Thursday Poems: A Trifecta

Hello from Bali!

So, naturally since I began my last post gloating about being on time for a change, I’ve ended up late for this one. This will not be a normal post, I’m afraid, no ramble about poetry today. I’m in Bali as part of the Bali Emerging Writers Festival, and it has been a crazy whirlwind of mad beauty, lush vistas, wonderful people and events. Which reminds me, if you happen to be in Denpasar this week, do come and see my reading at Dua Dunia.

Honestly, I’m so many different kinds of tired right now and I’m not going to have the chance to talk about anything in depth — but I didn’t want to leave you poetry-lovers without something good to read, so instead, I’ve decided to leave a link here to three different poems. Maybe we can switch things up around here and you tell me what you loved about them, or didn’t, eh? That’d be something, that’s for sure. Okay, without further ado, the trifecta:

1. Citizen, VI by Claudia Rankine.

2. Everybody Who Is Dead by Frank Stanford

3. Tonight, in Oakland by Danez Smith

I found all of these interesting in different ways, hopefully you will too. That’s all from me this week, I’ll be back next week with more details about all the things :)

Thursday Poem: Requests for Toy Piano by Tony Hoagland

Hey look at this, I’m on time and everything, it’s a miracle! Or, to be more accurate, a total accident, but a happy one at that. Before I get started, I have other happy things to say: one of the poems I was lucky enough to have published in Arabic by Najwan Darwish, A Handful of Sky, has gone up in English over at Sajjeling. I’d love it if you popped over and checked it out. Also, I have a few more poems coming out, one in an anthology called Gaza Unsilenced, a response to the horrific bombardment that occurred last year, and another in a forthcoming issue of Tincture Journal.

Right, with that out of the way, let’s get to ‘Requests for Toy Piano’ by Tony Hoagland. I actually think this is the first instance of a poet appearing twice in my little weekly poetry segment, which I’ve been trying to avoid but was inevitable at some point. I randomly read this one yesterday, and I loved it, so here we are. It begins:

Play the one about the family of the ducks
where the ducks go down to the river
and one of them thinks the water will be cold
but then they jump in anyway
and like it and splash around.

Unlike most people, I’m a big fan of innocuous openings. In most writing courses, you’re going to be told that you absolutely need to start as big and strong as possible, that you need to grab the reader from the first word and the first line, and there’s no two ways about it. There’s nothing wrong with that, as advice goes, except for the ‘no two ways about it’ anyway. There’s always another way. The reason I love innocuous openings is because they stand out from the action-packed glut that has become the norm, because it always makes me wonder why the author has started so small and so mundane, and because it’s a sign of enormous confidence which immediately eases me as a reader.

It’s the writer saying, ‘I’ve got this, I know what I’m doing and yeah, I’m starting out with ducks, because fuck you, just sit back and enjoy it, you’re going to love this.’ Having said that, I’m actually not a huge fan of the third ‘the’ in the opening line, it’s completely unnecessary, but aside from that small blip, I love this poem, and the second stanza sets up why:

No, I must play the one
about the nervous man from Palestine in row 14
with a brown bag in his lap
in which a gun is hidden in a sandwich.

Compare and contrast that with the opening stanza and you’re almost dealing with two separate poems. See, here’s the other reasons innocuous beginnings are so great, and can be used to such great effect – in fiction too, but especially in poetry, where there is unlimited room for lateral and unexpected movement not just between stanzas but between lines, and Hoagland demonstrates that to great effect here.

Play the one about the handsome man and woman
standing on the steps of her apartment
and how the darkness and her perfume and the beating of their hearts
conjoin to make them feel
like leaping from the edge of chance—

Okay, so I won’t quote the rest of the poem, I just wanted to establish the rhythm of it, the fact that what he’s really getting at here is the fundamental desire we all have for beauty, which is so frequently at odds with our equally powerful desire for truth, for the gritty ugly reality. He wants to write about, to sing about these lovely, often innocuous moments but is compelled instead to hold up a mirror to darkness, to showcase horror and shame and bitterness in exquisite detail. This is something that resonated strongly with me; sometimes, I don’t want to write about painful things, sometimes I’m goddamn tired of hurting, of stretching myself so thin in sympathy — sometimes I just want to use language to craft love with words.

