Guest Post, Michael Schmeltzer: The Dread Sacred (a Joy Manifesto)

 

Michael Schmeltzer bio photoLet me begin at the end like every apocalyptic film. The sun like a pregnant belly swells. We are old (or not.) We are sick (or not.) There is war enough to make us mad, even with nothing on earth to gain. We leave a book half-finished, a bill unpaid. Whether you’re a friend or stranger, reader or writer, let me say this so there is no misunderstanding; I don’t want to die.

This, of course, doesn’t matter. Our world, without our consent, will end, not with a bang but a whimper.

/

Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, Sanford, Ferguson.

Other worlds end with a bang but not a whimper and all too soon. We are told black lives matter but repeatedly shown, in a multitude of ways, they do not. In the not so distant past, violence struck like a hammer to our hearts: a movie theater, an elementary school, a church, a night club. If you let it, the evil and hate, the cynicism of society, will convince you no lives matter.

If that happens, what will you do with your one wild and precious life?

/

In the film “Last Night,” the world ends engulfed in a bright light. There is no scientific miracle, no hero on a rocket. No one survives.

“In addition to the dread is a sort of freedom,” Leah Umansky writes in her book “Straight Away the Emptied World.”

Sometimes I drive and sing wildly out of tune. Sometimes I wonder what if I crash? Is this the song I’ll die singing? I ask myself in the same way I watch apocalyptic films. It’s not the final scene I’m concerned about; it’s the moments before.

/

The characters in “Last Night” know they won’t make it. The two protagonists, having known each other only for hours, decide to kill each other moments before the world ends. They listen to a crowd countdown the seconds as they hold a gun to the other’s temple.

We know we won’t make it either. So then what? What does dread determine we do?

/

Let me begin again, this time where I love. My daughters, eight and five, are at school. I drop them off, kiss them goodbye. I return to my unusually quiet home. I wash and fold clothes, empty the dishwasher. This is what I do with my one wild, precious life. Yet, bored by the domestic, I am deeply in love with it, even the piss-mess and stink of the litter box.

In the evenings my children sit on my lap, tug on my arms to anchor me to the couch. At night my cats knead the soft skin of my forearm while I talk with my wife about our day. When I say I don’t want to die, do you feel it more deeply now, when you know the beginning of my joy and not just its inevitable end? Mary Oliver said it so well. “Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?”

/

I tell my daughters I love them: before they go to school, when I pick them up, when they go to sleep. I tell them directly and often, and they return such radiance. It’s a litany of joy, and I dread the silence their loss can bring.

It’s terrifying to love simply and openly, bluntly, but children deserve it. I want to look every child in the face and tell them they are enough. They are worthy. I would tell them every day. They deserve it all.

At what point do people disagree with me? At what age do people feel it necessary to ask “What have they done with their lives?” or “What were they doing moments before the end?” Seventeen? Twelve? At what age do people look at a child shot and without dread say they deserved it all?

/

“Tell me something to make me love you,” the character Sandra says in “Last Night.”

We owe the dead this much, a chance to be heard.

“Tell me more. I want to love you. It won’t be hard,” she continues.

/

“Often I think we can, if given half a chance, love anyone,” writes Jane O. Wayne.

/

When the shooter confessed he said he almost didn’t do it because everyone was so nice. It’s the proximity that wounds: the almost, the half a chance.

The shooter almost didn’t do it. Oh god, then he did.

/

Imagine joy enough not to pull a trigger.

/

A church. A mosque. A cemetery.

Our sacred spaces are not always safe spaces. We as writers are often called to witness this simple and tragic truth. But if there is any wisdom or modicum of comfort I can offer, it’s that we are not only called to witness tragedy, but joy as well.

/

“All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” Tolstoy wrote.

What can we say about that sentence other than how little it understands happiness, or the power inherent in it.

/

If we understand only a single angle of joy, then we only understand a single angle of loss.

“Tell me something to make me love you.” In other words, teach me your joy so I may wish you safe from harm. Teach me your joy so I may mourn you properly when the world ends.

/

None of us make it.

