Attention NYU undergrads! The deadline to submit your poetry, prose, and art to West 10th‘s 2017-2018 issue is on FRIDAY, DECEMBER 15! To learn more about what we are looking for, click HERE.
You sit through classes at the local school, staring out of windows in stuffy classrooms. Large, square rooms, voices chanting in unison, plastic textbooks that sprawl from one end of the plastic tables to the other. Colorful pencil-boxes and packed school lunches.
You move away to the city in spring, as high school comes to a close and you leave, excited for the televised promises of urban life. You mix with thousands of similarly excited youths, sparking with the energy coursing through the Internet age. Your rented apartment is never empty of guests, with whom you smoke furtively out of windows, watching the birds come and go. You pick up jazz, playing regularly with a small band of friends. You laze about the school grounds, dance in nightclubs, fall into love.
You graduate brimming with promise, applying to a dozen government jobs, most of which reject you. You persevere, and find a comfortable desk job downtown. You work day and night, coming home just before midnight to eat freeze-dried TV dinners. She leaves you. You watch as promotion passes you by, once, twice. Then, you’re promoted, into a different job, doing different tasks, none of which you can really recall. This continues for many years, much of which you do remember, but only in glorious bursts of colors, in the laughter of your friends, in the crinkle of her eyes.
You dream at nights of being a hero, but some days you’d settle for just being a decent human being. You walk through life in a daze, letting time flow by without really noticing it. You get promoted again, into a job with an even longer title. You’re tired, but you push past it. You grow stronger everyday, as you sing songs to yourself. You string your latest apartment with trinkets of memory, and soon you have boxes of stuff piled along the walls.
An opportunity comes up. A teaching position in the university back near your hometown. You walk about the city for a few days, pondering your future. You make your decision buying ice cream besides a bridge, listening to cars roar past. You go home.
It’s hard to deal with the quiet of the countryside at first. You long for the white noise that had enveloped your life for so long, but eventually, you learn to wean yourself off it, as if it were any other drug. You travel to work everyday by train. On the walk to the station, you’d stare at the cherry trees, drawing memories of your childhood, of you napping beneath their wide canopies on the way to class.
The station seems old now that you’ve tasted the city. You like its oldness; it’s somehow comforting. When you close your eyes, you can hear the distant trains, rushing about their tracks, roaring and bellowing towards the vast, open sky. Deep down, past the sounds of chatter and the buzz of cars, you hear the rushing of your blood, mixing with the passing trains, blurring into a river of light.
This is a fortnightly column which places two books – one science fiction or fantasy, the other nonfiction – in conversation with each other.
First, a short primer for why this column even exists, when science fiction/fantasy (SFF) and nonfiction seem to make for odd bedfellows. This column is mostly trying to think about SFF as a genre that has always provided and continues to provide answers to the questions that nonfiction poses: after all this history and analysis of our current affairs, what does our future look like? What can it look like? SFF is a genre that, at its best, imagines worlds of alternate histories and alternate futures, presenting humanity in all its richness and strangeness. It’s also a genre that defamiliarizes with world-building and new internal logics. Digging deep enough often reveals not the anxieties of alien civilizations but our own, obliquely reflected but more piercing for how, eventually, they are revealed to be deeply felt truths.
Today’s books, the Craft Sequence (which is actually five books, oops) by Max Gladstone and A History of Future Cities by Daniel Brook, would probably be shelved on opposite ends of the bookstore. The former is a series of loosely interlocking stories, set in the same post-industrial, post-war fantasyland where magic, also known as Craft, is surprisingly familiar and modern, and understood more in the language of economics, finance, and litigation than that of potions and mystical forces; it is a world where priestesses are also investment bankers and legal contracts, drawn up three-dimensionally with Craft, literally bind their signatories to a new version of reality. Meanwhile, the latter book is a socio-historical guide through four larger-than-life cities—St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Mumbai, and Dubai—that articulates how the interweaving of colonialism, internationalism, and the anxieties over modernity and national identity in a globalized world culminated in these cities as explicitly state-building and state-strengthening projects. What these books have in common is their use of cities as a framework and battleground in which the most pressing concerns of our society are played out. In fact, the urban spaces illustrated are not just empty settings, but characters in and of themselves, representing and demonstrating the worldviews of its creators or residents and arguing for their way of life.
