THE IMPORTANCE OF BROODING

The two poems below, Thinking of the Prajna-Paramita and Aubade, emerged near the end of the fellowship. It was only after sitting and “brooding”(Meena’s workshop word which I have come to love) for the past month over diaries and scraps of paper written on at 5AM (in several attempts to watch the sunrise, only one of which was a success) were these able to emerge.

These days, I feel the urge to brood over everything. This morning it was a quote by Stanley Kunitz which I stumbled upon in one of my old notebooks. “Poetry is the conversion of life into legend”. Then, on the way to Starbuck’s with my iPod on shuffle, lyrics from The Roots. “In the beginning there was me. I was rhythm, life, two turntables one mic.” I can’t resist the urge to brood on them. After this month, I’m convinced that brooding leads to good writing; sometimes, and idea or line hatches perfectly only because it spent so much time being brooded upon. Incubated, if you will.

*

If you do come to Provincetown for a fellowship or workshop, please don’t miss the sunrise, or the Fine Art’s Work Center’s nightly readings, or the Poet’s Corner at the public library, or the dune shacks where Eugene O’Neill supposedly wrote Anna Christie. Oh, and whatever you do don’t miss the amazing South African bobotie wrap at Karoo Café, Bliss’s pomegranate fro-yo, or Stanley Kunitz’s perennial garden.

And above all, spend as much time as you can on the Mailer Porch. It is by far, the best place to brood.

*

(After writing this, I watched BBC’s Blue Planet. I am now fascinated by polar bears. Five months without a meal. Usually only 1 in 20 hunts is successful. As I packed, I started thinking of the parallels between hunting for seals and getting published. In the end, the half-starved momma bear caught and devoured an entire beluga whale. That should keep us writers motivated.)

Thinking of the Prajna-Paramita

Near the rose-hips, we undream our faces,
our hypothalami like sprung birds:
lips ready, our bones growing long teeth.
When he puts a palm between my scapulae,
each wing opens & a cell inside me screams
you will remember this.
But who can be sure of such a thing.
Nagarjuna would say, there are no teeth,
no bones, no lips pressed there are no lips
but there are lips. I know all this,
but I also know that we are born again & again
to lie down & count each other’s ribs,
to search for the pulse’s kick,
& the soul standing at attention.

Aubade

All night on the sea cliffs,
& on the low rocks we crawl drunk among barnacles,
Bringing our heads down to their operculums
So our ears fill with their hissing.
We inhabit the sound which is warm, portal-like—
An umbilical to some other world.
Minutes go by.
Then migrating back to our bodies.

*

You ask me if I know the albatross dance:
The head shimmy beak -kissing of courtship,
& then running out to the nearest shoal
Perform it, the sky yawning turquoise around you.

*

Walking back to our rocks—
The way you never stop whistling.
But I imagine you perfectly silent,
When your voice was still magma & salt—
Streaming through the belly of the earth.

Vanessa is a Mailer Poetry Fellow. She used the time to work on her first collection of poems on the subject of grief and transformation; her writing incorporates science and mythology. Vanessa currently teaches English in South Korea, where she also co-facilitates Seoul Writer’s Poetry Workshop. She holds a BA in Religion and Asian Studies from Mount Holyoke College (MHC), and a Five College Buddhist Studies certificate from MHC, Smith, Amherst, Hampshire, and UMass. You can reach her by email at mettaness@gmail.com.

ASSIGNMENT 1

It’s stunning here. Ptown is a gift and a distraction. Meena, the staff, the fellows – a gift! This poem is from our first assignment that went something like this: find an object to sketch, touch/feel/sketch it, write an associative response to the sketch, then write a poem based on the response that also incorporates childhood.

 

I Can’t Tell You Childhood.

Etch a field that needs me.
Touch the center,

the partial, the parental.
The predictable loneliness

of a child is the migration
of a flounder’s clockwise eye,

an adaptation, the way a herd
pummels landscape,

the dust cloud, its drift.

 

Flounders, like other fish, hatch with one eye on each side of their head. Movement of the right eye to the left side occurs during the metamorphosis from larvae to juvenile. Amanda Lichtenberg is not a fish. She lives in Jackson Heights, NY.

UNFURL: a zuihitsu

From home: is it fabulous?  Amazing?

I realize I am evasive, resistant in my answer.  Oh, ebbing and flowing, like the sea.

Arriving in the city of summer, a suitcase of books in tow, expectant of sea, expectant of myself filled up with boxed-up wintertime project.

I’ve been all month to Meena’s weekly assignments.
Tiny diaries and sketches of our wanderings.
Letter to yourself.
Aubade, poem written at dawn, after parting with lover.

