“Solidarity is the idea that we don’t have to be the same to want the best for one another, that we can keep each other safe, we can share what we have, that we can find our way to consensus about how best to be in community together, better known as “democracy.” And that we will fight for it and for one another.” — with Maurice Mitchell in Newsweek.
And this return is one to memoir and creative non fiction, after so long as solely a poet. I’m proud to be multi-genre, multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-everything writer-person, and so pleased that this essay found a home on the Sisterhood blog of the Jewish Forward. Sending hope and strength to anyone facing infertility now, this National Infertility Week, and all year long.
The Jewish imperative to life helped me find air when I felt I might drown in a sea of overwhelming sadness. Without it, I was so focused on what was lost that I nearly lost track of what was not – my own self, my potential, my life full of creativity and friendship. Jewish ritual and teaching, with its unambiguous insistence on the soul of the mother and the not-soul of the embryo, restored that to me. It gave me the courage to grab strong hold of my new partner, my bashert, with whom I now make a Jewish home.
Last year, to mark my exit from these years of sorrow, I ran the NYC marathon. I also hired a Hebrew tutor. At her suggestion, I ran loop after loop in Prospect Park to the v’ahavta, learning the sounds, the rhythm and, in some way, inscribing the might of the prayer into muscle memory.
I’m not Muslim and I’m the right kind of brown and I called my family in Mysore today as I do most Sundays because #daughterofanimmigrant and they asked, as they often do, “when are you coming to visit?” And I said, “now it is so hard” and I could hear the nods in a short silence seven thousand miles long. My uncles and aunt have a long running card game, and I heard the updated tally — my aunt is winning — and I said, don’t cheat, the vocabulary word for cheat — mosa — a pearl, passed to me from my great-great aunt Thayi who did enthusiastically, unapologetically cheat
[and in her example I am redacting the rest of this poem because I have submitted it! cheating FTW!] but here is the end:
And we, we are the lucky ones, no one is facing deportation and my difficulties are quotidian, time and money and the chances are high this sort of thing would not happen to me, a Hindu, a Jew, a poet — because the security state does not seem to read poetry even as they tap our phones and check our Facebook posts.
I’ve got a non-fiction piece up at JewSchool about standing strong in my Jewish values in this post-election moment. Any day I get to reference Sparticus — the second movie credited with ending the Hollywood Blacklist under/after McCarthy — is a good day!
Of [my] poem, BK, AM, Randall Mann wrote: “‘There are so many things to admire…a delicacy; a charity of things left appropriately unsaid; an ease that looks easy, but isn’t.””
My poem and the lovely things Randall said are here, on the Podium site. I’m very honored he chose it for a prize named after a new poetic foremother, Rachel Wetzsteon. Here is one my favorites of hers.
An ease that looks easy, but isn’t, sums up these last years since the poem saw print. I’m glad, after a long silence, to have words back again, arranging themselves.
After a long, long fallow period, I feel super sunny that my byline has popped up twice this spring.
Fruit: New Year’s Instructions, in Alimentum’s 2014 Menu Poems — my first foray into published poetry. I’m thrilled my new little lyric found a perfect home, in a journal I admire so often.
Cold water holds
Bean: Cloudy Coffee, part of Killing the Buddha’s India focus. A love letter to my little-mom auntie, so far away, and to my morning (and afternoon) coffee, so close at hand.
I slip into her kitchen to do what women do, our everyday work its own prayer, its own dribble of connection. Carefully, I inhale, and then blow the creamy cloud across the surface of the milk.
I’m basking in this summer city heat. Thanks to it, and no shortage of fertilizer lately, I’ve got lots more creative stuff sprouting, more cooking. Hope you do, too.
Thanks to Esther Cohen, poet, book doctor, and badass organizer for inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Esther and I have been labor-organizer/worker-arts friends for many years. Lately we are poet friends and drinking friends and friends who frequent hat sample sales, in addition to our ongoing political commitments.
Esther answered these questions last week, and next week three fabulous writers — Lia Eastep, Kelly Martineau, and Lori Tucker-Sullivan will offer their answers. And then three more, and so on.
So, the questions:
1. What am I working on?
I’m writing a bunch of poems. I’ve got a creative nonfiction book idea, inspired in no small part by Molly Peacock’s beautiful biography-memoir mashup The Paper Garden. And, lately, I’ve also been typing odes to Brooklyn and my expanding love and appreciation of this County of Kings.
I’m always working on food and drink, on the page, on the plate, in the glass. Currently I’m stacking up layer cakes, simmering down many a bone broth, and stirring Scotch cocktails.
2. How does my work differ from other of its genre?
Mostly, I write straight-up CNF. I like to make unexpected connections, engineer unusual juxtapositions and fit in food.
3. Why do I write about what I do?
I love to eat, I like to cook and bake, and I really like to theorize. Food and drink offer unending sort details, meanings, and metaphoric possibilities.
I write about politics and social movements because we’re all buffeted by forces bigger than those in our individual lives. They’re forces we can only partially shape. To the extent we can exert control, and bend the arc, we do it by acting in concert — I believe that’s true on the page and in reality. Besides, race, politics, gender — it’s all there. Leaving it out is distasteful.
In that vein, I’m a woman, and a feminist, and I am drawn to writing about women’s work — the invisible emotional labor, the unpaid domestic labor, the unappreciated cultural labor, not to mention the seventy-seven-cents on the dollar workplace labor… all the kinds of ways in which women’s work keeps everything together. And, as a worker-justice woman, I’m always fascinated by what falls apart when we strike.
4. How does my writing process work?
I like to work out my ideas aloud, in community with others. I like to glean others’ smarts, to incorporate new influences, to generate better ideas in collaboration.
When I’m working on something really narrative-driven, I find reading political theory offers a respite from the characters knocking around in my brain. When, as now, I’m writing a bunch of poetry, I like to read relevant historical nonfiction and lots of plot-driven novels.
Just now, my work is spreading like dandelions across a suburban yard, swelling and sprouting as grains and beans after an overnight soak on the counter. This new work is the result of a long, fallow, wet period, and now, I’m happily tapping the sugars and seeing new stuff pop up all over. I’m soaking and tossing salad-like combinations of blossoms and roots, seeds and stems, bitter and bright. Stay tuned.
Speaking of tunes — up next are Lia, Lori, and Kelly, all of whom I met through the MFA program at Spalding University. All are amazing women in their own right, and write especially brilliantly about music, among many other subjects.
Lia Eastep makes her living as a writer-for-hire, mostly educational content and retail copywriting. Her essays have been published in the Santa Clara Review, the Louisville Review, TinType Review and the Columbus Dispatch. Her short plays and sketch comedy have appeared on various blackboxes and basement theaters across her hometown of Columbus, Ohio.
Lia’s 365 Facebook posts about her vinyl collection made me listen to more cool music last year than in any year previous, and possibly all previous years combined.
Lori Tucker-Sullivan also has killer music taste and serious writing chops. At her blog, a Widow’s Apprenticeship, she spins the every day — and sometimes meaning — of her life after the death of her spouse into luminescent prose. Lori’s work has appeared in The Cancer Poetry Project, Now & Then Magazine, and The Sun. Lori lives with her son and daughter in Ann Arbor while plotting her return to Motor City.
Kelly Martineau is a knitter, mother, and essayist extraordinaire. She writes memoir and essays that explore creativity, time, and the fiber of family. Her work has appeared in Quiddity, Front Porch, and Barely South Review. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Seattle, Washington.
Don’t miss their process musings, their expertly crafted prose and poetry, and — if you should be so lucky — a chance to sip fine Kentucky bourbon in their company.