Gladstone’s books are concerned not with Arthurian quests or big battles between Good and Evil; rather, their conflicts sound like they could have been lifted from a history textbook or even today’s newspapers. In Last First Snow, Temoc, a veteran warrior-priest of the God Wars, clashes with his old opponent, the King in Red (an immortal Craftsman) and his consortium of investors, when they plan to redevelop an impoverished part of the city of Dresediel Lex. To do so, they would have to remove the old protection wards laid down by the Gods Temoc and his fellowship believed in, and replace them with bonds of Craft. As the civic protests organized by Temoc and his fellow community leaders strengthen, lawyers are brought in to negotiate a settlement between the current community and the encroaching forces of capital and commerce. It’s the story of gentrification and rampant developmentalism we see in our cities today, but with necromancers and human sacrifice thrown in. Likewise, the latest installment, A Ruin of Angels, is the story of conservationists and the indigenous people of a war-torn land who reclaim their colonized city—sometimes literally, through a process called delving, where, in places where reality is worn out and history seeps through, one can slip into the suppressed alternate reality of their home that has been precariously layered over by the invading Iskari empire’s own strictly controlled version.
Using the wholly ‘unreal’ conceits of magic and necromancy, gods and rituals, Gladstone dismantles our modern day’s discontents with globalization and homogeneity, crass commercialism, the struggle between late-stage capitalism and authenticity, and our colonial hangovers which have festered unacknowledged, all with a deftness that leaves you blinking at the end, surprised by the roundabout familiarity of it all.
A History of Future Cities is the perfect accompaniment to the sharp-edged mythos of the Craft Sequence. Common themes of modernization, cultural imperialism and supremacy, and globalization-as-Westernization run through the narratives of the four “dis-orient-ed metropolises” that Brook guides us through. The book traces the cities’ artificial lineages, starting with Peter the Great’s master plan of recreating Europe by scratch on the banks of the Neva, a marshy swampland completely inhospitable to urban life, to Dubai’s towering accomplishments that, lost in the clouds, obscure the realities of the people who toil beneath them. At the same time, he lays out a meta-narrative of global developmentalism that exchanges thoughtful design with sustainable dwelling in mind for the bragging rights of the biggest, shiniest, and tallest. He describes the rapid proliferation of the homogenized global city, where distinguishing between two cities in two completely different countries is almost impossible; void of local elements, which are often seen as folksy or backward, the new city is a metastasizing bug, self-replicating over and over again to valorize their nation-states in the race for global status.
Brook asserts that these four cities are “ideas as much as cities, metaphors in stone and steel for the explicit goal of Westernization,” and its residents must contend with the potential to “untether oneself from the past and build the future” in their new, modern cities even as they question what they have lost—autonomy, authenticity, ancestry—in the process. Similarly, the characters in the Craft Sequence must grapple with the complexities of their history that is often embedded in the cities that have emerged from the ashes of the Wars; from our own histories, we know that things are rarely as simple as we’d like them to be. Are the people of Alikand right to remain tethered, quite literally, to the past, when the new Iskari empire promises stability and economic growth? Is Temoc, a priest who used to sacrifice his own congregation to his strange and capricious God, so clearly the David against the undead Craftsmen’s Goliath? These are questions that play out most dramatically and potently in the theatre that is the urban space, a space that also serves as a microcosm for our global community.
Henri Lefebvre first coined the term “the right to the city,” the freedom to not just build and dwell in the city, but the freedom to change it and have it change oneself. The Craft Sequence uses world-building and fantastical metaphors to illuminate the central urban and socio-economic ills we face, while A History of Future Cities stitches together the melancholy pasts and the brimming future possibilities of its very real cities to ask us what we want our urban spaces and lives to look like, but the quest for “the right to the city” is something that shines through in both.
