway underpass, the edge of a ravine or canyon, my inside forearms tingle painfully, and I become lightheaded. When invited to rooftop shindigs I stay near a wall, facing as far away from the edge as possible. I avoid looking at the ground below. Otherwise I am haunted by an imaginary seamstress touching and pressing thousands of pins and needles into my forearms: that’s how it feels to be afraid of heights.

As I sat far away from the edge of a naturally formed cliff in Ireland on a trip right after college, my friends who did not have a fear of heights sat right near the edge. It wasn’t one of those famous cliffs that people send postcards about or meaningfully name-check in Irish folk songs. This cliff was just some random not-too-steep locale.  When my friends approached the edge, I watched them. Physical pain overcame my body. I was fearful of their deaths and of something horrible happening. Why couldn’t I just sit there and enjoy all the shades of green: a particular beauty I’ve thought of many times since? My brain is hardwired  to avoid cliffs; my brain thinks they’re dangerous.

In that moment, I could have used the right joke. Know what I mean?  But my mom was nowhere to be found to provide levity.  You know, I could have just really used a good joke that reminded me that, sure I was a mortal entity, but that I was also temporarily in the safe harbor of a sunny field overlooking a cliff.

Some moments can be constellated back to different experiences: these are partially traceable and yet unwilling to be precisely held. As an adult you know that no one is fully protected from the meaninglessness and cruelty of the world at large.

But the only image that my brain could conjure while I sat near that cliff was a large adult skunk appearing out of nowhere and just hosing my friends and I down off the cliff and into the wild below with some Carrie-like fury in a skunk’s version of anguish.
This is pretty funny now, but I remember it as only pure terror. And, as I learned playing Alpiner, there is nothing to be done when a skunk hoses you. You just start over.


unnamedAmy Lawless is the author of two books of poems including My Dead (Octopus Books). Her third poetry collection Broadax is forthcoming from Octopus Books this summer. A chapbook A Woman Alone is just out from Sixth Finch. With Chris Cheney she is the author of the hybrid book I Cry: The Desire to Be Rejected from Pioneer Works Press’ Groundworks Series (2016). Her poems have recently or are forthcoming in jubilatReality BeachThe VoltaWashington Square ReviewBest American Poetry 2013, and the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day: 365 Poems for Every Occasion, and the Brooklyn Poets Anthology (Brooklyn Arts Press). She received a poetry fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts in 2011. She lives in Brooklyn.

feature image via Tim_Johns.

TIE Poet of the Month: ‘My Therapist’, by Amy Lawless

I told my friend
the reason I don’t go to therapy:
I would lie to any therapist and adjust my
problems according to what
I think the therapist would want to hear

He said that means
I’m crazy and really need to go to therapy

I wouldn’t argue with this point

I give a name to a new kind of therapy:
Silence of Night

The sound a plastic bag makes
slapping against my thigh
as I walk home from the bodega

When I get home, therapy becomes the rosy ceiling after
I turn on my Himalayan salt lamp

Did you know Freud
never said the Irish were impervious to
psychoanalysis? Rather something
claimed again and again
without attribution
and finally made its way into Martin Scorsese’s film
The Departed
And now everyone thinks it’s true
But it’s not

Come on,
you’ve been there

At 4 am
when I couldn’t sleep I took an online quiz
and the result is
I’m a demon
of the night

I read the same Elizabeth Bishop poems
until I can hold the almanac
or taste dark brown tears
or feel the ancient wallpaper or see a gesture
I love

People walk around with names like Mike, Dave, Elliot, Jose, Keith, and it’s fine, it’s totally fine

I am an American
I shit like the Pope

It’s fine

I rebound ideas
off silence
I talk to it and there’s no
response, which in this way is its
own kind of response

Silence is a message
I listen


unnamed Amy Lawless is the author of two books of poems including My Dead (Octopus Books). Her third poetry collection Broadax is forthcoming from Octopus Books this summer. A chapbook A Woman Alone is just out from Sixth Finch. With Chris Cheney she is the author of the hybrid book I Cry: The Desire to Be Rejected from Pioneer Works Press’ Groundworks Series (2016). Her poems have recently or are forthcoming in jubilat, Reality Beach, The Volta, Washington Square Review, Best American Poetry 2013, and the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day: 365 Poems for Every Occasion, and the Brooklyn Poets Anthology (Brooklyn Arts Press). She received a poetry fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts in 2011. She lives in Brooklyn.

feature image via Ryan Rosa on Flickr.

