GH4: Talin Tahajian’s “With Pretty Legs”

“With Pretty Legs” by Talin Tahajian, published in the January/February 2017 issue of BOAAT.

A little behind this week – it was a rough weekend for me, which, of course means that even beautiful things take far too much energy than they usually do. But I’ve still been reading, at least. Clicking through lots of poetry, looking for hope. And BOAAT is one of those journals that tends toward hope. Talin Tahajian’s poem, at first glance, might not scream “hope” at you, filled as it is with ghosts that live in dishwashers and vultures circling. But I read this poem the same way I look at a vanitas-style painting, the way light envelopes a still-life.

[…] I am listing all of the people
who love me. Facts: Each day, at some point

between dawn & noon, I turn into a hawk.
A casual metamorphosis.

You’ve probably seen vanitas paintings before, the skull on a table, flowers, dripping candles. They are meant to work as a memento mori, of sorts, tangible and cold. Tahajian’s poem reads similarly to me, and I don’t want to look away.

I am drawn to the autumnal qualities of this poem (yes, even with winter aspects of snow, I still am picturing fall), the details of the red tattoos and snow and vultures with the capacity for love. Even in the body of a dead animal, Tahajian’s work reminds me, there is the capacity for beauty, the memory of not just death but also life.


GH 3: Jami Nakamura Lin’s “Dreamscape #8: The Geometry of Wanting and Forgetting”

“Dreamscape #8: The Geometry of Wanting and Forgetting” by Jami Nakamura Lin, published in Issue 12 of Bat City Review.

I’m challenging myself to read more widely outside of my poetry-centric habits, especially when it comes to perusing literary journals. I read a lot of different kinds of books, but when I pick up a lit mag, it’s so easy for me to just look at the poems.

No more. Time to read well, and to read well means to read widely! Which led me towards non-fiction this week, which is how I found Lin’s “Dreamscape.”

In Japanese mythology the whale’s image appears again and again, sometimes as ghost, sometimes as harbinger, sometimes as a skeleton whose bones we scrape until no cartilage remains.

I love this piece, its ebb and flow. I read this brief essay as both delicate and hardened, both in the dream and firmly grounded in reality. I can relate to this kind of thinking, this kind of stillness as Lin wanders past myth and desire and the unknown future.

Now I see a baby in every seedling, in every omelet. Odd how the wanting comes when it’s impossible, when you look at the figures and the maths don’t come out straight.

I don’t read a lot of writing that makes me think immediately of longing, but this writing does. I want to share this essay with my mother, my grandmother. I want to return to China, to keep on searching for the sake of searching.

Gezelligheid 2: Liz Breazeale’s “Survival in the Plague Years”

“Survival in the Plague Years” by Liz Breazeale, published in Issue 37 of Passages North.

I’ve been thinking a lot about current trends in literature, in what “we” (in academia or at AWP or as published in xxx journal) deem literary or worthy or… I could talk myself in circles about this, but I’d rather read than talk. Reading Breazeale’s fiction piece in the most recent issue of Passages North helps calm my cynical-and-overly-analytical heart, even as this is a story that causes me to cringe.

I like it when reading something makes me cringe.

We carry our families in our clothes, our lungs, as the alcohol-thick scent of disintegration, terror. Sew their image into our swollen eyelids, the way they grope for us, all blackened sores and gasps.

We already think of them as memories. Choke on the ashes of how they were—our children with skin like fresh-laid eggs, our wives with blown-glass bodies. How they taste now—as dark, empty spaces where we huddle, watching as they perish.

The prose winds its way through centuries of disease, through men and women who make choices in order to survive, in order to die. This is a story told over and over, the same story in different symptoms and treatments and bodies. Breazeale gives name to the horrifying, to the fear of death and maybe, also, the fear of living.

I want to read more short stories like this one, more fiction that blends past and present in a way that pushes me towards the future. (Breazeale’s work puts me in mind of Danielle Dutton’s Margaret the First, another kind of genre-bending historical-fictional-biography.) Evocative, historical, and very, very real, “Survival in the Plague Years” is a piece to read once and then read again.

And maybe again.

Gezelligheid 1: Kyla Sterling’s “Culling the Flock”

“Culling the Flock” by Kyla Sterling, published in Issue 11 of Radar Poetry.

Radar Poetry is one of those journals I know I can trust. Issue after issue, the poems they present never cease to give me pause – and Kyla Sterling’s “Culling the Flock” gave me major pause.

Once I thought I’d leave this town.
I could carry all I owned but there wasn’t any where
to go—just a long dirt road. A highway.
Whatever happened, I like to think she got away.

It’s a poem that makes me think of my own childhood, growing up in a parsonage in rural north-central Wisconsin, and what I would be like today if my family hadn’t moved to a mid-sized city when I was eight. I learned to ride my bike on the gravel of the church parking lot. My knees bled for weeks.

It’s that kind of realism – going out to the chicken coop, dredging the pond for a missing girl, the inability to leave – that draws me into Sterling’s poem. It’s the kind of darkness that sits outside the door when your nearest neighbor is a half-a-mile down the road.

Gezelligheid: A Literary Spotlight

I’ve been thinking of doing something like this for a while, putting focus on a poem or story or essay in a recently-published literary magazine. An anthology of sorts, culling bits of contemporary literature that I love, promoting both their writers and their places of publication. It seems a manageable sort of project, a good goal for 2017.

So what I’m going to do is this: every Saturday, for the next 52 weeks, I’ll post a brief review of a literary item of note. Perhaps not so much a review as a “look here! I like this!” kind of acknowledgement of work out in the world.

Why gezelligheid? I’m a little bit Dutch, so I’m partial to this non-Norwegian version of hygge. Gezelligheid means comfort and togetherness, and I think that we are all in need of both. Literature is just one way we can come together.