And I am so rarely afforded that opportunity, as my mind and body are compelled to respond first to pain, like an EMT or first responder, rushing from crises to crises, dredging emotion, never having the time for the little things. Even though it’s the little things which often make life worth living. That’s why I find this poem, in its own quiet way, so incredibly sad.

You can, and most definitely should, read it here in full.

Thursday Poem: The Traveller-Heart by Vachel Lindsay

I’m going to keep this brief, poetry lovers: have you ever wondered how you’re going to die? Of course you have, you’re human – in some way or other, it lies behind everything we say and everything we do. On that same wavelength, we also spend an inordinate amount of time considering how to best to deal with our mortal remains. We burn our bodies, we bury them deep in the ground, we fling them into the sea, we build temples around our desiccated bones, pyramids and tombs, fill with fields with crosses and stones and statues, and we have done so since the beginning. Now, you can have your remains turned into diamonds or turned into trees, or sent into space. We are, and ever have been, creative with death.

This simple but beautiful old poem, The Traveller-Heart by Vachel Lindsay deals with this question, posit’s the poets thoughts in a traditional rhymed stanza. Now there’s not too much to it, so I won’t quote from it here – all I will say is that my heart lies firmly with Vachel’s, in wanting to lie in the deep and sacred earth.

Thursday Poem: Silence by Jared Singer

Let me tell you something about honesty: it is a fickle flame, as liable to burn you as anyone else. Despite that, I, like Jared Singer, pride myself on my honesty, but the truth is that even this ideal is tempered with deception. Take my bisexuality for example. I am honest about it when asked, but I do not broadcast it, and when family members ask, ‘are you gay?’, I’ll answer honestly and say no, but I won’t offer any more information than that. I obfuscate. I hate lies, and I do my absolute best to avoid uttering them, but that in no way means I am truthful.

We play these games with ourselves, our friends and family, the world. How far can I hedge? How much of this light can I show them, and when I show them, can I do so in a way that arranges the shadows to support the interpretation I desire? I remember when I first decided I would tell no lies. I remember it clearly because I used to be beaten a great deal when I was a child, and I was beaten because I lied. I was a clumsy creature, all elbows as they say, but more than that, almost wilfully stupid and forgetful even then; I was a sieve through which thoughts and actions fell and I retained very little. But in my aftermath, I left a trail of broken things and inevitably, I would be asked ‘did you break this? I won’t hit you, just tell me the truth.’

And I never believed them, be it my aunty, or my mother, or whoever it was at the time. I lied, they beat me, and the cycle continued. For years. Eventually, a little light went on in my head and I looked my mother in the eye and told her the truth. I think I still got a smack, a light cuff, but it was nothing compared to the beatings I used to get, or being locked in my room for days. I remember thinking then, that’s it? All I had to do was tell the damn truth? Why didn’t I do that? Why does anyone lie – all that damn effort and it just blows up in your face anyway! Of course, it’s easy to think that when the cloud of fear lifts, and it’s always fear that stops our tongues, that twists our words.

I swore I would always be honest from then on – I would share the flame with the world! – but I haven’t been. I kept having to judge how much I would wound someone if I was honest, whether they could handle it, whether a little white lie really mattered all that much, whether I could live without my family when they inevitably disowned me on discovering the truth, and so on and so forth, until the flame I wanted to share with the world shrank to include just my friends and even then, again until it retained just enough heat and light to reveal my face. Sometimes. If the wind was just right.

That was then, and this is now; I have a steady light and I am happy to say it includes more than just myself, but getting to this point has been nothing short of devastating. I’ve lost so many and so much along the way. I’m mentioning all this because honesty is the subject of this week’s poem, ‘Silence’, by Jared Singer. Spoken word poetry was my gateway into poetry itself and I will always have a soft spot for it. I moved away from it as a writer for two reasons: the first being that I simply binged too hard on it when I first fell for it three years ago, and I came to hear the same rhythm and same tone of voice in every performance. I tired, too, of the self-righteousness, the self-aggrandising nature that too often came to the fore.