TIE Poet of the Month: ‘Ars Poetica’, by Amy Lawless

In sixth grade, Mrs. Nerbonne assigned us the poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost. We had to memorize and recite it aloud both to each other and as a chorus for the principal, a man who wore these Italian suits we’d only seen in movies. I remember standing there in a chorus of other children saying “And miles to go before I sleep, / And miles to go before I sleep.” It was being forced to promise not to commit suicide in front of the whole class. Parochial school, am I right? The next week we had to write a poem in response to Frost’s poem. The drafting process was laborious but fun. I had the most vivid dream the night before the poem was due. In the dream a female classmate read and recited her poem to me. I was blown away by how beautiful it was. It was a revelation to me, a reverie. I was probably thinking about the lines: The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, / But I have promises to keep in the dream and heard these words tuned in to my classmate’s voice channel—my thoughts through her mouth. Dreaming still, I attempted a transcription of her poem…a winter chill. The next morning, I was awoken by the nagging jealousy of my classmate and the fear that she was the better poet. That ugly jealousy hurled me forward. I tried to write down what I could remember from the dream of her poem, but I could only recall the mood it set in place. This classmate had not-the-best family situation, and I knew things I wished I did not. What if she had a closer access to the death drive Frost idealizes? I wasn’t thinking that at the time, but I was thinking something rancid. I believe I really became a poet that night I dreamt in words. I returned to class totally fried with unbrushed hair—ready to recreate the poem of my dream. I wrestled with whether my memory was a plagiarism. During lunch, I asked to read my classmate’s poem. She handed it to me: it was a poem that stole its rhyme scheme and end words from Frost. I smiled to her and sighed relief. Poetry was my own rotting apple I’d bobbed for and caught in the night.

‘Ars Poetica’ first appeared in a zine titled Girl Blood Info.


unnamed Amy Lawless is the author of two books of poems including My Dead (Octopus Books). Her third poetry collection Broadax is forthcoming from Octopus Books this summer. A chapbook A Woman Alone is just out from Sixth Finch. With Chris Cheney she is the author of the hybrid book I Cry: The Desire to Be Rejected from Pioneer Works Press’ Groundworks Series (2016). Her poems have recently or are forthcoming in jubilat, Reality Beach, The Volta, Washington Square Review, Best American Poetry 2013, and the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day: 365 Poems for Every Occasion, and the Brooklyn Poets Anthology (Brooklyn Arts Press). She received a poetry fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts in 2011. She lives in Brooklyn.

feature image via Caleb Zahnd on Flickr.

TIE Poet of the Month: ‘Sculpture, Weed, and Bon Iver’, by Amy Lawless

According to Jezebel.com, Brad Pitt is coping with his breakup
with sculpture, weed, and by listening to Bon Iver.

This is cliché and almost the perfect prescription.
So, a great start.

Funny: I think an old photo of Brad Pitt
once helped me get over a breakup.

Or was it a photo of someone else?
A photograph is an eye’s residuum, technological output of desire.

He uses art, soft drugs, and music to heal himself.
This is tried and true, but certainly not complete.

You know—friends.
We’ve all used that one song…you know the one…
a roaddog of self pity.

I would love to be placed in a little cradle right now.
Throw on the right song.
I’ll fall asleep in no time.

Or just let me look at something beautiful.
Hold me like a baby.

Sleep and care is what the alien overlords have gifted to us
with the math of music. It is ok to be sad.

Once I went through a breakup
and all the drugs and art and music in the world

could not heal me.
I needed a clock

to pass its hands over itself
many times. I also needed sleep.

My dreamscape had to reconfigure its organization of the world,

and I needed to come out of a trance.
I thought about old TV shows, and how common media diverged from personal experiences.

I thought about how my parents found love,
and without resenting them, I needed to find my own person to love.

Once I dreamt my parents pushed me
into a craggy ravine.
I needed to meet another guy at the fruit stand

and to pet at least 24 puppies of friends
and even strangers—that’s not just a metaphor.
But this is: I needed to make awkward eye contact with a cat.

I needed to stare at one person’s Instagram photos for hours
wearing a deerstalker hat while smoking a pipe
and playing the violin under the cover of darkness.

Once I needed to stay up all night and imagine he was beside me.
Once, no thrice, I needed to be gently chided by my friends.

Once I needed to break down in tears in the glorious sun of the Getty Museum.
Once I needed to be privately aroused by Robert Mapplethorpe’s ability to love

the image as expressed in his photos.
Once, as I watched Love Actually with my family,
I tried hard to not to be an asshole.

Once I understood the way Mapplethorpe’s camera was an eye, was even a cock, how his camera was a machine blinking with desire like a text message alert from a crush,

I was able to finally recommit myself to “online stalking” in a refreshed way
where I saw an end.