‘I don’t want you to go,’ he said, the tears dropping from his eyes, slowly at first, then spilling like a river.

I don’t want to go. But we’re not at the end yet, we’re in the moments before. We have time to tell each other more.

/

In the final scene of “Last Night,” the two protagonists lower their weapons. Everything hushes. They kiss. Only the sound of their embrace can be heard. Then the world is engulfed in light. This is how the film ends.

/

This can be the way the world ends, too.

 

Contributor Update: Stevie Edwards

Stevie Edwards bio headshotCongratulations to our former contributor Stevie Edwards! Stevie’s poem, Sadness Workshop, is a finalist for the Button Poetry chapbook.  Superstition Review first published Sadness Workshop in Issue 17 with three other poems by Stevie. Button Poetry produces and distributes poetry media, including: video from local and national events, chapbooks, collaborative audio recordings, scholarship and criticism, and many other products. Keep an eye out for their upcoming chapbook, on their facebook and on their website.

 

Guest Post, Maari Carter: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Obsession

Headshot photo of Maari CarterFor the past thirty years my grandfather has kept almost every single issue of Golf Magazine he’s received in the mail. A constant source of vexation for my grandmother, these issues fill the shelves of armoires, stand knee-high in his closet, and serve as a veritable fortress surrounding his TV stand. Every now and again, he’ll take one from a pile and peruse images of Jack Nicklaus captured mid-swing, Arnold Palmer lining up a putt, and advertisements selling everything from Big Bertha drivers to golf gloves. Being the stoic and laconic man that he is, my grandfather’s obsession with golf always made sense to me. It was a game he could play alone; a brief time during the week when all he had to contend with was himself and weather conditions. As far as obsessions go, it’s about as harmless as you can get. We’re not exactly talking Sartre’s mescaline-induced chats with crustaceans here- more like Tarantino’s frequent call back to Fruit Brute cereal, or Hirschfield’s habit of hiding his daughter Nina’s name in most of his drawings. There’s a familiarity there- one that evokes some element of order or existential meaning in its preservation of an artifact- in keeping it close and ever-relevant. And despite her aesthetic objections, I think my grandmother recognizes this as well, because not once has she ever asked him to get rid of them.

As for me, I’m only just beginning to recognize the nature of my own obsessive gestures.

A couple of weeks ago, I revisited Spinoza’s Ethics for the first time since undergrad and came across the passage in which he discusses the mind-body problem by examining the nature of sleepwalkers; how they often wake, surprised at the actions their bodies were able to execute while the mind seemingly took a backseat. As is typically the case, the text elicited a different response this time around. In terms of morality, this conceit provided interesting jumping off points that I had never really explored in my own work, and that led to a bevy of questions, such as: if mind and body are ontologically inseparable, is there any difference between the moral agent who only thinks of committing an immoral act and the agent who actually commits said immoral act through bodily extension? And isn’t imposing an etiological framework onto questions of morality further proof that it can’t be objective, because it relies upon the individual’s subjective conceptions of what constitutes cause and effect? And do we merely perceive something as good only by virtue of its being desired? And doesn’t the notion that a person’s ability to dictate what is genuinely good presuppose the existence of an idealized model human? And, by extension, if mind-independent moral properties don’t exist, then wouldn’t each person’s concept of an idealized model human be constructed in their own image and therefore be inherently fallible? I think you’re starting to see where I’m going with this…

Within three days I had written six poems entitled “Sleepwalker,” in an attempt to deal with the existential aftermath of this curious deluge. At one point, I even expressed concern to a fellow poet and friend, saying that I was worried about devoting too much poetic capital to a singular device for fear that it become gimmicky. But being the ever-supportive and wise friend that she is, she cautioned me against questioning it too much. Just go with it, she said. There’s a reason for the obsession. Since then, I’ve written five more “Sleepwalker” poems. Of course, I’m not so naïve as to believe that one poetic sequence will effectively bring about any sort of resolutions to the questions I have regarding morality, but resolution isn’t necessarily the goal. It’s enough to simply participate the act of recollection and extrapolation; to know that, when the mood strikes, there are artifacts of experience that I can return to again and again, because they represent something foundational to my understanding. At different times I’ve written poems for various reasons. Lately, I’ve been trying to write poems that examine how I know a thing; the calculus behind my knowing it. Because more and more, writing and sharing that writing with others is becoming a way to put my worldview in conversation with theirs; to allow my own subjective experience to be complicated, altered, and influenced through reciprocity.