Come workshop your poems in an informal gathering with fellow writers and West 10th‘s poetry editors! West 10th, now accepting submissions, is NYU’s undergraduate, student-edited literary journal sponsored by the Creative Writing Department. The poetry workshop will be held on Monday, November 27 at 8 PM in Palladium Hall, Seminar Room A. This is a great opportunity to polish pieces you are considering submitting. Bring up to three poems, not exceeding three pages in total. Check out the Facebook event here, and RSVP here.
Come workshop your prose in an informal gathering with fellow writers and West 10th’s prose editors! West 10th, now accepting submissions, is NYU’s undergraduate, student-edited literary journal sponsored by the Creative Writing Program. The prose workshop will be held on Tuesday, November 28 at 8pm in Palladium Hall, Seminar Room A. This is a great opportunity to polish pieces you are considering submitting. Bring up to 1500 words of prose (an excerpt or an entire piece). Check out the Facebook event here, and RSVP here.
When April came and went, I thought I had only lost a friend. Sat at the bottom of the shower, let sometimes cold, sometimes hot water pour over my body. I watched all of Friends, twice. I didn’t read, didn’t write and early one morning – at about 4 a. m. – I called my mother crying, told her I wasn’t sure who I was anymore.
Loss (n.) – the feeling of grief after losing someone or something of value
Someone or something of value.
They say the worst thing is to be known, and not loved. When you let someone in, let them see parts of you that you have not even begun to understand yourself, and they do not like what they see, this – this can be paralyzing. To you, I was too rough, too demanding, too…knew you too well.
But you left me, and for once I felt that I was in the right. Right?
In late May, I began to unpack the box sitting at the bottom of my closet that held in it our friendship. What I found inside was a few photos, some old concert tickets, empty wine bottles and – not much else. I began to see that box for what it really was: a necessary, fortuitous placeholder put there by God or the Universe, who understood that we weren’t quite ready to face our demons.
In the beginning, I thought I had lost you. But what I came to realize was that through you, I had lost myself. It took me weeks to remember our name. But once I had, had thrown away that box, a greyish light began to seep through the negative space in my closet’s doorframe.
Truth, said the Universe. Sometimes screamed. The more I resisted, the more it pushed back against me.
Like when I tried to have sex for the first time in over a year and I threw up as soon as he was inside me.
And when I went home for the summer and I got a black eye the second day back.
And when I skipped therapy and the New York Times published their article on Harvey Weinstein.
Two weeks ago, I looked inside my closet, and it was empty. That greyish light still lingers in my bedroom, constantly around me, no longer trapped inside. Now, I’m learning how to cope with the emptiness, learning how to fill it with good things.
I used to place so much value on you, on us. I had little left for myself. I know now that the loss I felt then – that I still feel sometimes now – was never about you, or us.
I had forgotten to grieve for myself.
Today I saw a bonsai tree for sale in the window of a liquor store
& today I found a tiny clump of concrete that looked
like a pair of lungs
& today I threw darts at a board, barefoot
& today I poured cajeta on toast &
& today I saw a dozen wasps swarm through a
mass of evening light
& today a streetlamp burned itself cold.
I almost told you about it.
Once, you said that intimacy was an impossibility
for us, but at my apartment you left
a watercolor of an ovenbird in a pepper tree
& a handful of white hammer oysters
& a string of Tibetan prayer flags
& a Louis Wain print of cats playing hockey.
I remember you
& you, paying for film slides at luster photo on avenue a
& you, drinking pesole on the kitchen floor & coughing
& you, throwing up in a dogwood bush
& you, hanging an opaque sheet from the ceiling,
standing on a wooden chair
& your skin soft like lime oil
& your skin.
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” – H.P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature
An excerpt from H.P. Lovecraft’s notes (1928), where he first doodled the creature of the Cthulhu.