In the night, 3:15am experiment.  The first night, notebook pried open, cell phone alarm clock by the bed, expectant.  Don’t bother turning on the light, scratching heavy lines from dreams.  In the morning, the page empty, still waiting.  T tags me in a Facebook note: I did it! I liked thinking of you doing, it too

But I am not doing it.  Where is the raw story in my throat stubborn.

The truth is: to live across from ocean, the furious waters, what is left behind by receding tide.  Walking to Norman Mailer’s house through warm and seaweed waters.  Wading in the tidewater flat.  Watching for whales.  On a bike, remembering how it feels to fly after ten years.  All beautiful distractions.

Sitting with myself, the practice of it, and nowhere to hide.  Even after sitting through the sunrise, what are you putting down of yourself.  The truth is: guilty, guilty and more so, when the day departs.

Watch a Youtube video of Norman Mailer nasty with Gore Vidal.  Research.  And then a book about a woman murdered years ago in Truro.  A journalist names this Cape Cod confessional.  Talk to an artist about a recent newspaper article about Asians overfishing squid and why do Asians need to be named.  Research.  Will I write about the Asians and the squids.

In the midst of settling into the self, Sikh temple shooting, Wisconsin weeps, and I wish I wish I could be with, amidst, amongst community.  Sending a note out and away.

The truth is: distraction rises to the surface, away from my regular life.  What stops me from writing there, except by coercion and community, is what keeps me from writing here.

Contending with my own creatures.  When I have the space to unfurl, what arrives old friends.  The same writing question: how am I going to love my mutant/monster self.  And the daily process, practice of answer.

Ching-In Chen is the author of The Heart’s Traffic (Arktoi Books/Red Hen Press) and a co-editor of The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities (South End Press). They are a Kundiman and Lambda Fellow and a member of the Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation and Macondo writing communities. A community organizer, they have worked in the Asian American communities of San Francisco, Oakland, Riverside and Boston. In Milwaukee, they are Cream City Review’s editor-in-chief and involved in their union and the radical marching band, Milwaukee Molotov Marchers.  Ching-In is also a Mailer Poetry Fellow, using the month of residency to work on Dialektik Skool, a book re-writing the global history of coolies.

www.chinginchen.com

RED BOAT

A little red boat
            In Cape Cod Bay
A lightness at its core
            As the wind blows.
Where does it go
            When night comes?
No one knows.

c Meena Alexander, all rights reserved

Meena Alexander is the author of numerous collections of poetry, literary memoirs, essays, works of fiction and literary criticism. Among her best known works are the volumes of poetry Illiterate Heart and Raw Silk. Visit her website.

Meena is also the mentor for the Mailer Poetry Fellows. This is her first year mentoring the Mailer Fellowship.

WE SHALL NOT ALL DAYDREAM WAVES, BUT WE SHALL ALL BE CHANGED

I have set myself up at Norman Mailer’s bar to write this. There were pigeons that allegedly gathered around Mailer’s house, and he is alleged to have claimed they were the reincarnated souls of WWII fighter pilots, as they flew in formation. Such a take on metempsychosis could only be formulated at a bar, so that’s where I sit. (Since the bar is currently without spirituous drinks these days, I don’t imagine I’ll be doing any such theorizing.) It is high tide, so the water comes almost to the edge of the deck on the other side of the window, and much bobs in it: pelagic birds, humans, buoys, boats tethered to buoys. I try not to drift into the vista, but this proves difficult, the middle distance being so serenely enrapturing here: it protracts into abstracted gazes my casual glances. But this is to the good: after staring at the wall of the next building over in San Francisco for many months, the bay is an ongoing epiphany. I spend the hours staring out across it from various vantage points: the local library, which has an entire schooner on its second floor, assembled there by a man who absolutely fulfills the stereotype of “sea captain”; the decks of cafés and restaurants; the beaches; this bar. Contra Joyce, it is a grayblue, thoughtloosening sea I find each time I look up from my handwriting, a typeset page, this screen.

Michael Rutherglen is originally from Charlottesville, VA. He is the recipient of a 2012-2013 Amy Clampitt fellowhsip and 2008 Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. His work (sample here and here) has been published in Poetry, The Antioch Review, and 9th Letter. Visit The Winter Anthology, a nascent collection of 21st century international literature of which Michael is a founding editor.

Michael is also a Mailer Poetry Fellow. He is using the month of residency to work slowly and steadily on his current manuscript.

tide is up

PRESENTIMENT OF A PLOT

Hours before a storm arrives in Provincetown, there are signs of it approaching.  The air softens and gains heft.  A chill nips on the underside of the wind.  The sky, a catalog of gradually-graying blues, settles in at the shade appropriate to whichever atmospheric disturbance Mother Nature has planned—“Constant Drizzle,” “60% Chance and Not a Drop,” “Hail Do You Do.”

Sometimes, clouds blindfold a docile blue sky from behind with dirty wool.  Not as an entrée for a round of Pin the Tale on the Donkey, but violently.

