ISSUE 35
CONTENTS

FEBRUARY 2018


Krista Cox
Aubrie Cox Warner
Jeannine Hall Gailey
Jesseca Cornelson
Shahé Mankerian
INTERVIEW: Avery M. Guess
Ann E. Wallace
Carrie Conners
Jasmin Ziegler
Marsha Segerberg
Kathi Wolfe


CONTRIBUTORS

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Krista Cox

ELEGY FOR THE INNER HALF OF MY L4/5 DISC


Sometimes I experience gratefulness as an odd
tingling sensation, hummingbirds nuzzling
my lymph nodes and elbows. Now, if I can get an hour
of face-down sleep on a small corduroy pillow
I wake up painting joy onto everyone in thick
and opaque strokes. This feels like something
to share in a letter to my mother, a reason to unlatch
the sunflower stationery set I got for my thirteenth
birthday and never used, but the hard truth is that
some mothers will not come to the burial
of some small part of you. My therapist
tells me new research shows the brain doesn’t distinguish
between physical pain and emotional, and while I’m standing
in my living room rocking and sobbing at 3 a.m. while my
spine bows a screech across the cello of my thickest nerve, I recall
that my ex-husband told me during our divorce to take
an aspirin for the heartache. Later he developed
MS and honestly, it disgusts me that he may understand
me better now than my present lover can
despite his efforts. What it means to tremble, how the softness
of that word is a violent lie. How you begin to feel
like you’re a skin suit for pain so it can move through the world,
surreptitious. How every sensation that does not
dismantle you, like that gentle buzzing in your
neck, is a love song to a body you barely remember.


Aubrie Cox Warner

SAFE MODE


Only after the rain
does my body collapse—
it sleeps under piles of clean laundry,
dreams scrambled
eggs and avocado,
drinks 4 oz of I'm Sad from Tired Hands,
with malty hints of bread crust
and tobacco foaming
over the glass lip.


Jeannine Hall Gailey

JULY, IN THE GARDEN, I FEEL LIKE DEATH

Last year at this time the doctors shook their heads.
I felt fine. They said I had six months, max. Nothing
they could do. Radiation, blah, chemo, blah.

This week I felt like dying but it was really only
multiple sclerosis, gastroparesis. The doctors beamed at me for my great act
of surprise and heroism – not dying. They patted my hand.

I have been spending time trying to make my little
plot of land better. Lavender planted last fall,
when I still thought I might not see spring.

Roses coaxed into blooming, rampant sweet peas.
I water and snip and watch them, benevolent
as the sun. I cannot seem to keep my own body

tidy as my garden, which is not that tidy, not compared
to my neighbors, retired ladies with roses climbing up fences
and whole armies of spectacular clematis, honeysuckle.

I wish I could tame this garden inside me, this wayward
biome that taxes even the most careful caretaker.
I will plant myself here in sandy soil, under sunny skies.


Jesseca Cornelson

ANOTHER POEM TO MY ADRENAL FATIGUE

You make my brain a mist of fog hoopskirting a mountain.
Pines and firs, a precipice in watercolors,
the idea of death too unfocused and soft to fear.
A long dream of green needles and falling snow,

these grounded clouds frozen now, my mind iced silent.
The fog swallows every idea save itself.
I am swimming in all this gray.

You make my body a soggy field inundated with rain,
each step a lurch and slurp, and my muscles mudden,
slide wetly into sleep. Sleep here, sleep here, sleep anywhere.

My arms, wind beaten limbs I cannot lift.
My skin, as if burned by storm and the bald light
before the storm, untouched but raw.

My eyes, dappled panes of wet glass—
shadows of colors move but never solidify.
Only my ears sharp to sudden cries of carrion birds.

My will is the will of the fallow field to sleep.
Some other day to turn over the earth,
feed dark fermenting dreams to the sun,
set some seed to grow.


Shahé Mankerian

14

Because she forgets, because she walks the hallways
like Diogenes, because she sips lentil soup left

behind on a dirty platter, because she lifts the broken
payphone by the nurses’ station and calls her husband,

because she talks to the aquarium mounted opposite
the employee of the month, because God hides

in the belly of the suckermouth fish, because she buries
her husband every night underneath the weeping willow,

because she misplaces her purse and accuses the night-
shift for being thieves, because she cannot locate her room,

she bares a #14 on her left hand written with a felt pen. 


Avery M. Guess talks about embodied poetry
and writing The Patient Admits

 

Please describe your journey toward writing poetry that reflects on the experience of living in the body. Have you always written this way, or did you come to it over time?

When I first came to writing, pretty much everything I wrote was in the abstract—I was unable to write with language that was directly related to experience— which makes sense given how disconnected I was from my body because of the various traumas I’d experienced. I wrote often until I was in college, but when I dropped out at 19, I stopped writing anything besides journal entries for the most part. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-thirties that I considered writing poetry again, after I’d moved to Kentucky to live with my birthmother. I think that I finally felt safe enough to write about the things my body had been through, but I still circled around what I really wanted to write for a couple of years before just throwing myself into it.

