Today's interaction is sourced from reading Ben Berman's Strange Borderlands. But is more an interaction with they type of poems and conversations the collection reminded me of, through minimal fault of the author.
The briefest review of the book is "A person goes to a country with an organization that sets out to improves lives throughout the world and comes back with poems about cultural differences."
That's a really tough topic to pull off without sounding like an elitist asshole. And I think Berman does, occasionally, pull it off. So, rather than write an interaction specifically with his book, this is more an interaction with all the poems and anecdotes I've ever heard from other white people who've visited Africa.
The Best Of Intentions
The best of intentions sometimes leave their native land to learn about other cultures and improve the lives of other people. It is worthy of note but not maybe applause.
If the best of intentions are traveling to learn, I wish them education and wisdom and peace and whatever other vague intangible concept they desire that doesn't come at the expense of anyone else.
But if the best of intentions are traveling to learn, they should be more eager to come back with facts than stories. Percentages of homeless children in Zambia, and how they can be housed, rather than how the best of intentions saw a homeless child and gave them their granola bar.
The best of intentions' travelogues read in paragraphs of privilege, stanzas of condescension. Even when the narrator believes they are at eye level, the pesky nose gets in the way, and they end up looking down. Do you believe these people (not we people, not us, not where the best of intentions are from) live without this thing that the best of intentions all take for granted? Isn't that stunning? Haven't the best of intentions educated themselves to how better the world is where they're from? Surely, anyone without this thing is leading an inferior life. Not a different life. Or maybe they do call it a different life. The gods must be crazy. See how they are not patronizing, merely sharing cultural differences. Don't they deserve biscuits or cookies or wafers or whatever baked flour and sugar is called where the best of intentions are from?
The best of intentions should be writing almanacs not manuscripts. They should be hanging out in government offices talking about solutions instead of telling humorous anecdotes in bars.
I have the best of intentions when I meet someone. I want them to be a person and not a series of stories I tell to get other people to like me. See how entertaining I am? Do you believe that person (not me, not us, not someone involved in the conversation who could offer an opposing view) did that thing that I and we would clearly never do?
I should be speaking to them not about them. But sometimes the best of intentions can't help themselves. They must share. I saw this different thing. I experienced this cultural discord that is humorous hopefully from both perspectives. See how it makes me human. How thoroughly human to strip someone else's humanity away in an attempt to appear more human to other humans.
The fourth part of The Completely Accurate Story Of My Real Friend Bargo Whitley is short.
Which of us is the biggest asshole and which of us has the biggest asshole we both wondered and explored The answers sometimes intertwined
This is the third part of a series loosely inspired by the structure of Simeon Berry's Ampersand Revisited. The series is titled The Completely Accurate Story Of My Real Friend Bargo Whitley.
Why does my house burning down have to mean something tragic you ask Ms. Reyland during our weekly creative writing workshop Maybe I never liked my house Maybe my mother never bought me the type of cookies I likes so I burned it down my damned self
How is that not tragic? Ms. Reyland asks Everything you've ever loved is burned away because your mother couldn't afford some oatmeal raisin cookies?
Oatmeal Raisin!?! knocking your own folder to the floor Oatmeal raisin? Oatmeal raisins aren't cookies They're a delicious mud of sugar and flour that some asshole has shoved a piece of rotten fruit in
Had anyone in class existed from the waist down until that day? Ms. Reyland had always asked us to take our seats never to sit our butts down never to park it We had all been torsos hovering over our plastic chairs Our whole lives we'd walked on our hands Nobody in that class had ever considered the smooth lumps of fat and muscle that you so callously split in half and cored in front of the whole class
Bargo Ms. Reyland said though she was looking not at you but at the ceiling that word is not allowed in this or any classroom?
What? Raisin? you asked You're the one who brought it up I don't ever want to have to use it again either
The second part of The Completely Accurate Story Of My Real Friend Bargo, which I will continue posting on my Patreon page from here on out.
(Parts three and four were posted previously.)
My father didn't think that Jeanine who ran the cash register at the closest thing our town had to a convenience store liked anyone while I thought it was just kids in general and you in particular she hated
You reading the latest Fantastic Four issue your hands still damp from swimming
You in a towel and no shirt leaving wet sandy footprints a Scooby Doo clue revealing you as the Peanut Butter Cup Bandit
You sobbing and wheezing about how much you missed your dead father while he waited patiently and alive in the parking lot
I would have hated you too but that missing tooth those afternoons doing lines of Fun Dip while your mother was in rehab that snort laugh that only occurred when I was being cruel
I'm reading Ampersand Revisited by Simeon Berry who is a comic book loving poet in Somerville that I have somehow never crossed paths with. As far as I know.
I suspect the book was recommended to me by Elizabeth Doran at The Grolier Poetry Book Shop.
The book is a complex narrative story told in three differently formatted poems. It didn't inspire me to use his formats or his subject matter (both of which I enjoyed) but it did remind me that there was a story I'd planned on writing earlier this year and never got around to. Unfortunately, before I could get to the story the line: "Your sister farts paste" came into my mind, and a series of short related poems sort of began to write themselves. So, here's the first part of what is tentatively called The Completely Accurate Story Of My Real Friend Bargo Whitley.
Your sister farts paste you said combing the kelp over your freshly shaved head which my parents warned me not to ask about
I don't have a sister I said checking the horseshoe crab for sand fleas
Then who is that girl you asked always hanging from your mother's waist like a short screaming third leg?