An imitation of H.P. Lovecraft, by Benjamin Mok:
There is a house in Providence, down the lane from Prospect Park. Beneath a roof reminiscent of American colonial architecture, shuttered windows line the two floors, a façade of suburban normality betrayed by the gothic archway inviting you in. You walk past the cramped entranceway where worn, ornate furniture is crammed haphazardly throughout, each piece dreaming of a time when they inhabited grander mansions than this. Victorian portraits glare down at you from every available space on the walls, angered by your intrusion. Up the stairs, the door to the study stands ajar, framing a figure hunched over a mahogany desk. He doesn’t look up as you enter the room. A single window watches over his lanky, bespectacled form, faint moonlight illuminating the yellowed pulp magazines mixed into untidy sheaves of manuscript piled up around him. It is silent in this room, save for the faint ‘skritch-skritch’ of ballpoint against paper. You draw closer and notice another presence in the room standing beside the man, one that you could have sworn was not there a moment before. Vaguely human, dark as crude oil, its rubbery skin gleams beneath the moonlight. It rests its membranous hands lightly on the shoulder of the man, arching its slender form over the desk, as if perusing his work as it is written. You take a step back. It looks up, and where a face would have been there is nothing but skin stretched around an oval skull, the only indication of its eyes the two sunken depressions staring back at you. It raises a single, webbed finger to where its lips should have been. The moonlight flickers. You flee, past down the creaking stairs that whine with every step, out through the open front door (did you leave it open before?) and out into…
Normality. Or do you? That is the question Lovecraft confronts us with, in his massive, underrated body of work known collectively as the Lovecraft mythos. In it, readers are confronted with esoteric mythology, mind-numbing descriptions that defy conception, and an expansive bestiary of monstrosities–all framed within a seductive mixture of noir pulp fiction and cosmic horror. Known today as one of the progenitors of the ‘weird fiction’ genre, Howard Phillips Lovecraft once described the uniqueness of his work, and of the sub-genre it inspired, as thus:
“The true weird tale has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains according to rule. A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain—a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.”
[Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature]
A self-styled “antiquarian,” Lovecraft drew upon his knowledge of mythology, as viewed through the lens of anthropological and historical research at the time, in order to craft a convincing illusion of otherworldly forces and entities at work within realistic, contemporary settings. Lovecraft was a master at generating atmosphere in his work, an oppressive tension that permeates his breathless descriptions of non-Euclidian architecture and gruesome creatures. As with much of the work produced within weird fiction, it was this exact style of writing that drove as many away from reading his work as it has drawn to it. Worse, there exists within his work hints of a very real fear within the society of his time. This fear functioned along the same lines as the cosmic terror Lovecraft peddled, but had consequences beyond the titillation of the mind and shuddering of the heart–the fear of the ‘other,’ framed as the unknowable. Modern scholars and biographers of Lovecraft have since pointed out concrete evidence with regards to his racist worldview, centered about a conviction in the cultural superiority of the Anglo-Saxon races, and a pseudo-scientific belief in eugenics. Much of this analysis can be found in the work of the premier Lovecraftian scholar, S.T. Joshi, in the biography: I Am Providence.
Yet, regardless of literary and social controversy, his mythos has since taken on a life of its own within our cultural spheres, ranging from a still-growing legacy of Lovecraftian horror fiction that pays direct homage to Lovecraft as it expands the mythology established by him, to pop culture commercialism expressed in Cthulhu plushies and Lovecraft tote bags, to its inspiration of contemporary producers of horror such as Stephen King, Alan Moore and Junji Ito. Despite the literary snobbishness that Lovecraft’s works faced and still faces today, as with most genre fiction tending towards the fantastic, the proliferation of his ideas and motifs within society today tells us that there’s something important about cosmic horror that is worthy of our attention.