I hear some of that rhythm and some of that tone in this poem, but the reason I’m sharing Singer’s performance here is because it has in spades what first attracted me to this art in the first place: a willingness to open your chest for all to see, to reveal your pain in all its earnest ugliness and everything else be damned. Poetry written for the page too often shies away from emotion, I feel, but it’s on display here and I found it deeply affecting. More than that though, it’s an intelligent and artful investigation into honesty, into what it means, the lies we tell to ourselves and to others, and the brilliant part about it all is the silence. He won’t speak a line which isn’t completely truthful and the gaps in the poem beg to be filled.

All great poems leave enough space in between their lines for the reader to stuff themselves into, to hang their experiences onto, to merge literature and life, and that’s what I found here. So much space, so much silence, and I only needed the one hitched breath to go spiralling back into the past, to write this post about being honest. Which reminds me, shit, I almost forgot to include the second reason I moved away from spoken word poetry — didn’t forget, actually, just didn’t want to say it and almost got away with it — it’s because I lost the courage to perform, if I ever even had it to begin with. The stage terrified me, and it still does. But that’s a battle for another day, a war I haven’t totally given up on.

Until then, I’ll still be thinking about silence.

Thursday Poem: The Mechanics Of Men by David Tomas Martinez

You should always read a poem aloud. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, and I’ll say it until I die: you should always read the fucker aloud. I am especially grateful for having just read this sensational poem by David Tomas Martinez, for two reasons:

1) I found it just after reading an unrelated, but shitty poem. I don’t talk about poetry that doesn’t move me because I haven’t the energy to spare for hate or pettiness, but this lifeless poem I read left a bad taste in my mouth. So ‘Mechanics of Men‘ was an excellent palette cleanser, being just the opposite, brimming with life lived and lessons learned. With vitality.

2) For being so damn good I stopped midway and went back to start again, reading aloud this time. Usually, I read something first, so I have an idea of what ends where; I don’t like to pause in the wrong places –  even when it’s just me in my room, reading is a performance. I made an exception because I knew just sounding this one out would be an aural discovery, regardless of whether I screwed it up or not. But enough about that, let’s get to the goods.

It begins:

I have never been the most mechanically inclined of men.

             Wrenches, screwdrivers, or shovels
have never made nice with me. In the shipyard,

I worked alone, in the dark, deep in

               the bilges of frigates.

This is, on the face of it, an innocuous enough opening, for all that it does the job of setting up the narrative to follow, but my god, even here it’s a joy to read. There is throughout this poem subtle assonance and alliteration, a repetition of sounds, a rhythm that builds. God, I could chew on that second line. And he’s not even saying anything important! I’m nine kinds of impressed and too many kinds of jealous to count, so let’s move on.

The brass tool
              hissed like an ostrich
when it fed on metal. That day, my flame cut
permanent deck fittings; the loops fell like bright oranges;
              I ripened the rusty metal.

Look, this poem is a fucking orgasm in my mouth. Do you understand that? Maybe not. ‘Hissed like an ostrich’ is wonderful, but then, it isn’t just sounds that make this poem stand out, it’s the evocation of work and masculinity, of the gulf between a father and his son, of life and love and never quite fitting in and most assuredly always fucking up.

It’s the little things as well. I love the juxtaposition of ‘flame cut’ with ‘permanent deck fittings’, such a simple and literal line yet it undercuts the idea of permanence itself at the same time. I love, too, the way the metal becomes organic, a fruit that ripens. I want to quote this whole poem, basically, and I’m annoyed that I can’t. I’m annoyed too, just thinking that there will be some of you out there who won’t feel what I’m feeling – the intensity of joy suffusing my body right now, the ecstasy of recognition – that, hell, it might somehow read as lifelessly to you as that one poem earlier tonight did for me.

I read recently a quote from a book which said that the best moments in reading are when you come across something you thought special and particular only to you – that it’s like a hand coming out and taking yours. Well, if that’s the case, reading this poem was like meeting someone, making love, falling in love, getting married and then at the end of it, jotting down some thoughts. Which is to say, it felt like that damn hand reached into the pulpy, bony mess of my chest, pulled out some red stuff and daubed it on the page. There’s so much of me here it’s scary.