Once I started writing more from the body, I found my way into writing about issues of trauma and mental health. These are the poems that made it into The Patient Admits and that will be part of my first full-length collection from Black Lawrence Press, The Truth Is.  I’ve been doing some reading about the ways in which trauma gets processed over our lives into our bodies (specifically how it can make us chronically ill), and I know that I am not done writing about the body yet. I doubt I ever will be.

 

So many of the poems in The Patient Admits circle around the idea of silencing, either by a patriarchal figure, or the internalized self-silencing that can happen after experiencing chronic trauma. Please talk a little about silencing vs. finding a voice and how those concepts impacted your writing of these poems.

Every poem I write is a fight against being silenced. It’s my way of saying, no. My way of saying I’m taking back my voice. I still enact silence in my life—especially surrounding trauma, and I imagine that might always be the case, but writing allows me to break through the barriers society throws up because people don’t want to hear about abuse or someone’s experience of mental illness. This is slowly changing, especially with the breaking of silence that is occurring with the #metoo movement, but there is a long way for us to go before people can speak their truths without fear of retaliation and disbelief. I hope that the writing that I am doing is, in some small way, helping to keep the gates open so that others may speak and be believed.

Regarding my poems, I think that I managed to build trust with myself first and then with a few trusted readers (a small, supportive local writing group) and then finally with larger groups (my MFA cohort, a literary magazine, the people who will read my chapbook). I shared incrementally. In stages. Over years. I wasn’t someone who dove into the deep end of the pool from the highest diving board. I took it slowly and built my poetic craft at the same time I was expanding my willingness to expose that which I’d kept silenced or only talked about in therapy.

 
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Purchase The Patient Admits
from Dancing Girl Press
.

 

I am drawn to the poem “The Patient’s Complaint!” I identify with this concept of “performing as a patient” from my time(s) in the hospital. As much as it helped me, I also I feel the system is quite paternalistic. Under the guise of “protection,” the executors of the system guide the patient to behave compliantly, no matter how they truly think or feel. To what extent do you feel that you have had to “perform” your illness? Or, how has the mental-health-industrial-complex impacted your writing of poetry about mental illness?

Even with my most recent hospitalization, I noticed that I tend to want to perform the role of the good patient, which is silly, really, because what does that mean? But it’s all based in fear of losing agency. If I don’t do the things I’m asked to do, if I don’t behave, then what if they won’t let me out? What then? I’ve never been hospitalized against my will, and that remains one of my biggest fears. In this poem, I write about finding my roommate in hospital attempting suicide in our room. After she was rescued, she was put on the locked ward, with the highest amount of restrictions. That terrified me. So, I made sure that I “behaved,” even when behaving took everything I had.

In my writing about mental illness, I don’t feel as though I must behave or perform for anyone. I am free to write about my mental health and my experiences with therapy or hospitalization or medication or (as I’ve recently been attempting) ECT (electroconvulsive therapy). Writing about it helps me to understand what I’ve been through in a way that talking about it with friends or family doesn’t. I process experience in writing.

 

THE PATIENT’S COMPLAINT

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Please share with our readers a list of 5-10 books you think we should read right now.

To make it a bit easier on myself, I’m only recommending books I’ve read since 2018 began. The following books all feature work that is embodied in some way. (Sorry, I went above the 10!)

 

Poetry:

blud by Rachel McKibbens
Set to Music a Wildfire by Ruth Awad
Death By Sex Machine by Franny Choi
My Body is a Poem I Can’t Stop Writing by Kelly Lorraine Andrews
You Ask Me to Talk about the Interior by Carolina Eibed
Natural History Rape Museum by Danielle Pafunda
Afterland by Mai Der Vang
Four Reincarnations by Max Ritvo

Nonfiction/Memoir:

Some Bright Morning, I’ll Fly Away by Alice Anderson
Circadian by Chelsey Clammer
Tender Points by Amy Berkowitz
What is Obscenity?: The Story of a Good For Nothing Artist and her Pussy by Rokudenashiko
The Telling by Zoe Zolbrod

Fiction:

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon


Some Rogue Agent fans are just beginning to explore what making art about the body would look like for them. What advice would you give to someone just starting down the path toward writing poetry that features the body?

Be gentle with yourself, but also be willing to dig deep. Don’t just go for what’s easy, what comes up first. Try to stay in your body when you are writing, as hard as that might be. And if you can’t, remember to be gentle with yourself. The work will be there when you come back. It’s a cycle that focuses on healing ourselves. We’ve been hurt enough.