What exactly was he so interested in? Lovecraft himself stated that he was fascinated by the notion of ‘cosmicism:’ that the human race was insignificant, vulnerable, and ultimately doomed in its existence within an arbitrary universe. To Lovecraft, notions of spirituality and universality were at best, forms of ideology, and at worst, superstition. No doubt that this was in part at least influenced by the transition of Anglo-European society into modernity, whereby both lingering religious beliefs and Enlightenment-era ideals were crushed bythe savagery of the World Wars. At a time in which the promise of science revealed more questions than answers (or reached towards answers that led to warped perspectives as was the case in eugenics), the morbid appeal of the specters of the past began to be replaced with the appeal of the sublime.
The sublime, without getting too much into the philosophical aspects of 18th-century Romantic poetry from which Lovecraft drew inspiration, is generally considered to be the ‘presentation of an indeterminate concept of reason’–a definition coined by Immanuel Kant in 1790. Whereas beauty is only a temporary response gained through understanding an object, the sublime refers to a ‘realm of experience beyond the measurable,’ dependent upon the unknowable nature of the object in question. What is sublime then must also evoke in equal parts terror and awe, resulting in an ecstasy that is ‘beyond oneself.’ One of the best explanations of the sublime I have come across can be found here. As Kant claims, only humans are capable of experiencing the sublime, for only we (as far as we know) have forgotten our insignificance in the face of nature, having grown arrogant in our dominance over the most easily observed aspects of it. The concept of death, for example, is something that we pretend to internalize, just so we might function in the day-to-day without being paralyzed by existential terror. Yet, who amongst us is able to give a definite answer of what lies beyond the veil?
In many ways, the question of what the sublime is lies at the very core of horror fiction, as not only must the sublime invoke terror and awe, it must also elicit the inherent ‘pleasure’ of emotions: a freedom from oneself that can only be experienced when faced with the ego-destroying nature of infinity, or death. Of course, not everyone consumes works of horror in order to pummel themselves with existential crises, but there is a portion of ourselves that will always, unconsciously, be subject to the anxiety of not knowing what exists beyond the boundaries established by science. That is what art concerned with the sublime taps into.
Lovecraft’s fascination with the sublime was what led him to pen some of his greatest works. In The Shadow Out of Time, Lovecraft deals with the science fiction trope of time travel in a characteristically morbid fashion–Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee, an American living in the 1930s finds himself possessed by an alien known as a Yithian, causing him to occasionally break out into visions of the past, present and future. Through them, he experiences the lives of these otherworldly entities, his consciousness transplanted into the monstrous form of the Yithians possessing him. His travels take him from the earliest reaches of the known history, from the Palaeozoic Era to the speculated future, which Lovecraft chose to be 16,000 A.D. Yet, upon returning to his body, he finds that society has deemed him insane due to the seemingly mad actions of the Yithian. Throughout the vast scope of the work, Nathaniel grows increasingly uncertain about the state of his own sanity as he struggles with the revelations–a masterful treatment of paranoia that was, to a certain extent, fuelled by Lovecraft’s. Yet, it is worth noting that Lovecraft made specific emphasis on how his protagonist’s troubles were brought about by “a lean, dark, curiously foreign-looking man,” and that in 16,000 A.D., his protagonist had spoken with “a magician of the dark conquerors.” Seems harmless? Let us take a look at another piece of work he penned then – The Horror at Red Hook. Here, Lovecraft talks about how Aryan civilization was all that stood against the “primitive half-ape savagery” of the lesser races, as evidenced by the poor neighborhoods of New York. Or, looking further back, we find a doggerel poem penned by Lovecraft, titled “On the Creation of Niggers,” where he states that “to fill the gap, to join the rest to Man,” God had created a beast “in semi-human figure, filled it with vice, and called the thing a Nigger.”