This is true for a lot of the poetry I love; this is the most subjective of arts. Every poem is a sampling of DNA, and it can be a matter of pure luck whether you turn out to be a match or not. Oh, I’m not saying those which don’t match aren’t skilful, or that you can’t appreciate them objectively, you certainly can, but it’s a cold and distant thing in comparison to this mad heat, this crazed passion you should probably only feel when in love or while fucking, but which somehow extends to this thrilling expression of language, this superlative art.

I’ll stop rambling now, but man am I glad to have read this outrageously good poem today. If anybody out there knows David Tomas Martinez, and he’s totally okay with you doing this, kiss him on the damn lips for me. Or just tell him this poem is seriously good, and that I now feel the same mixture of admiration and envy I reserve for those whose quality I aspire to emulate, to match and – in my wildest, most ambitious moments – hope to one day exceed. My benchmarks. I’ll end this with his words, and a reminder that you need to read this.

And that summer, I returned
               to each of the women of my past and bedded
them all, trying to reheat our want. I don’t regret that—drinking wine

and making love, or writing poems and making love, of wanting to stay
               but nonetheless leaving.

Celebratory Poem

So, I couldn’t wait till Thursday to share this, because it made me happy, and happiness is a rare and fleeting thing in my world: I woke up to find I’d received over 1,000 followers on this blog! Which is kind of crazy, since only a month ago I had about 150, tops.

1000

I’d gotten used to the idea that very few people were reading my weekly rambles about poetry, and that it would remain that way, but I guess I was wrong. Here’s hoping it continues to grow and more and more of the poetically inclined find their way here. In celebration of all this, and in thanks to you fine people and possibly-bots, I thought I’d give you a poem I wrote a few weeks ago. It’s just a little one, and I never know what to do with the little ones, so this is as good a use as any. I hope you like it.

None Of Us

Nobody cares about poetry
my poetry professor said.
Nobody appreciates the band
either, the lead singer said.
Nobody notices the backup dancers
the dancers said, not to mention
the choreographer, or the roadies,
the technicians, the bored IT guys
and girls. Nobody loves their father
as much as fathers want them to
or loves their mother as much as mothers
need them to. Nobody cherishes actors
until they’re gone and in black and white
on a memoriam screen. Nobody writes
about writers except writers and failed writers;
nobody thanks the cooks. Nobody wants
to be a farmer, we just want to eat.
Nobody thinks, nobody thinks, nobody thinks
about any of this
but damn do the flowers get their due.

Thursday Poem: Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

Hello, and welcome, you magnificent bastards. Firstly, I’d like to say thank you to those of you who responded so kindly to my poem – I truly appreciate it. I’d also like to say, since it was raised in the comments, that if you’re keen to introduce yourself or say hi, I’m aware you can’t do so on my About page, but you can always go over to the Facebook page I recently made for the blog. It could do with some loving anyway. Ultimately, as I’ve said before, I’m not here just to hear myself talk – so to speak – I’m here to start a conversation. If you’re so inclined, go ahead and start talking.

Now, this week’s headline is perhaps a little misleading. See, what I really want to talk about is the article which led me to the poem. Bringing A Daughter Back From The Brink With Poems by Betsy MacWhinney is an extraordinary story about a mother trying to get through to her self-harming daughter. I’m going to quote liberally from this piece now because it’s so endlessly wonderful, but I urge you to read the entire thing:

I started leaving poems in her shoes in the morning. She had used the shoes as a form of quiet protest, so I decided I would use them to make a quiet stand for hope. When one of your primary strategies as a parent involves leaving Wendell Berry’s “Mad Farmer Liberation Front” in your child’s shoe, it’s clear things aren’t going well. What I wanted her to know is: People have been in pain before, struggled to find hope, and look what they’ve done with it. They made poetry that landed right in your shoe…

One of the joys of writing this weekly blog, of this challenge to find a new poem to talk about every week – generally from authors I haven’t read before – has been the feeling of discovery. The way I seem to just trip over a poem at the last minute, or when I am least expecting it, as if it was some kind of house cat — something we think domesticated, but which is still wild at heart, and always getting underfoot, always making itself the centre of attention —  thrills me to no end. I love being surprised. I think this is why this idea of finding a new poem in your shoe each day resonated so strongly with me.