On rain days, the bedroom window of the neighboring rental never opens.  Blinds buttoned to the lip of a sill not eight feet from my own prevent glimpses of the naked to-ings and fro-ings I catch on occasion, buffer strains of music and conversation.

“Hello?  Hello?  Hey! Hey, Tom! Yes! Yes, we just got here . . .”

—an aria, maybe Donizetti—no, no definitely Il trovatore, Azucena’s promise of revenge—

“. . . well, she is GOING to hear about it, because I am PISSED.” 

Absent, even the blue jay—no aubade of screams and hawk mimicry from his post on the chain link fence dividing the canal of pebbles and patchy beach grass between our properties.

No, on rain days, blankness multiplies—Cape Cod Colonials, a study in whites and grays, perhaps a faded red windbreaker scurrying out of sight.  As innocuous as a Hopper painting.

Is that why I accepted the ride?

My bike tire had blown a tube, and besides, it was raining. 

Is that a better excuse?  Or is this what prompts people to tsk while watching the evening news?  “Woman found dead on Cape Cod, last seen loading bicycle into the back of a black pick-up truck on Route Six.”

Except no one would have seen my bicycle being loaded into the back of the black truck, because I’m not the one who made it that far.  I only made half of a mistake.

*          *          *

I’m obsessed with Law & Order.  With the BBC’s Prime Suspect and Wallander.  Dexter and CSI: All Four Hundred Versions.  Yet, I wouldn’t say I actually like crime or violence, despite the categories dominating my Netflix account—Visually Striking Crime Dramas, Thrillers, Dark Suspenseful Psychological Dramas, Violent Movies.  I cover my eyes during fight scenes and suffer from nightmares after watching certain movies too close to bed.  Don’t even talk to me about what watching Twin Peaks, even a full decade after its appearance on network television, is doing to my REM cycle.

And yet, I can’t stop.

For the past few years, I’ve tried to figure out why I am compelled to finish watching an episode or movie or finish a book even when the conventions of the genre pretty much guarantee I can guess what’s going to happen.  Even when I know that ending will not bring me anything but the weakest shadow of mimetic relief—whether it’s because the process of reaching an ending involves a slew of violent murders where women’s bodies figure too prominently and too sexually, or because I distrust the closure offered by handcuffs.

And yet, I crave that ending.

People have told me that in Provincetown, I don’t need to lock my door.  But I do, after my husband warns me about a string of break-ins happening in the Lake George area.  Apparently his mother had told him a woman was alone in her home when one of the break-ins occurred.

If I need to explain the logic at work here—why I would be afraid to leave my door unlocked in Provincetown when a woman in a different town (state, even!) was the victim of a burglary in her own home—well, I would be happy to know I am in the minority. However, I suspect many people—especially women—understand this fear.  Understand what makes a woman tell her son, who tells his wife: “Make sure you lock the doors.”

I’m thinking even more heavily on this subject after hearing Mary Gaitskill read her short story, “The Other Place,” here at the Mailer Colony.  I was struck not only by the story, but also by her explanation of its inspiration.  How her fear of staying alone in a house on a college campus, aware of her vulnerability, led to a story about a father and his son who both deal with potentially psychopathic tendencies.  Though not a piece of genre fiction, Gaitskill’s story plays with the conventions of the psychological thriller/crime drama.  By turning the proverbial lens toward the question of the cultural production of violent sexual predators, she interrogates her fear while disrupting a genre reader’s expectations with a twist at the end that can be described both as chilling and hopeful.

Yet the story could hardly be called comforting, reiterating as it does the sheer mundanity of our cultural narratives of sexual violence against women.

A man who claims he is writing a book about “men and women” accosts a friend at the Provincetown Library.  Would she like to get a drink later?  She says no, refuses to return to the library to work.  We decided to label this a smart decision based on unfortunate circumstances.  The town is small and it’s hard to know whether the guy is a local or on vacation.  We decide it’s not worth the risk, though she has not seen him again.

A few nights later, a group discusses the murder of a young woman in NYC a few years ago over dinner.  A tragedy, of course, though a few of us wonder whether she could have prevented her own death by deciding not to go out drinking alone.  I sit with the suggestion of the limits of our ability to feel compassion when it means challenging our notions of our own security.  I sit with the worldly “realities” that fence a woman’s existence.

Later, we list all the risks we took that we would never take again, knowing what we supposedly know now.  Sleeping on a beach.  Accepting an invitation to a stranger’s home.  Walking home alone late at night.  We grudgingly acknowledge that any of us could have been a murder victim.

*          *          *

Half a mistake.  Trudging up a steep hill against traffic, I squint in the distance for headlights.  Parked cars sit silently on both sides of Provincetown’s busiest street.  City logic—numbers mean safety.