This is unsurprising to anyone who already knows of Lovecraft’s beliefs. As an amateur journalist in 1915, Lovecraft had penned an article stating that “the crime of the century” was not that World War I had occurred, but that “the unnatural racial alignment of the various warring power” had led the Anglo-Saxon race to align themselves with “lesser breeds.” Later, he was to become an avid proponent of eugenics and racial Darwinism, masking his racism with an affectation of 18th-century colonial aristocratism. In another letter, he decried the invasion of American cities by ‘hook-nosed, swarthy, guttural-voiced’ Jews, “flabby, pungent, grinning, chattering niggers,” and “undesirable Latins, low-grade Southern Italians and Portuguese, and the clamorous plague of French-Canadians.” Even for the standards of early-19th century American society, the extent of his racism was beyond the norm–one that he was in the end unwilling to change with the changing times.
His treatment of women was no better. He denigrated Jewish people and culture in front of his wife, Sonia Greene, who was herself Jewish and repeatedly tried to remind him “about her own background, but it didn’t seem to dissuade him from his fear of Jews and other immigrants.” Instead, he told her that she “no longer belonged to these mongrels.” In his work, he regularly fetishized women as the monsters from his mythos, clothed in a deceptive form, or portrayed as crones stemming from New England superstitions of witches (drawing inspiration from the Salem witch trials). In The Thing on the Doorstep, a piece he wrote in 1933, he castigates a character named Asenath Waite, whose abnormal desire was that “she wanted to be a man,” and thus abducted, then stole the form of the male protagonist. Stephen King, who names Lovecraft amongst one of his chief inspirations, has admitted that The Dunwich Horror and At the Mountains of Madness are works “about sex and little else,” and that the iconic Cthulhu was “a gigantic, tentacle-equipped, killer vagina from beyond space and time.” Arguing that Lovecraft was a product of his time is no excuse–as we have seen, his tendencies towards passionate racism and sexism extended beyond cultural indoctrination, wrapped into a mission and ideal of ‘civilization.’ Underlying his exploration of otherworldly terror lies a fear that in the globalization and economic decline during the turn of the 19th century, the patriarchal “Anglo-Saxon” civilization was in danger of being destroyed.
As much as Lovecraft wrote about gruesome monsters and mind-bending architecture, the bulk of his work was an exploration of the clinical depression from which he suffered, the notion of ‘undeath’ that he focused on obsessively. Yet, that does not mean he possessed a more nuanced understanding of people. In a 1921 letter, he also wrote: “I could not write about ‘ordinary people’ because I am not in the least interested in them. Without interest there can be no art… the humanocentric pose is impossible to me, for I cannot acquire the primitive myopia which magnifies the earth and ignores the background.” Perhaps then, while Lovecraft was eager to gaze at the stars, his reluctance to adopt this ‘primitive myopia’ prevented him from actually magnifying the earth, and taking a good look at the people around him.
The reason why discussing Lovecraft is difficult is because the project he engaged in still has significance today. The knowledge of the sublime is something we all carry around with us, in our conversations with aging parents, in our irrational fears for our health, in our news outlets projecting images of death and destruction into our eyes. The more science reveals to us, the more we find ourselves subject to an uncaringly vast universe. It is still important that we express the sheer terror of existence, a collective lack of knowledge about what’s across that veil, in our cultural work today–and many do, in spheres ranging from the literary, to the popular.
As we see with Lovecraft, it is easy to merge this concept of the sublime with a passionate hate and distrust of the ‘other,’ to what are conceived as social abnormalities or breaches of morality. Lovecraft certainly engaged in this, with a mythological construction of the ‘other’ designed to assail readers with uneasy imagery and concepts. Yet, in our perception of morality today, we clearly identify his faults, his racism, and his fetishization of violence towards women. Faced with this question, those influenced by his legacy find it difficult to resolve this tension. World Fantasy Award-winning novelist Nnedi Okorafor’s wrote a blog post in 2011, in response to a controversy regarding the replacement of Lovecraft’s bust as the award, stating that she wanted to “face the history of this leg of literature rather than put it aside or bury it.” People of a wide range of ethnicities and gender not only enjoy Lovecraft’s work, but produce more within his mythos–much of which criticizes and deconstructs Lovecraft’s prejudice, while still drawing upon his vision to create an unique literary sub-genre.