 
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Avery Moselle Guess received a 2015 NEA Fellowship for Poetry. She’s a PhD student at USD and assistant editor for poetry at South Dakota Review. Recent publications include poems in Thrush, Rogue Agent, Glass, Rust + Moth, and Deaf Poets Society and creative non-fiction in Entropy and The Manifest-Station. Her chapbook, The Patient Admits, was released in September 2017 from dancing girl press, and her first full-length collection of poetry, The Truth Is, will be published in April 2019 by Black Lawrence Press.


Ann E. Wallace

VESTIBULAR TEST 2

The goggles are terrible.
Oh lord, the goggles look
like they were concocted
in the basement of a mad scuba diving neurologist.

A clever idea, but cruelly conceived.
One lens blacked out with a camera
peering through the dark
at my unsuspecting eye.

The other lens clear
but with a blackout shade.
Once dropped
I am plunged into blindness.

The doctor struggles
to position the rubber strap around my head.
I want to tell her that scuba shops sell covered straps
to make this easier.

I am silent as she leans me back,
my head dangling off the table
resting in her warm hands.
Eyes wide open, she instructs as I begin to fade.

She can see
on her computer screen
my blind eye closing
behind its darkened lens.

Back up, the room sways.
What does vertigo look like
inscribed within my eye?
Can she see that?

Can she see the terror
when, back down again,
she tucks my hair behind my left ear
and inserts the nozzle?

The cool air surges
filling my head,
the pressure
finding no outlet.

My back arches.
My hands clench.
I realize, with surprise,
that no one is holding me down.

Yet I do not pull away.
Perfectly tensed,
I think of moving my hands
but cannot remember how.

I cannot even remember
how to breathe.
She asks me to
say a girl's name that begins with A.

I do not think I can speak.
Abby.
That was easy.
Does she know that is my daughter's name?

The air is loud,
forcing itself into my ear.
The doctor is relentless;
She wants a boy's name that begins with B.

Bob.
And C? For a girl.
Kristin,
I mean Christine.

We go on,
naming names,
as she holds the nozzle in place
watching terror flood my eye.

The table drifts under me.
Unsteady now.
Up, down, sliding,
Sinking away.

David.
Ella.
These are family names,
I am surprised how easily they come.

The air continues.
Eyes open.
The camera watches as I float,
I want to grab the table.

To hold on
But I can't.
At sea
I want to close my eyes.

But the camera
allows no rest.
And the air.
And the names.

Larry.
Mona.
Mona?
What about Molly, my first daughter?

From A to M,
with the force of the air
inside my head,
I have drifted so far

I am naming names
I do not know,
falling into blackness
as the camera records.


Carrie Conners

DRUG: GEOPHAGIA II

At 2 am she drives to the drug store again, arguing
  with herself. The doctor instructed her to chew gum
            when the cravings come on, eat a couple of Tums

            if it really gets bad. It’s never enough. She just ends up
   with a ribboned foil antacid wrapper and a late night debate
in Walgreens over what to purchase with chalk to make it

seem urgent enough to warrant a nighttime drive. Construction
   paper for an imaginary child’s last minute school project. Chloroseptic
            and Sucrets for laryngitis, the chalk for writing out messages on a lapboard.

           Sometimes, if the parking lot is empty, she’ll slip out the box top
   flap and choose a thin stick. She’ll roll it over her lips to heighten
the anticipation. On good nights a few licks and nibbles will do.

Nights like tonight when her muscles twitch, she bites off half
   a stick at a time and chews, grinds it into a thick paste that coats
            the walls of her cheeks. Sated until her saliva washes it away.


Jasmin Ziegler

CURSIVE

womb, a kiln

akin to their

molten

moments

the final product

shaped by the composition and preparation

of the bodies: a man and woman undressed

part of

the firing process includes

to sinter:

heating until the mass flows

together           they were born

cognate            they were born

cinder:

burning without flame

~

their twin words

flourished

signed

blood and bone

writing their flesh in cursive

conjoined

each wrist, ankle, knee, elbow

letters of their own alphabet

~

children           emblazoned

                         adorned

heraldic:

             the insignia of shared skin

such armorial               rouses

pomp and ceremony

a battle to begin with a rage of words

like freaks                     like monsters

~

in their muteness         the crowd saw an act

of mutiny

an urge to shunt           carve and cash them

                                        into curiosities           

words dismembered the twins

more than any knife

each forced phrase

an ax to their private arc

fear wound open their mouths

and words fled

like broken teeth         they spit at each other


Marsha Segerberg

ODE TO MY FRECKLED ARMS


every spot I won
since childhood sun
now they merge by age
into a crowd
no  straight path
through the mob
scars from jumping dogs’
ragged claws, white spots —
pre-cancers scraped off
with liquid nitrogen and a blade
self-repair of barbed wire tears —
that day we went
bushwacking
mesquite stabs
as I teetered by
on my bike
bumps and pits
from who knows what
I wear long sleeves
when at the opera
but now
it is my history
ground into flesh
that I will recall perhaps
when I remember
nothing else —
the self-made book.


