where all the ladders start
November 28, 2012

“Now that my ladder’s gone, / I must lie down where all the ladders start / In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.” – from “The Circus Animals’ Desertion” by W. B. Yeats

For the 2 weeks of vacation that French schools have for All Saint’s Day, I took the train an hour south to Paris and spent time living and working at Shakespeare and Company, a little literary, anglophone bubble just across the river from Notre Dame. It is impossible to spend any amount of time in this shop without meeting extremely talented people who are passionate about reading and writing, and so living there is essentially a constant motivation to write (or to at least appear to do so). One of my fellow Tumbleweeds was Pat Cash, spoken word artist, journalist, and all-around lovely person. I also had the extreme pleasure of attending a reading by Aja Monet, another spoken word artist. She read from her first collection of poems, The Black Unicorn Sings, as well as Chorus, a recently released collection of spoken word poems that she and Saul Williams edited together. I still regret not getting a copy of Chorus when I was at the shop. Continuing on the spoken word theme, I would highly suggest attending and participating in the spoken word nights at Le Chat Noir, a weekly event organized by Spoken Word Paris. The group, though mostly anglophone expats, welcomes any and all readers, regardless of language or renown.

While in Paris, I also trekked out past my usual stomping grounds in the Latin Quarter and the Marais to visit a small lesbian-owned bookshop in the 11th arrondissement called Violette and Co. One of the shop workers was more than happy to help me fish through the poetry section, for despite the fact that I speak French, I have little to no knowledge of francophone queer poetry, and so after many suggestions, I ended up choosing a collection by Nicole Brossard called Langues obscures. Brossard’s collection is an interesting mix of prose, poetry, and philosophy of self, making it the perfect thing for me to read, or rather, attempt to read; I cannot boast that poetry in French is particularly accessible to me, even after ten years of learning the language. Nonetheless, it can be stunning, even for the non-fluent:

“Plus tard, à mille lieux de l’éternité, quand nous pensons mouvement des paupières ou nuit pharaonne ou parce que c’est beau, je m’intéresse aux nuits les plus simples, sans nuage, les nuits de bonne odeur où la culture accepte de se taire. Nuits sans légende au bas de l’image pendant qui nous regardons les étoiles et laissons le chien de l’âme en profiter démesurément.”

Later, miles away from eternity, when we think of the eyelids’ movement or pharaonic night or because it is beautiful, I am interested in the simplest nights, without clouds, the sweet smelling nights when culture lets itself be silenced. Nights without a caption below the image when we look at the stars and let the dog of the soul thrive immeasurably.

Advertisements

Thanksgiving transcribed
November 23, 2012

It’s Thanksgiving, though it’s hard to tell here in France. The other American language assistants in my city invited me to their kitchen earlier tonight where we expertly made three pumpkin pies in French tart tins and without standard measuring implements. Tomorrow, we will have a big dinner, during which I will eat my feelings. Those feelings are mainly homesickness and a nice variety of frustrations, stemming from the fact that for six hours a week, I teach extremely unenthusiastic 11th and 12th graders about my culture and my language, my attempts usually being met with blank stares. In a desperate effort to at least get them to laugh at how ridiculous the US can be, I showed them this terrible song about Thanksgiving, written and performed by an adolescent girl with the creative capacity of turkey (I apologize to any turkeys I may have offended by this comparison). I originally transcribed the lyrics to give to my students, and in the name of poetry – in this case, “poetry” of the blandest sort (the pre-made grocery store mashed potatoes of the literary world)  – I’ve decided to share them here. It is perhaps to the internet’s credit that they are not yet the first google hit after a search for “thanksgiving song lyrics.” (You will find them on other sites, though, by searching “it’s thanksgiving lyrics.”)

Listening to this song multiple times left me with many questions as its transcriber, such as whether or not Nicole Westbrook would agree with my punctuation choices, if I included an appropriate number of a’s in that first “yeah,” and mainly, what alternate reality Westbrook inhabited when she decided singing into a turkey drumstick was a good idea. (But in all seriousness, transcribing lyrics genuinely does bring up interesting conundrums regarding punctuation and sentence structure in addition to making me question whether written text is ever truly capable of conveying the style of spoken word.)

Oh whoaaa, yea-aaaaah, alright.
Oh oh oh, oh oh oh, oh oh oh, oh yeah
Oh oh oh, oh oh oh, alright.
Come on.

I’m wide awake, and I should take a step and say
Thank you, thank you,
For the things you’ve done and what you did.
Oooh yeah, oooo ye-ah

December was Christmas.
January was New Year’s.
April was Easter,
And the Fourth of July,
But now it’s Thanksgiving!

Oh oh oh,
It’s Thanksgiving!
We we we, we’re gonna have a good time,
Oh oh oh
It’s Thanksgiving!
We we we are gonna have a good time
With the turkey, (ayy!) mashed potatoes (ayy!)
We we we are gonna have a good time
with the turkey, (ayy!) mashed potatoes (ayy!)
It’s Thanksgiving, it’s Thanksgiving. (alright)

School is out, I can shout,
Thank you, thank you, thank you!
No matter how you do, no matter what you say,
This is my favorite.

December was Christmas.
January was New Year’s.
April was Easter,
and the Fourth of July,
but now it’s Thanksgiving.