As artists and writers, it’s not always easy to resist the inclination to impose our own ways of making meaning onto others. Because so much value is put on the unique elements of our individual style, syntax, point of view, and what have you, we tend to want to apply those when considering another’s work. But I do think there is a moment that precedes this reflex; a moment in which we want another’s experience to stand unqualified. Perhaps, that is a bit of an oversimplification. But mostly, in a lot of my daily interactions, I think I often get in my own way; I sometimes default to the notion that another’s perception somehow discredits or calls into question my experience. But there is something that occurs during the initial reading of a poem that actively opposes such qualifications and encourages me to reserve judgment. Coming to a poem is an act of surrender, or if not surrender, it’s at least an act of reception. In this way, I’m often surprised by poems- not just by their direction, scope, ambition, etc. It’s more like I’m startled by the gravitational shift away from egocentricity; how it feels to melt into a poem; how it takes a while to become solid again.

Much of my mental energy as of late has been devoted to a pre-prelim reading list of critical theory texts; so much so that on more than one occasion different friends have joked that I’d be perfectly justified in moving forward with that Bakhtin 4 Eva tattoo I keep threatening to get. I mean, you can only be that person who brings up polyglossia during casual conversation for so long until something needs to be done about it, right? But, truthfully, obsession has its place in art, in writing. And as much as I’ve hesitated to utilize the same subjects, objects, ideas, and figures in my poems, there is something to be said for paying attention to such patterns of cognition, for being aware of the through lines that are inherent to one’s intrinsic, critical thinking. After a somewhat creative drought, it’s been extremely productive to revel in this latest obsession. By not constantly trying to determine the source or validity of it, I’ve come to see it not as intrusive, or as a failure of my singular imagination. Rather, I can accept it as an antecedent to wonder… or as Spinoza might say, a point of origin from which infinite things follow- one I intend to ride all the way to the ground.

Contributor Update, Catherine Pierce: AWP Reading

If you’re going to be in Washington, D.C. for AWP 2017, here’s something to keep in mind: Catherine Pierce, winner of the Saturnalia Books of Poetry Prize, will be participating in an offsite reading along with several other authors published by Saturnalia Books. This will take place on the 9th of February 2017.

To read her poem that was published in Issue 8 of our magazine, click here.

You can also check out some of her other poems on her website.

Catherine Pierce

 

Contributor Update, Rochelle Hurt: Second Book of Poetry

Rochelle Hurt’s recently published second collection of poetry, In Which I Play the Runway, has won the 2015 Barrow Street Book Prize. Richard Blanco, who selected her book for the prize, describes that her “words [are] spoken with a vigor and honesty that are felt in the gut; words that remain lodged in the back of the throat.”

To pre-order her new book, click here.

To read her poetry that was published in Issue 11 of our magazine, click here.

You can also read samples of her poetry on her website.

Contributor Update, Les Kay: New Collection of Poetry

Have you heard? Les Kay has written his first full-length collection of poetry, At Whatever Front. The poems are “lively, moving, rhythmically tight, and often sweeping, with a kind of lyrical activism” according to John Philip Drury, author of Sea Level Rising.

To pre-order At Whatever Front, click here.

To read Les Kay’s poetry that was featured in Issue 15 of our magazine, click here.

Jordan Dahlen: Winner of 2016 Homecoming Writing Contest in Poetry

Every year, ASU holds the Homecoming Writing Contest to encourage aspiring writers to continue their craft. Here at Superstition Review, we were so excited to hear that one of our trainees, Jordan Dahlen, won first place in the poetry category!

Great job Jordan. Keep writing!