Kathi Wolfe

TO MY EYES
Jeepers Creepers...where’d ya get those peepers? Jonny Mercer

Queens of myopia,
you rule with mirages –
half-faces, black ice,
strobe lights.
Insouciant divas,
muscles sashaying,
retinas moonwalking,
you don’t care
if I trip the light
fantastic
or grab the spotlight.
You only want
to shut down the bar,
devour the night.


Issue 35 Contributors

 

Carrie Conners, originally from West Virginia, lives in Queens and teaches creative writing, literature, and composition at LaGuardia CC-CUNY. Her poetry appeared or is forthcoming in QuiddityCider Press ReviewLittle Patuxent ReviewRight Hand PointingRHINO, and The Monarch Review, among other publications. She is also a poetry reader for Epiphany.

Jesseca Cornelson is an Associate Professor of English at Alabama State University where she teaches composition, literature, and creative writing. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in journals such as Botticelli MagazineMid-American ReviewParodyPlatte Valley Review, and Salamander. She is an alumna of the Sewanee Writer’s Conference, has twice been a writer-in-residence at the Catskill Center’s Platte Clove Preserve, and is a recipient of a Fellowship in Literary Arts from the Alabama State Council on the Arts.

For money, Krista Cox is a paralegal. For joy, she’s an associate poetry editor at Stirring: A Literary Collection and Pittsburgh Poetry Review, and Program Director of Lit Literary Collective, a nonprofit serving her local literary community. Her poetry has appeared in Columbia JournalRappahannock ReviewThe Humanist, and elsewhere.

Aubrie Cox Warner went to university to write a novel and came out writing haiku. She is the co-founder and executive producer of the literary podcast Citizen Lit and a MFA student at Temple University. She is the author of two chapbooks, tea’s aftertaste (Bronze Man Books) and Out of Translation (Kattywompus Press), and her work has appeared in publications such as Whiskeypaper, District Lit, and NANO Fiction. She tweets @mfawchronicill.

Jeannine Hall Gailey  served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. She is the author of five books of poetry: Becoming the VillainessShe Returns to the Floating World,Unexplained FeversThe Robot Scientist’s Daughter and Field Guide to the End of the World,winner of the Moon City Press Book Prize and the Elgin Award. Her web site iswww.webbish6.com and you can follow her on Twitter @webbish6. 

Avery Moselle Guess received a 2015 NEA Fellowship for Poetry. She’s a PhD student at USD and assistant editor for poetry at South Dakota Review. Recent publications include poems in Thrush, Rogue AgentGlass, Rust + Moth, and Deaf Poets Society and creative non-fiction in Entropy and The Manifest-Station. Her chapbook, The Patient Admits, was released in September 2017 from dancing girl press, and her first full-length collection of poetry, The Truth Is, will be published in April 2019 by Black Lawrence Press.

Shahé Mankerian is the principal of St. Gregory Hovsepian School in Pasadena and the co-director of the L.A. Writing Project. He is the recipient of the Los Angeles Music Center’s BRAVO Award. In 2016, Altadena Poetry Review nominated him for the Pushcart Prize. Recently, Shahé received the 2017 Editors’ Prize from MARY: A Journal of New Writing.

Marsha Segerberg recently retired, has spent most of her professional life as a scientist and educator. She now embarks on a new personal project that she’s calling “poetry conversion therapy.”  She’s in a couple of writing groups, one dedicated entirely to poetry, that meets once a week and is finding that writing poetry is changing her life.  She lives in Phoenix where there’s plenty of poetry in people and in the spectacular geography of Arizona.

Ann E. Wallace, PhD, is an Associate Professor of English at New Jersey City University. She has published on traumatic memory, loss, and illness, as well as on her teaching practices within the composition classroom. Her work has recently appeared in Transformations: The Journal of Inclusive Scholarship and Pedagogy, Intima: A Journal of Narrative MedicineWordGatheringMothers Always Write, and Coldnoon.

Kathi Wolfe's work has appeared in Poetry Magazine and other publications.  Her collection, The Uppity Blind Girl Poems, winner of the 2014 Stonewall Prize, was published by BrickHouse Books in 2015.  She is a contributor to the anthologies QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology and Beauty Is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability.  She was a 2008 Lambda Literary Foundation Emerging Writer Fellow.

Jasmin Ziegler graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. She currently teaches Creative Writing and Literature at Anoka Ramsey Community College in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. Her work appears in Whiskey Island and PoetryCity, USA. She recently was selected as one of the 2017-2018 fellows of the Loft Mentor Series in Poetry. She lives in South Minneapolis with her partner and their son.