Two Poems

By Connor Ong

Poetry

 

April 19, 1994

Apparently when I was born

I asked the OB-GYN

if the lighting in the room could be changed

I wanted it less direct,

preferred it to be a little more developed

and civil to all things inside the room

especially the elements unfocused

Why poetry?

In my early 20s, I started writing poetry as a way to cope with melancholy, challenge what wasn’t working out in love, work, life in general. I submitted to a mix of college literary journals and cultural magazines and received some acceptances. They gave me the drive to carry on, although some jobs and lifestyle changes got in the way of continuity. About fifteen years later, I started to write short stories and hoped to write a novel one day. Then my late mother suffered a massive stroke in 2006 and I found myself running back and forth between New York and Pennsylvania to help with caregiving. Time constraints led me to resume writing poetry and that’s where I’ve stayed. I consider my poems short short stories. I find it challenging in a positive way to tell a story in as few words as possible. Since 2013, I’ve belonged to an online poetry community called brevitas where 50+ poets share short poems (13 lines maximum) twice a month. I haven’t missed a submission since I started. Many brevitas poems appear in my latest poetry collections.

Since we mostly communicate through social media, texts and e-mails, I think the brevity of poetry makes it an optimal medium for reaching readers with a story, inspiration, some thought-provoking ideas. It doesn’t require a considerable investment in time.

I learned the art of detachment
from a destructive pest
romanticized by poets
whose origins go back millions of years.

Celestial nomads that feast on
leather, wool, silk, felt
and thrive on night
taught me to let go of longing—

 

I stood and watched a man in a blue suit stare into the window of a shop that only sold popsicles. He stared for a long time. He kept staring and I said, “Do it, man. Get yourself a popsicle.” But he couldn’t hear me. I was all the way over here leaning against the brick wall on the other side of Bleecker Street and the wind ripped and sent a newspaper slapping into me. I laughed, kicked it away.

The man in the blue suit changed his stance and peered closer. His breath fogging the window. It was such a cold day. I was shivering. Part of my problem with shivering was that I didn’t own a coat anymore. I’d gotten too fat for my coat three years before, maybe four years before and I refused to buy another coat. That coat was supposed to last the rest of my life. That had been the deal.

Maybe I’d change my life or something.

Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Lydia Kiesling. She is the editor of The Millions, a National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” honoree, and her debut novel The Golden State is available from MCD Books.

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America today is more polarized than it’s been at any point in my lifetime. Socially, politically, racially, economically, religiously…in many ways, this division is born of willful ignorance, the result of small minds glorying in hackneyed thoughts and ideas discredited decades, sometimes centuries, before. There is perhaps no one more guilty of this sort of reductive thinking—and of infecting others with itthan Donald Trump, or as Gabino Iglesias refers to him in his dynamic new novel, Coyote Songs, President Pendejo.

Constructed as a sort of literary mosaic, Coyote Songs takes place on either side of the US-Mexico border, the frontera in Spanish. Madness, magic, murder, sadness, loss, and love all dwell within the pages of Coyote Songs, forces struggling to reconcile the ugliness and beauty of life. In the opening chapter, a young boy witnesses a murder while on a fishing trip with his father. Later, witches and saints, goddesses and monsters, heroic criminals and villainous victims all play their parts in a story that owes as much to magical realism as noir.

Sweet Marjoram, your new book, is done up in shades of green, on a velvet-soft matte cover.  It’s very tactile, this book.  There is this sensation of the flora, moist and juicy, stretching up from dark waters toward an unseen light source.  I think the cover image serves these writings extremely well.  As I went through the differently themed chapters, I had a sense of Thoreau musing over things.

The cover design by is Marc Vincenz  (also the editor of Mad Hat Press, the umbrella for Plume Editions).  It’s meant to portray the herb sweet marjoram, which was believed to cure madness in Shakespeare’s time, hence this close-up photograph of the living leaves against a dark background.  I took my title from the impromptu password that Edgar in King Lear (Act 4.6) offers the maddened Lear on Dover Beach, and I hoped to share that friendly, respectful spirit in my essays.  Given the Lear connection, by the way, we had also considered a different image from a Lear performance in the 1960s, where Lear wears a crown of weeds (rather than thorns) and actually offers Edgar some weed like a stoned Timothy Leary.  I preferred the first, simpler and more classic design, and I’m pleased it works so well for you: even bringing Thoreau to mind.  Thoreau both explored Nature as a scientist and imagined it as a poet, or tried to.  Interesting that his Walden Pond also helps him assess “unaccommodated man.”