You will have noticed the poem linked to in the quote above is Wendell Berry’s ‘Made Farmer Liberation Front’, which is itself a truly exceptional poem propelled by furious rhythm; it is a manifesto for living and I can’t recommend it enough. However, I didn’t choose to make it the focus of this piece, I chose Wild Geese, referenced later in the above article, partly because above all, I favour simplicity, and partly because it ties in so well with the theme of the article, with the anguish of adolescence, and the crushing nature of depression.

Because, most of all, it offers hope. It begins:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

I fucking love these five lines. Forget the rest of the poem, lovely as it is. Let’s linger here. Poetry is all about lingering, anyway, staying in a moment long after the moment is gone, luxuriating in it, exploring, finding more and still more beneath the surface. That first line alone is a clarion cry – so much of our everyday struggle is to be good, whether we realise it or not. When we are children, what are we told? Be a good boy. Be a good girl, you wouldn’t want to be a bad one would you now? Shudder. Perish the thought.

There are times, however, as an adult, where this isn’t possible. You aren’t being bad, in the absence of good, you’re just unable to reach the ideal, to shoulder the constant, exacting burden. It’s too much. You struggle, you fall. If you’re lucky, in time, with help, you get up again and the struggle begins anew. This is why the opening line, ‘You do not have to be good’ is a clarion cry – it slices right through the bullshit, right through that notion that you must be anything, it frees you from expectation, unhooks the anchor lodged in your spine. As far as necessity goes, you need only concern yourself with the last of those five lines.

All you have to do is let yourself love what you love without discrimination, without judgment. Love it, and let it end at your love. Remember, too — this line is so fucking good — we are animals. There is something so delightfully undercutting about that, in the best possible way. We have a tendency to self-aggrandise, to attribute everything to our own actions, and in so doing, tend to judge ourselves on an equally obscene scale, which can only end badly. We’re just soft meat, in the end, like the geese in this poem.

Like them, too, we are always looking for home.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

America, You Sexy Fuck

So, today I found out that my shortlisted poem America, You Sexy Fuck, did not place among the final three winning entrants for the Judith Wright Poetry Prize. I’d like to take a moment to congratulate those who did; I can’t wait to read what I’m sure are exceptional poems. While I’m undoubtedly disappointed, I’ve had a few hours to think this over and I realised I was hurt not because I needed any further validation of the work itself – I’ve had that in spades since writing it and many others in the months since submitting it – but because of my financial problems at the moment, which I’ve written about previously. 

Basically, I was upset because all of my problems weren’t going to be solved in one fell swoop. When I realised that, I laughed at myself. Hard. Since when have any of my problems ever been solved all at once? Never. The same is true for most people. It’s a ridiculous sentiment to hold, even in the midst of a big disappointment. I went back and read a letter from a poet I admire, who was responding to one I’d written her, in which I wondered what the point of all this was, this crazy nonsense system of literary journals paying essentially nothing ($5-50 at most, per poem) and how anyone was expected to make a living through it. That’s $5-50 you’re only making if you get accepted, 3-6 months after you submitted in the first place.

She wrote back to say something along the lines of, she never relied on that broken system in the first place. The work – her work and the work of her unpublished peers – sustained her. Everything else came after. It was a reminder I needed. See, I don’t write poetry for publication in magazines. I don’t write it for prizes either. I write poems because they’re one of the few things in this life that can elicit true joy, and total relief. When I write poetry, I can breathe for what feels the first time in full, deep breaths. This is, in short, a disease. It makes no sense except to others who have been diagnosed with it, and it’s difficult to communicate why we do what we do, when there’s so little money and so much struggle.