Once in college I took an extra bong hit and needed my hand held the whole walk home.
And once I laughed all day.


unnamed Amy Lawless is the author of two books of poems including My Dead (Octopus Books). Her third poetry collection Broadax is forthcoming from Octopus Books this summer. A chapbook A Woman Alone is just out from Sixth Finch. With Chris Cheney she is the author of the hybrid book I Cry: The Desire to Be Rejected from Pioneer Works Press’ Groundworks Series (2016). Her poems have recently or are forthcoming in jubilat, Reality Beach, The Volta, Washington Square Review, Best American Poetry 2013, and the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day: 365 Poems for Every Occasion, and the Brooklyn Poets Anthology (Brooklyn Arts Press). She received a poetry fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts in 2011. She lives in Brooklyn.

feature image via Aslaveoflove at Pixabay.

‘Consider The Apple’, by Kate Angus

Consider the Apple

  1. And its many names

     Akero: pale green strewn with white like light snow dusting leaves. Ambrosia. Annurca: the oldest, depicted in tiled frescoes beneath Herculaneum’s ashes. Arkansas Black hangs as coal in the trees. Ballyfatten, Belle de Boskoop, Bloody Ploughman. Carter’s Blue like the winter sky in cloud-heavy bloom. The spring-frog-skin green of a ripe Catshead. Chelmsford Wonder: the diffuse orange of chiffon scarves. Honeyed Elstar. In botany as on the stage, Falstaff proves a sturdy pollinator. What is it like to cultivate rich crops of Fortune? Goldspur, Greensleeves. Imagine orchards ruled by trees that bear Jupiter and King of the Pippins. The howl of wolves that is the sound Macoun. Two women who contain the oldest story of women: Maiden’s Blush and Mother. In cold mountains, the Northern Spy. A vault spilling Opals and Pink Pearls. Pound Sweet like a song of sex beneath low-hanging boughs or so quietly beside brandy bottles inside the wine cellar’s dark. Saturn in late fall, resolute and stern. Snow Apple. Winesap. And all of them a waterfall of blossoms in the spring.

 

  1. In the beginning

     In the Garden of Eden, the snake curled around the tree tight as a new lover clasping his hands around your waist. Then it uncoiled and slid towards Eve like a whisper: Take, eat. Aren’t we glad that she did? Some sort of echo, a kind of omen. This fruit is the fruit of the body. If we were not cast out, how would we know Paradise had ever existed? The apple is only an excuse; it’s exile that brings knowledge. We are tempted and torn asunder and rent from what we love so that we understand we are separate: this is how we learn to recognize ourselves.

     The Norsemen believed golden apples kept their gods young: Iounn was their appointed keeper. When trickster Loki lent her to a giant, the gods grew old and withered like rinds cast away. Freya, goddess of beauty, toothless; Thor, the god of strength, too weak to raise his mighty hammer. Loki donned a falcon skin to bring her back and Iounn was a nut he carried in his claws; the bereft giant pursued in the shape of an eagle. As the birds reached Asgard, the gods lit a bonfire and set the slow eagle aflame. Beside that kindling, Iounn gave the gods their youth again, the golden apples like little planets in each of their hands.

     Druids called the apple sacred. The isle of apples—Avalon—was a summerland, a kind of heaven. Merlin, the king’s magician, cast his spells from inside the arched room of an apple grove guarded by birds. His gift blossomed inside him only after he ate an apple given to him by the Faerie Queen, but that kind of gift is a knife. To know the future is to grieve forever: you see the decay behind every kiss. Before the fall of Camelot and all those other betrayals (the King cuckolded; the bastard son plotting for his father’s throne), Merlin fell in love with his young apprentice Vivian. Her beauty was clouds, fog. She took his magic and locked him inside a tree deep in the forest, trapping her former mentor behind bark. Did he read auguries in pattern of wind-swept leaves or decipher prophecies the birds sing to foresee his own future? That kind of end anyone could see. Someone old and lonely; someone young who wants to learn everything.

 

     Isaac Newton and the apple of gravity that never existed. William Tell and his crossbow and his son.

 

     Johnny Appleseed wandering America scattering seeds that then grew into trees that were themselves fecund. Of course, this is sexual; seeding the earth.

 

     Snow White and her stepmother’s malice: the apple that brought a glass-coffined sleep. This is everyone’s life: we wake up as the corpse-girl in the morning and go to bed terrified, seeing in the mirror the recognizable self slipping away.

 

  1. Today’s apples

     Apple cold in my fridge as iced champagne. Gala: a chilled party.

 

     Apple bitten into by a blond man walking past. So loud like crashing glass. Interrupting again the map my thoughts follow of someone I should not still miss.