In the corner of my left eye, something dark flies out suddenly.  A dull clang.  Hello, pavement.

My bike’s good tire is wedged under my right calf.  How did that happen?  I think of skid-marks, traffic.  Reach to pull the bike out of the way, realize I’ve lost perspective—no idea how far I’ve fallen, where exactly I lay.  A childhood fear wells up within—Come on, let’s play the game.  A neighborhood version of Chicken.  Don’t get up until you see the car tires coming.  Sweat pricks hot under my soaked jacket.  If the other person can’t see you, it’s not really Chicken.

Get up.  Get up.  No one can see you lying in the street.

Two hands reach down.

“Hey . . . hey . . .”

I’m not alone.  Someone will see me.  Everything’s going to be—tires’ soft screech—another voice, sneakers squishing in the rain—okay.

Half a mistake.  Not paying attention.  Standing, I’m a little woozy, but everything appears to be working.

“Had the wind knocked out of you, poor thing!” 

“I’m so sorry, miss, I didn’t see you walking by.”

“It’s okay . . . I’m okay.”  Embarrassed, I try to laugh it off while the middle-aged woman who pulled over rights my bike.  The man standing next to the black truck has the hood of his jacket pulled over his head.  His hands are in his pockets. His shoulders slump forward protectively.  Doored while walking.  I’m too surprised to summon any anger.  Later I’ll be angry.  For now I’m just breathing.  It rains harder.

An awkward silence, then the woman offers me a ride.  I accept gratefully as the man slides into the cab of his truck.  Lock my bike to a tree.  Slide into the dry car seat.  Watch his taillights get smaller in the side-view mirror.

Two days later, I hear on the news that a young woman is missing.  The news anchor is my age, maybe a few years younger, though her hair looks like a confection out of the 1960s—shiny chestnut, sprayed into shape.  It looks as though it might lift off in one piece.  She mentions the young woman was last seen loading her bike into the back of a black truck. Tells me if I have any information I should call the police.  Blinks.  Reads the next story.

Mandy Malloy, an Army brat who calls Florida her native home, is a writer and graphic designer currently living in Brooklyn, New York. A graduate of Hunter College’s MFA Poetry program, her poems have appeared most recently in The Portland Review and Hot Metal Bridge. Visit her blog here.

Mandy is also a Mailer Poetry Fellow.  She is using the month of residency to work on her first collection of poems and to explore her fascination with the intersection of crime fiction and feminism.

What is this. What has happened to me.

In workshop with Meena Alexander last week, our prompt was to write about nature. I chose the sky; arguably the cleanest, safest, most ubiquitous aspect of nature, but nonetheless breathtaking. Today I lay out in the sun at Herring Cove Beach thinking about that choice while watching the clouds – every kind, from light grayish smudge at the horizon to bright white question mark shifting into an airy exclamation right in the middle of my blue field of vision. I really do mourn my relative disconnection from nature – something I truly didn’t realize I’d been missing.

I grew up in Los Angeles, but loved nature as a child. I remember a field trip to someplace north of the city where I knelt happily in shallow, grassy pools with a magnifying glass, looking for tadpoles. I remember mud fights with my sisters in the rain. I remember planting watermelon seeds in the front yard, how the dirt coated my fingers, burrowing richly beneath my chewed-down nails. I touched pill bugs, pet lost animals, collected autumn leaves and taped the stems to notebook paper, arranged by color and shape. And I loved the beach, the squish of wet sand and the salt on my skin.

What happened to me? Motherhood? Allergies? The Great Recession? Now all I can think about is how much it costs to get there, make sure we have enough to eat, be entertained, get back home, and then the sand I have to sweep up afterward, the sopping wet clothes to launder before they start to mildew, the inevitable scrapes or bites to attend. “Communing with nature” has thus turned into a chore and even a luxury over the years; being in Provincetown has thrown that new insight sharply into relief, and I would lose a tremendous opportunity if I let it go without scrutiny.

When we left Herring Cove today, I obeyed the impulse to fill a paper cup with a dozen marvelous beach rocks that I’ve placed near my “writing spot” in the condo. And, yes, I will cart them back to the city with me, not as souvenirs but as a reminder of how a question mark can transform into a quiet exclamation.

Khadijah Queen is the mother of an 11-year-old Bey Blader and Pokémon Trainer. She tries to keep up with the powers and levels and “evolutions” of the characters, if only so she can understand what on the great earth her son and his friends talk about. Read Khadijah’s work in Esque and visit her website. Her second book Black Peculiar, winner of the Noemi Press book award, is forthcoming this fall. Her poems, three times nominated for the Pushcart Prize, appear widely in journals and anthologies, including The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2010 and the current issue of jubilat.

Khadijah is also a Mailer Poetry Fellow. She is using the month of residency to work on her third book, which deals with her experience in the Navy and concomitant struggle with fibromyalgia.