NO BODY, NO TOWN
Whiskey, my father said, can live
in an oak barrel for seventy years. As for me,
I shed skin, and every year I am a new
girl. I need no time to marinate.
It is said that I ruined my body with butter,
Midwestern comfort, and boys
who say, “Missour-ah” loud and benevolently
as they knock back a beer with a twang.
They gather me and drink; their hangovers kill.
The cashiers stare when I need soap
and a crate of apples; they forget
to give me change. They fumble,
mistaking a five for a twenty.
Green eyes, my mother said, are a sign
of an incurable meanness. She always knew
this is no country for women.
When making a fruit salad, does he leave you
the mango pit to suck on?
Do the sweet strings get stuck in your teeth
until you swear off palpable love forever
as though it were a bad habit, a perpetual
Do you love a man’s body or do you prefer
the softness of a woman’s, an apricot
that is dull enough to adore, but quickly
tart and sharp in the back of your mouth?
When I say the word “resentment”
who do you think of first?
When I ask you how many times you had
to cut your own hair with a butcher knife
don’t tell me this was done in your sleep.
He hands me the mango pit, but only
as a replacement for his finger tips, which
are unavailable, forlorn and usually out
of reach physically and spiritually.
The only sweet strings are the ones I pull,
a craft learned in college and in bed.
I love how hard a man’s body can be;
it can cut through tomato skins and muffle
screams like chloroform can. A woman’s
body is lethal in different ways,
like how children can pluck legs off unsuspecting
spiders and leave them dying on the playground.
When you say the word “resentment”
I think of my mother, for she only taught
me to love men who didn’t need women.
And I would never deny sheering off
the one thing that made me beautiful;
but the thing about hair, is that the second
time it grows back, it devours.
To kick off our new interview series, “Between the Lines,” we talk to contributing editor Craig Morgan Teicher about the vagaries of the artistic process and the thematic obsessions that ultimately guide its course.
FWR: You’re currently working with prose poems, which also take on a more conversational structure than some of your previous work. In your poem, “Layoff,” from your book To Keep Love Blurry, you write, “It’s not what you say, but / how you say it and why, whom you address / that makes a poem go.” Can you talk a little about the how and why of these new poems?
CMT: Well, I’m not currently working in prose—I’m actually really going on a new heap of poems that I hope will settle into a manuscript soon, and I’m not sure yet whether this group of prose pieces will fall in with them. These prose pieces came about because Rusty Morrisson at Omnidawn was kind enough to ask me for a chapbook, and after writing and turning in and editing and seeing the publication of To Keep Love Blurry, I felt pretty dried out. Good writing just wasn’t coming, though I wanted to be writing very much—there’s no better feeling than words coming out. So I set myself a project—to take “big topics” as my titles and then kinda think my way down a page on the topic. I let myself write in prose because many of the poems in To Keep Love Blurry are in strict forms and rhyme schemes, and I wanted to break my mind out of those habits, or to take some pressure off. As I wrote a few pieces like this, a voice began to emerge and the pieces began talking to each other. Whether or not it seems like it, these pieces were heavily worked over and drafted over months, which is to say, I guess, that they were a lot hairier when they started.
FWR: Your chapbook, Ambivalence and Other Conundrums, will be published this fall by Omnidawn. The poems featured here touch briefly on specifics, such as a mother’s death, a father’s alcoholism, the speaker’s wife. In the chapbook, do these pieces combine to create a longer narrative?
CMT: Dang, and I thought I was being veiled and unautobiographical in these pieces. Alas. Those three characters—the mother, the father, the wife—which, er, may or may not have an autobiographical basis, keep coming up. Obviously, aside from their relationship to my lived life, they’re important symbols to me, as I end up writing about the way between being a child and being a parent, how one gets there, what the markers and stepping stones are. The chapbook doesn’t have a narrative, but it’s got plenty of evidence of my same old obsessions, as do the new poems I’m working on.
FWR: Do you feel you tend to address your obsessions directly in much of your writing, or do you find they usually manage to seep in on their own? How have they evolved—whether the obsessions themselves or your approach to them—between books?
CMT: I think there are two kinds of writers: those who repeat themselves a lot and those who repeat themselves a little less. I’m the former rather than the latter, I believe, though I hope I’m finding new ways to say the same things. I don’t mind it when writers obsess over their obsessions for an entire career, as long as they get somewhere with it, which I hope I am/will. I think we’re pretty helpless against our obsessions—mine include fear, guilt, my mother, poetry, fatherhood, son-hood, and thinking on camera, as it were—but I try to find new angles of approach.
FWR: I love this idea of taking these “big topics,” as you mentioned earlier, and writing into them, both intellectually and personally. What was the first “big topic” you chose and how did you begin? Did you discover something new or surprising about your relationship to any of these topics while writing these poems?
CMT: Jeez, I can’t even remember now. It was probably fear…I think the subtitle of all of these pieces is “fear,” if not the actual title. Writing is just an endeavor to keep the inner mouth moving, to fend off silence, which is the element in which fear spins its weird webs, which, in fact, are probably as harmless as real spider webs are (to people), but that doesn’t stop most of us from freaking out whenever we walk into one and feel its invisible chords sticking to our skin. I suppose I was reminded of how susceptible to fear I am while writing these pieces, and how interested I am in it, what a muse fear is.