There was no girl that summer or the summer before or any summer that you and I were alive and when I asked my mother about a sister she would tell me the plots to reruns of The Brady Bunch paying particular attention to the slumber party episode where Marcia is punished for drawing a picture of her teacher as a hippopotamus though Marcia was drawing George Washington and while everything gets sorted out in the end it does seem that the whole world was out to keep Marcia from having her slumber party
I spent the next year believing that there was some sort of miscarriage and that you were like a kid in a Stephen King novel and your cancer had given you the power to see people who had already died or who were never quite born But it turned out my father didn't want any more children and none of the powers you got from chemotherapy were very special and maybe that's why you lived
During a routine check through the bookstore for poetry collections that were recommended to me but which I didn't yet own, I found a copy of Mohsen Emadi's Standing On Earth (translated by Lyn Coffin). Nobody had ever mentioned it to me, but the cover art looked interesting so I picked it up, flipped through it, and, as I was on a break from work, had to force myself to stop reading it until got home.
There's a lot of death in this book, and yet the tone is...reverently casual? It reminded me that just the previous day, my coworker and I had many conversations with people coming back from the Women's March in Boston, which had jogged this particular memory loose.
The Yellow Checkered Scarf And The Flask You Stole From Your Father
Standing outside the funeral home
nostalgic for nicotine but
comfortable with a scarved mouth
I consider the flask of your favorite whiskey
pressing its emblem into my left leg
Our proximity didn't buy me
a ticket in the line of hearses and black sedans
so I am once again waiting for you to
finish your family
The protesters on their way
back from a march you would have supported but
smile at this scarf that I mistakenly remembered as a gift from you
All of them insulated by their politics
White as polar bears
Chatty as gulls
They are meeting for drinks at the steakhouse
we escaped to when your relatives came to town
And this scarf that I probably got as a Christmas gift
from my mother
has earned me an invitation to join them
but I will go inside with this flask you stole from your father And
one more time drink with you
while your family says uncomfortable things about your past
The two of us staying perfectly still
unable to speak
Kim Hyesoon's Sorrowpaste Mirrorcream (translated by Don Mee Choi) has been sitting on on a chair in my room since December, daring me to read it again, convinced that it had something different to tell me this time. After all, if it didn't have anything to say, wouldn't it have found its way back to the bookshelf?
So I'm rereading it, and barely got three poems in when I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to write, and then five words in, it said "Surprise fucker, here's another poem entirely, write until it's finished!
So, here it is. Fresh. Unedited. I'm going to back in and see if this book is trying to tell me anything else.
What's Right, What's Left
I am sweeping the crumbs of you off my bed
I am sweeping the empty like a birthday party magician
I am sweeping the piles of skin to the floor
Fertilizing the carpet
which will grow dozens of versions of you every spring
None of them quite as you
but all of them the same fragile
I am claiming the center of the bed
sweeping the empty of me into the stitch ridges
I am not taking sides in the shadowing of blame
I am mining the dresser for the last silt of you
See how we are not entirely the bed
though that's where it always starts
I am opening the window to diffuse the smell of you
I am opening the window to remember there is always outside
I am opening the window to call in birds
to pick your skin out of the carpet
but the birds are afraid of my inside
I am emptying the refrigerator of all the food you like
even if I bought it for myself
I don't ever again want to taste a thing that brought you joy
I am overreacting
I am regretting the lemon meringue in the trash
I am thirsty for the apple juice
I think you only drank apple juice because I bought it anyway
Why am I letting you vinegar my apple juice?
I am checking the drawers for what's missing
I don't remember precisely what was mine and what was yours
I don't remember precisely which us I am trying to forget
I don't know if that means I am successful in the forgetting
There is a beanstalk in my bedroom
There is a beanstalk that can not possibly have grown from your skin cells
There is a beanstalk that some errant bird must have planted
while I was busy in the kitchen
There can not possibly be a beanstalk in my bedroom
because this is an apartment
in a city
in the twenty-first century
and I am lactose intolerant and devoid of cows and magic
I go to sleep
I wake up to bats and am not dreaming
I wake up to bats circling a beanstalk and am not dreaming
I am covering my head under bankets
no bats no bats no bats
bats no beanstalk
no stalking bats
There is a cyclone of bats in my doorway
The only escape is up the beanstalk
Why should I escape?
Why should I follow some mystery out of my home?
Why shouldn't I just live on this bed until morning
until the bats retreat out the window
until this bed is mine
I say mine again
Morning sneaks in through the window while I am
searching for the thinning veil of bats
Morning sneaks in through the window like he is you
Morning sneaks in through the window and I pretend I haven't been waiting for him
Morning sneaks in through the window but halts at the beanstalk
Morning hates fairy tails
Morning likes literal
Morning likes just say what you want
Morning rolls its clouds at the very idea of beanstalks
Morning shoos the last bat to the attic of a neighbor's house
Morning sees me eyeing him
boulders next to me on the bed
No more reason to sneak
Morning knows it is caught
Morning doesn't care
Morning knows we are both different every time we see each other
Morning doesn't care
Morning withers the beanstalk to husked leaves that fertilize the carpet
Morning doesn't know what to call you either
but its being there sometimes is enough
An ongoing conversation between writers and the text that they're reading.