The lesson then, if there is one to be learnt here, is that existential terror, conceived to be both awesome and terrible, but most importantly universal, can easily be turned into an aversion to anything outside of constructed social norms. It after all, taps into our deepest fears and the questions we have left unanswered. In our desperation for an answer, it becomes easy for us to direct this universal fear at a particular target. And recognizing this, cultural producers continue to use fear as a political and commercial tool.
Yet, does this have to be the case? What about the other half of the sublime–the awe which it is supposed to inspire? There is much that has evolved within the sub-genre of weird fiction. While I dislike much of Tim Burton’s work, especially recently, I still remember watching Corpse Bride when I was young–an experience of the ‘weird’ that did not create fear, but a comfortable joy. Weird fiction is today in the process of taking a turn towards a celebration of the abnormal and the unknown, rather than fetishizing and fearing it. Instead of relying on politicians and media telling us which societal/ethnic group it is ‘in fashion’ to celebrate, perhaps we should look more carefully at the culture which we consume, and change it. A proper appreciation of the sublime gives us a toolkit to critically thinking beyond empirical norms, and allows us to judge for ourselves what is beyond the veil–a real authenticity in our pursuit for morality.
P.S.: If you haven’t yet, check out Junji Ito’s work. It will leave a chill running down your spine.
I don’t know when it started—when I realized that I wasn’t acting exactly like the person I felt that I ideally wanted to be, or how I even realized that I wanted to be someone else. I don’t know how I write, or what it even is that I’m doing, but I do know that it brings me closer to being that person. There has been a me, as if I’m standing at the end of a long hallway, staring back at myself, a me that is more sure, and I’ve been trying to reach her.. The words do certainly come from the pit of something somewhere inside me, a breath escaping me. As if they’ve been resting within the nooks of my joints before I even started writing. Or maybe they’re a warm ball resting right under my ribs, because that’s what it is that I write… somehow, it’s warm. I like to find the warmth in everything. Maybe that’s what I want to be, warm. But that’s just what it is, warm means so many different things to me, but perhaps to someone else it’s just an adjective, and that’s poetry.
Michelangelo once said that the art exists within the marble, and that he merely uncovers it from within, or something like that. I imagine myself as a block of that marble, and with every poem there’s a chip at my frame, bringing me closer to the person I want to be. And like I said, I don’t know whom that person is entirely, you can add my bad eyesight to the metaphor of the woman standing at the other end of the hallway, because she is definitely fuzzy… but I do know that everything is more beautiful since I started writing; that I feel things more, I stop and reflect, and see the warmth, the wonder in almost everything. I try to understand people, realize how complex they are in their individual quirks and preferences and peeves, and in that process I realized that anything could be poetry, and then my world flipped around.
I once read a journal arguing that philosophers should replace therapists, so, perhaps we should prescribe write three poetic lines after each meal too. God knows it helped me in a million different ways. But maybe, probably, I’m totally wrong and my work is a project. Just a project bringing me closer to understanding myself. Who cares? It doesn’t matter what it is, it’s working. Perhaps, I’ll be that ideal form of myself eighty years from now, when I’m white-haired and seated in a small nook, smiling at whatever I wrote 60 years prior. Or maybe I’ll never be. But it doesn’t matter what it is, because for now, it’s working.
bag and bra and belt have been abandoned
on the floor, the scattered remnants of a frenzied night
the silky dress still clinging
to the edge of the bed, almost
she sleeps now
and her soft breaths make the room hold its own
while I wake and look upon her
eyes closed, mouth blow-a-kiss open
I may very well say this here and now
I love her
and I love
how she turns her back to me
still deep in slumber
while I rise from my own bed
and wash and dress and eat
and go outside to celebrate the tenderness
the dance of the imagined lovers is only
Writers, poets, romantics! Join us for our annual reading night in tandem with Brio, the Comparative Literature Journal, and decompress during midterm season.
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