It is halfway through June, and most people I know are ready to cash 2016 in. It has been filled with death and disappointment for so many. My mom called me crying this morning because an alligator ate a two-year-old outside Disney World, for chrissakes. And, of course, so many of us are moving past pure sadness over the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Florida into anger over how America will wail and accuse and then not change.
While writing a poem yesterday for the Tupelo 30/30 project through the lens of all of this, I became, just for an instant, entirely without hope for humanity. I don’t mean this to exaggerate my usual mental state as being hopeful, lord no, but my hopelessness is usually about my own life–I tend to think, and maybe need to believe, that things will work out better for others. But for a minute, the weight of our fear and selfishness and myopia and zealotry felt like it was big enough to snuff out any goodness, any chance of being better.
I shook this off. Not in the way that some people hear something awful and effectively stick their fingers in their ears and lalala through your misery–rather, I accept that very little I do will stem the shittiness, and in fact, may actively contribute to it. So this is my only choice: accept that the world is a hollowed gourd filled with troll afterbirth and so stop trying, or keep trying anyway. For me, the choice is not about how to see the world but how to see myself and role I play.
Answer: write some motherfucking poems.
It feels crass to ask people to donate to poetry right now, so that’s not the angle this is taking. If you want to, cool–see the end of this. But I’d rather write a bit on where some of the poems I’ve written for the 30/30 project (and we’re at 15/30 now) have come from as a way to open the process to some of my non-poet friends.
Until the end of June, you can see my poems here at the Tupelo 30/30 project. In July, you can read them elsewhere on the site (look around, OK?). After that, you’ll have to wait until the compilation book 30 Ways of Looking at a Quesadilla comes out.
1: “Land of Enchantment”–this is not a great poem, and no self-respecting New Mexican would ever title something with that in earnest, but I had run out of time. The only line I like is the first: “The roadrunner didn’t so now he’s dead.” This poem is also an attempt to write about place in terms of nature and that crap, which I’m balls at. I don’t know the names of anything. I just want to sit in air conditioning. I’ve been reading Gregory Pardlo and thinking about his diction and the first few poems of the project reflect my watered-down version of that.
2. “Some of My Friends Are Trying Open Marriages”–I love a good title, but sometimes the title can oppress rather than open the poem. After struggling where to turn after the first line, I listened to Richard Hugo and got out of the triggering town and straight into the arms of Chekhov, my dead Russian boyfriend. Seeing a Tin House tweet with a Whitman quote allowed me to bring it back to the notion of relationships and gratifying ourselves as soul work. Which is to say that fucking around on Twitter leads to good poems. I give this one 3.8 out of 5 beards.
3. “Photograph of a Poet Posing As If He Doesn’t Know a Photograph is Being Taken of Him”–I worried about two long titles back to back but then realized this project is ephemeral and I can’t see any of you reading this anyway. This came really from pulling books off the shelf to read poems to get something going in my brain. This guy’s photo inspired me way more than his poems no I’m not saying who it is. I also had clearly been drinking some Larry Levis before writing this.
4. “Small Towns of New Mexico”–a prose poem (which I still just don’t do very well I think). I mostly just wanted to talk about Allsup’s chimichangas (as I’ve done here in the past).
5. “Jobs I’ve Had”–I love litany poems and have to be careful not to only do them. One of the first I did was two summers ago while at the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, and it was workshopped by the late C.D. Wright. Oh, man. I knew her so little and treasure it so much. In this one, I wanted to depart from my usual cataloguing of nonsense and say everything straight and true, not leaning into lovely language or metaphor and see if I could still make some meaning. This one seemed to resonate with some people, which I think made me feel brave enough to keep pushing and changing up form/tone/content for the project. Also, every litany poem I write is now basically in memory of C.D. Wright.
6. “Summer Weekend, Taos”–I was at my friends’ house in Taos. There was some stuff there. I kept trying to make it mean something poetically and instead wrote about how I was trying to do that.
7. “No Fences”–Jesus. I was just describing the guy’s sad house and then his tree fell in the street. I can’t even look at this poem without feeling awful because of my sorcery.
8. “Come On Pilgrim”–The first line: “There’s always a mattress on the sidewalk / somewhere” is perhaps the one true thing I know. This one’s not finished–it’s got a weird gap between the penitentes and the cat-walking guy, but I do want to revisit it. Title absolutely taken from the Pixies.
9. “Not Anymore”–I was visiting my dad and his wife in the middle of Vacant Lot, Texas for five days and many of the next ones come from that experience. We were driving from Austin and they regaled me with tales of how much things had changed, so while this is in part about that phenomenon it is more about the witnessing of the witnessing of the change. I also, as stated earlier, don’t know the names of anything, so I just made a bunch of shit up which was way more fun. Also, Trish O’Connor donated money and gave me some crazy people words, so voila! The Sancho Panza look-a-like contest!
10. “Bucket List”–“At 78, my father says the only item on his / is to live long enough / to piss on Dick Cheney’s grave.” This is really just how this person talks. He’s putting a Planned Parenthood bumper sticker next to his Marine Corp one just to drive Texans insane.
11. “In a Dry County”–I never begin a poem with an idea of the themes I want to explore or the emotional resonance I want it to have. That, for me, is a sure way of bogging down the poems before it can begin, chaining it to my intentions. I usually begin with language and go from there, and this is a good example of that. I had no thoughts about this being about my father’s aging and the anticipation of loss, but I’m finding that the practice of writing daily is focusing my receptors a bit more, allowing things to take shape in surprising and sometimes satisfying ways. Also, it was so hard to just get a Shiner there.
12. “Beige Hooves”–My girl Amy and I went out in Austin and she came up with the title and then told me I had to put an octopus in it. ARE YOU HAPPY NOW, AMY? LOOK AT THIS SHIT!
13. “The End of May”–Written after Robert Hass’ “The Beginning of September” from Praise. I had some parts from before the project but finished it for this day and through the lens of the deaths in Orlando. For me, being a parent means shutting off the part of my brain that lists the ways I could lose him. I won’t have the space to love him if I do that. Also, I am comparing my Albuquerque to Hass’ Bay Area and, well we have more dirt I guess.
14. “Against Future Disasters”–Still dealing with some of the above, of sending your love into this awful, lovely bruise of a world.
15. “Merciless”–I woke up and starting writing in my head in bed. I like the first line “We’ve left our turn signals on” and all that implies, but I don’t care for the arrival. But my son was like Play Angry Birds with me! And he didn’t mean the video game; he meant acting out the video game in real life so I was a giant bird trying to knock over a tower of couch cushions and had to send this thing in.
16. “It’s Toasted”–Rebecca Aronson donated and made me write a poem with the word “taco” in it, but somehow this also became about colonization and the violence of the American hetero-masculine identity, so that’s weird. That’s a joke, of course, because I would never sit down to write a poem about that, but since I think about these issues basically every minute of the day, they will find their way in, even into a taco poem.
If you’re interested in donating (please?), click the Donate button on the Tupelo 30/30 page and enter my name where prompted. If you do so and would like to dictate the words or title of a poem I write this month, please message me and let me know. Thanks so much.