Oh oh oh, it’s Thanksgiving
We we we, we’re gonna have a good time.
Oh oh oh, it’s Thanksgiving.
We we we are gonna have a good time,
with the turkey (ayy!), mashed potatoes (ayy!).
We we we are gonna have a good time,
with the turkey (ayy!), mashed potatoes (ayy!).
It’s Thanksgiving, it’s Thanksgiving.

Yo, it’s Thanks-giving-giving,
and I’m tryn’a be forgiving.
Nothin’ is forbidden.
She know, we gotta have –
I gotta give thanks to you and you and you.
Can’t be hateful, gotta be grateful.
Gotta be grateful, can’t be hateful.
Mashed potatoes on my–on my table.
I got ribs smelling up my neighbor’s cribs.
Can’t deny, havin’ good times,
We be laughin’ till we cry.
It’s Thanks-Thanks-Thanksgiving.
Come on.
It’s Thanks-Thanks-Thanksgiving.
Give them thanks, y’all!

Oh oh oh, it’s Thanksgiving.
We we we, we’re gonna have a good time.
Oh oh oh, it’s Thanksgiving.
We we we are gonna have a good time
with the turkey (ayy!), mashed potatoes (ayy!).
We we we are gonna have a good time
with the turkey (ayy!), mashed potatoes (ayy!).
It’s Thanksgiving, it’s Thanksgiving.

all things happening at once
September 19, 2012

Updates:

1. I had a couple poems published in an online journal! Check out Bare Hands Issue 11.

2. I just spent 5 days in the mountains of California with a bunch of queer girls and felt all the feelings and drank and kissed people whose names I don’t necessarily remember and screamed “SNATCH” in public areas and got no sleep and wondered the entire time why the whole world can’t be queer. You can read more about that here and here. I also met some amazing writers: Ashley (my cabin buddy), Gaby and Katrina (my cabin counselors), and many other members of the Autostraddle team who are all insanely talented and intimidating. You should read their work. If you don’t enjoy it, you should reassess your life.

3. I have finished several more books since I last did a reading list update: Sharon Olds’ “The Gold Cell”, Nabokov’s Transparent Things and Lolita, and Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Nabokov is quickly becoming my favorite author. He writes insanity in a way that makes it familiar, so much so that you finish his books and think back and are shocked at your own lack of disgust. And his prose, independent of the plot content, is stunning in and of itself. I am working on a post about Transparent Things, and it will hopefully be up soon.

4. I turned 22 on Tuesday. This was accompanied by neither fanfare nor alcohol. It rained incessantly, and I got a fever from a flu shot. Outside of my friends and family, the universe took no notice of the passage of my life. This is neither surprising nor tragic, a simple daunting fact that I attempt to ameliorate by caffeine and sugar and change.

5. I am moving to France tomorrow. This is terrifying and exciting and wonderful. I will be teaching teenagers about my native language while hoping that they don’t discover that I am scared of their fluency in French slang.

6. I wrote a poem, because after everything is said and done, there is nothing else I can do:

a scar caressed

Falling asleep with
a new body is a test
of trusting and breath.

Your metal on my
metal, spoons in our dark drawer,
nestled and silenced –

I learn how not to
love. I learn how to be held,
how to say hello.

We have lips that we
teach to kiss, to speak, to close.
My bruised knees know how

to live. Do you know
their language? Show them how to
bend, your hands trembling.

In the quiet of
crowded rooms, tell me you will
touch and go, smiling.

 

prose poem
March 13, 2011

Je croyais

Hemingway told me “there is never any end to Paris” and I believed him, and I believed in Paris and in its boulevards and winding narrow streets with flower boxes silhouetted against blue and clouds, I believed in all its museums and graffiti and tableaus smeared with paint and truth and life because Renoir saw the people dancing in Montmartre under trees and in the dappled midday light and I knew that he knew Paris and its people in morning light and rainy fog and twilight when the city comes alive and all the young ones walk the Seine and smoke and whisper to each other as footsteps echo on the cobblestones, and I believed in musicians in the metro stations who played with open cases at their feet and let their voices bounce around off all the white tiled tunnels, and I believed in the cello player who wore his hair long playing concertos while I rushed to catch my train, I believed in the man outside my apartment every morning fixing bicycles and radios he carried in his shopping cart, I believed in one euro baguettes and croissants warm in the morning and espressos in cold cafes before dawn when all the workers were eating breakfast, I believed in grass in jardins where no signs told me to stay off and puddles in the gravel walks winding through the flowers from spring rains coming in the night and sprinklers in the afternoon, I believed in the carousel twirling in the Marais surrounded by chocolate shops and stores with dresses I tried on but never bought and the square where sitting on stone steps I ate my lunch of bread and cheese and wondered where all the city had gone and why losing my way was easy in this part that was filled with oaken doors and the Place des Vosges that I never found on purpose and the galleries whose owners eyed my with disdain and knew before I spoke I was not French and the little shop called Thanksgiving that sold boxed cake mix and Philadelphia cream cheese and peanut butter for the expats, but Paris was my thanks giving every day when I crossed the bridge of the Promenade Plantée and looked out on the vast expanse of greenest grass below my feet and the toddlers rolling on the lawn and parents blowing bubbles in bare feet and lovers’ whispered nothings laying on blankets from their parents’ homes and I never needed the Arc de Triomphe when all of Paris was beneath me on a little bridge in the 12th and then, I didn’t have to wait in line, and I believed all of it!  But I left Paris and its neverendingness and I believe in something else now because Paris is a feast but the lingering taste is all I have left.