You have to want it with a kind of demented zeal, a truly irrational desire. Imagine a salesman pitching this: “Hey you! Fancy a life of financial hardship, paralysing doubt and insecurity, as well as very little recognition and appreciation? Because if you do, man, have we got the thing for you! And all you have to do to get it is swim through this lake of fire.” It’s like wait, what? But the thing I’m going for is already bad! How can the trial and reward both consist of suffering? It made me laugh, honestly. I realise this, and a lot of what I say, might sound angsty in text, but more often than not I’m saying it and laughing. It’s so important not to take yourself too seriously, and I thank fuck every day that comedy constantly punctures my ego.

With all that said, the reason I’m writing this post now is simple: I write poetry, and I love doing it, and while publication in fancy pants journals is lovely, and shortlists and prizes are all very well and good too, I don’t need them. If they didn’t exist, I’d do it on the streets, standing atop a cardboard box if necessary. Which brings me to you: see, when I’m done with writing a poem, and it’s sitting there all pretty and new, I want nothing more than to share it. It kills me a little when I don’t, and instead send it off and have to wait agonising months for a reply, and so rather than go through that process again with this once-shortlisted poem of mine, I’ve decided I’m just going to share it here.

I hope you like it, and I hope to do this more often, too.

America, You Sexy Fuck

You are wearing your prettiest dress:
Fall, the only one named
for its desired effect, that is
when the colourful fabric (succinct
golds, russet reds, and deep browns
swirling together) drops
to your knees.
The trees are endless skeletal shadows
blurring the horizon,
some still clinging to their last vibrancy,
daring winter to freeze them
still crowned in faded glory.
The view out the window shifts
as gradually as the seasons: the slopes
of forest recede, and clusters of houses
peek out from the foliage – humanity
emerging from the landscape,
from your bosom – as of old.
Roads proliferate, black stretchmarks
stitching your body together.
Factories dot the distance, smoke hanging
between chimney and sky, still
as a painting, yet drifting apart all the time
like a cloud. Destiny is a beauty mark
on your collarbone (the dress has slipped
as you reveal yourself to me) sign-posted
at an intersection near Syracuse; I had the rare
pleasure of watching Destiny diminish
in the rear view mirror, not a final destination,
merely one of many options
getting you from here to there.
Fat syrupy clouds gather, swallowing the blue
and you begin to sweat.
I cross your bridges, your rivers
and dried up creek beds patterned with leaves,
tracing my footsteps across your soft middle,
wearing a groove into your skin.
I want to peel it back with my teeth,
see what’s beneath, what you’re hiding
but I am too distracted by your brazenness,
the swell of your hips. A valley beckons
and a vast wetness appears: steam billows
off the lake, or perhaps it’s a fog,
this dense rolling whiteness reaching up
to trail fingers over lips of storm.
I am heading to your borders,
to your discrete edges
so I can outline your everything
and hold your shape in my arms.
Between us, however, lies so much emptiness:
pit stops, Burger Kings, and dead towns
spoil the treeline
with a kind of beautiful desolation.
Beautiful because of people like Tammy,
iron-grey and pushing sixty, still working
behind the counter, smile flash-frozen in ‘89,
who keep industry alive
even in its death-throes, crowning capitalism
between halogen lights and trays of grease,
the way winter anoints autumn,
highlighting the end
in a furious burst of colour.

Thursday Poem: In Defense of Small Towns by Oliver De La Paz

Hello and welcome to my new followers! I don’t know where you’re all coming from, and I’m struggling to keep up with the notifications honestly, but I’m glad to have you on board. Normally, I post something on Thursday, but as my last post indicated, I’ve been in nine kinds of hell recently, some of which I had neither the energy or strength to expound upon then. My point is this: I’m late, and I’m sorry about that. I’ve just finished work and I have a friend over, so I still have no time to do this, but luckily, said friend is busy finishing a book, so I get to quickly introduce you to another gem (or remind you of it, if you’ve already read it).

This week’s poem is In Defense of Small Towns by Oliver De La Paz, and it is simply delightful. It begins:

When I look at it, it’s simple, really. I hated life there. September,
once filled with animal deaths and toughened hay. And the smells

of fall were boiled-down beets and potatoes
or the farmhands’ breeches smeared with oil and diesel

as they rode into town, dusty and pissed.