 

  1. False Apples

     Dogbane growing near the Dead Sea’s barren shoals is called Apple of Sodom. The tendrils leak a bitter milky sap and are adorned with green globes–beautiful, but hollow.

 

     May Apple has other names: American Mandrake, Devil’s Apple, Wild Lemon or Duck’s Foot. A sweet fruit, but the leaves and roots contain poison.

 

     You can find the Thorn-Apple by its rank odor: pungent, a reek redolent of rotting flesh. It grows wild at the margins of parking lots, rubbish heaps, anywhere ruined where things decay. If you cull the seeds and take them in sufficient quantity, they bring pupil dilation (the eyes’ doors flung open to bring in additional light), giddiness and delirium, but be careful: too many and death will be your harvest.   

 

     The Shining-Leaved Custard Apple’s wood is so soft it stoppers bottles like cork.

 

     Some false apples are named for the animals that eat them: Elephant Apple, Monkey Apple, Kangaroo.

 

     Apples as slang for barbiturates, downers. A bushel of apples means a handful of pills.

 

     Malay Apple, Rose Apple, Star Apple of the West Indies.

 

     Thin electronic Apple on which I type this as I sit at my desk.

 

  1. The apple in language

 

     Apple for the teacher, apple of my eye, bad apple: these three phrases, shuffled into any order, contain all the love stories in the world.

 

  1. Ritual apples

 

     A branch leads diviners to water; pliable wood that forks like rivers underground. Druidic poets and shamans carried a branch constellated with bells that chimed silver as snowfall to announce their presence to new towns as they wandered.

 

     Two female skeletons were found in the Oseberg ship, a Viking burial mound in Norway. One wore a fine red dress and white veil; the other a blue dress with a blue veil. Surrounding them were buckets of apples.

 

     An apple cut crosswise reveals a five-pointed star, the symbol of Freya, Norse goddess of love.

 

     On Rosh Hashanah, you must eat apples dipped in honey for a sweet new year.

 

     During Samhain, each women wrote her secret mark on a piece of fruit and then all apples were tumbled into a cauldron to float like round red galleons on a cold sea. Men bent down to bite. When a man pulled an apple held tight within his jaws from the tub, the woman whose apple he’d chosen became his bride. Another variant was to hang the apple from the ceiling on a string–Snap Apple: the men would leap and gnash their teeth. The first to bite down on the apple was the first to bed the woman who had inscribed her name on its skin.

 

     Roman feasts began with an egg and finished with an apple: from alpha to omega, the beginning to the end. The egg is the tenderest new life; the apple the symbol of resurrection, the life eternal.

  1.  Apples and the body

     (a) As medicine

          Rotten apples were used as a poultice by the Puritans to restore clear sight to sore eyes.

 

          In Medieval Europe, an aphrodisiac salve was made of equal parts apple pulp, swine’s grease, and rosewater and then applied to the most sensitive skin.

 

          An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but its seeds contain trace amounts of amygdalin, a compound of sugar and cyanide.

 

     (b) Next to death, sex is the purest expression of the body

          A Balzac story where a countess kept a bowl of apples by her bedside so that when she entertained a lover, she could eat one before kissing him awake. This seemed like the most seductive thing—like instructions for how to be an adult woman. Dappled apples piled in a blue bowl. The taste of apple in our mouths.

 

          On the first day of winter, during Allantide in Cornwall, the unmarried place apples under their pillow to conjure dreams of their future spouse. In Poland, to obtain the same result you must sleep beneath an apple tree on New Year’s Eve. Imagine how cold you would be, blanketed under snow, dreaming of your future lover.

 

          Peel an apple in one continuous ribbon. Throw the peel behind your left shoulder and you can read your future husband’s initials in the pattern it makes on the ground.

 

          Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples; for I am sick with love (2:5). Song of Songs; the Song of Solomon

 

          Danish folklore claims an apple will wither if placed in the same room as adulterers.

 

          The snake that offered Eve the apple of temptation is so obvious in symbolism—the male body.
          What it is to admit that you want things: to take the first bite.

 


Kate Angus is the author of So Late to the Party (Negative Capability Press, 2016), the Creative Writing Advisor for the Mayapple Center for Arts and Humanities at Sarah Lawrence College and a founding editor of Augury Books. Her poetry and nonfiction have appeared in The Atlantic online, The Washington Post, The Awl, Verse Daily, Best New Poets 2010, Best New Poets 2014, Gulf Coast, Subtropics, The Academy of American Poets’ “Poem a Day” and Tin House’s “Open Bar.” More information about Kate can be found at www.kateangus.org.

featured image via Korana Šegetalo Delić on Flickr.