I often think of great poems like rivers; when I step into one, when I cede control, I expect to be taken gently downstream, for its flow to be inexorable and constant in its beauty. A less than great poem will pause, a clumsy line will snag my attention, prick the bubble and release me back into the world before its end. De La Paz’s poem has no such loose logs, no sudden outcropping of stone.

From beginning to end, I was drawn along, lost in the small country town he evokes with such ease. It didn’t surprise me, this town he spoke of, nor did the emotions, the need for escape we all feel for the places that bore us – so huge and endless while we were small, so confining and tiny as adults – and the conflicting surge of nostalgia we have once we’re gone from them. Despite the lack of surprise for this oldest of experiences, he still made it seem fresh. Each line sings with something specific, and like light hitting the water, it transforms the ordinary and mundane into priceless treasure, common pebbles glinting brighter than diamonds.

Even the cliche is given no room for purchase here, in a country town dominated by football:

The radio station

split time between metal and Tejano, and the only action

happened on Friday nights where the high school football team
gave everyone a chance at forgiveness

See how swiftly familiar terrain becomes divine? I adore that line. Of course we all have a chance at forgiveness during a football game: to forgive the players who mess up, and the referees for being referees, and each other, for hurling insult and hate at ordinary boys and girls whose only mistake was being born someplace else and wearing different colours.

We each of us have a chance at forgiveness every day, in most actions of our lives, no matter how small. It’s such an unexpected thing to be thankful for, to have the mere chance to experience it, and yet having read that line, it doesn’t seem so unexpected after all. It seems instead like I should have known that all along. That is just one example of the incisive way De La Paz cuts through the at-first-familiar skin of this landscape and shows us something new, something timeless and beautiful all at once.

I wish I had more time to rave about it but I don’t, so I leave it to you to discover at your own pace. Come back and tell me what you thought; I’d love to hear it.

Being Broke Fucking Sucks

Headline of the year, I know: “Man Discovers Lack Of Money Is Unpleasant, News at 11!” I’ve been poor before, actually, but that was while growing up, when it was out of my hands. During my teenage years, we went from poor to working poor to lower middle class, and I’ve largely stayed around there as an adult. I have had a privileged life, make no mistake, and I retain privileges even now that many poor people don’t. But these past few months I’ve been struggling in a big way, on the brink of being totally broke and having to move back home (which would only be temporary anyway, as my mum is being evicted soon and will be homeless herself), and it’s brought to mind some things I need to talk about.

These past few weeks, while unemployed and looking for work as the last of my savings drain away, have felt like a noose slowly being taut. Sure, I made jokes about it because that’s my first reflexive response to anything, but gradually, even that stopped. It’s gotten to the point where I’ve stopped taking public transport, stopped visiting friends and family, and with only a few exceptions, basically only gone wherever my feet can take me. Depression, which is always lurking around the corner, always waiting in the back of my mind, has surged to the fore and I am once again finding it easier to stay in bed, harder to speak, harder to look people in the eye.

I remember a couple years back, when I was properly suicidal, and I literally couldn’t look people in the eye. It was because, I thought, I was afraid they would be able to see my intent, as if depression and a desire for death was writ across my corneas. Actually, I see now that it’s just shame. I’m ashamed. It crystallised for me yesterday, when I was organising one of the two necessary exceptions I’ve taken, and a friend said the place we were meeting might cost $5 to enter. I objected. She laughed and said she couldn’t tell if I was joking. I wasn’t. I cancelled the lunch part of that trip when I looked up the menus nearby, and I felt a surge of something ugly in my chest. Shame. See, when you’re in the first phase of being broke and unemployed, you pretend nothing’s changed. At least, I do.

I don’t like to admit it, but I’ll go out, and I’ll order the same food as I would otherwise and justify it somehow in my head — that’s future-me’s problem, paying the rent and whatnot, current-me wants desperately to be on the same level as his friends. I’m not though. That’s the second phase: owning the truth of the situation, and severely restricting your spending. Coming to terms with that has helped me break through the bleakness I’ve been under lately, enough so I could write this anyway, so I could look at things a bit more objectively. A few months back, when the downward slope was beckoning, I actually wrote a letter to my friend outlining my situation and certain truths I had learned. Here’s part of what I wrote:

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