Also, I suppose, just as Thoreau left civilized Concord for the woods, which seemed to others an odd and whimsical thing to do, here I’m leaving the serious literary work of novel and memoir writing, or seem to be.

Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Leah Dieterich. Her debut memoir, Vanishing Twins: A Marriage, is available from Soft Skull Press.

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After-After

By Shira Dentz

Poem

American is the new German,
German the new American.
A square of window might be
1/4 or 1/12 depending
on whether you think
said window is two panes
or one.
My name is Nazi Avenue.
I have a lot of gifts,
fertility isn’t one of them.
Glass against a night
sky is like paper
for any light before it
to be written on.

Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Andre Dubus III. He is the author of seven books, including House of Sand and FogThe Garden of Last Days, and the memoir Townie. His new novel is called Gone So Long. It is available from W.W. Norton & Company.

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Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Meghan O’Gieblyn. Her new essay collection, Interior States, is available from Anchor Books. It is the official October pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

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What, in four words or less, is your debut short story collection all about?

Lust. Revenge. Betrayal. Justice.

 

Do you think it’s unusual to have ‘unflattering’ portrayals of women and queer people of color so dominate a story collection?

I feel like the terms ‘flattering’ and ‘unflattering’ are sort of like terms used by a fading star to direct a photographer to a ‘more flattering’ angle. To one’s ‘best’ side. When the reality, in all its brutality and force and honesty, is just so much more dazzling to me, and really beautiful.

Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Laura van den Berg. Her new novel, The Third Hotel, is available from Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.

This is Laura’s second time on the program. She first appeared in Episode 224 on November 10, 2013.

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For the kids reading this, coming of age in the 90s wasn’t for the faint of heart. It was like the 70s but with pushup bras instead of no bras. Nobody watched their language – twelve-year-olds might as well have been twenty-one. Families were broken; “dysfunctional,” we called them. Dads were disappointing, dads were nonexistent, dads took us aside and told us our mothers were crazy. Moms were over it; moms did their best; we blamed our moms for not protecting us from our dads, from the world. Tanya Marquardt grew up in Vancouver; I grew up in Ohio; you grew up in Oklahoma; New York, Kentucky, Oregon, Texas; it’s all the same pain with a different accent. Teen angst, abuse, abandonment. In Stray, Tanya tells the story of an angry young woman just discovering that her voice is a rebel yell. She hit the road at sixteen against a soundtrack of weird industrial noise bands like Skinny Puppy, and found that a BDSM dungeon can sometimes be a better option than home bitter home. Managing to stay in high school despite it all, with Stray and her work in the theater, Tanya Marquardt has turned trauma into art.

 

You famously talk in your sleep. Can you talk about the process of recording yourself and the most surprising thing you learned? 

Alongside the book, I’ve been working on a performance piece called Some Must Watch While Some Must Sleep, which is about my experience as a lifelong sleeptalker. In 2015, I started recording my sleeping self on my iPhone and discovered that I have an entirely different ‘person’ that rolls around in my head. She has her own desires; she talks to herself, to me, to people I don’t recognize, and to the people that are sleeping next to me. And when I listen to the recordings, this sleeping self sounds like a younger version of me, a cup ½ full little creature walking around in my brain when I am unconscious. Sometimes she talks like a child, other times she seems to have some kind of mysterious, poetic knowledge.

37 year old me checked in with my past selves, and these are the questions they asked me. 

This is 28. Do we ever stop sleeping with people who treat us badly?

Oh babe, you are in the wasteland right now! It’s a nightmare, isn’t it? I hate to tell you this, but we don’t really learn how to say no to bad sex until we’re in our early 30s. It’s one of the terrible by-products of having lacked any comprehensive education about desire and intimacy. We were taught all the mechanics of reproduction and birth control (not that it always worked – hi 25 and 26!) but not a lot about how to have actual conversations about what we wanted from sex. Couple that with the general self loathing that women are socialised into from girlhood and it’s just really fucking hard to figure out how to tell a dude he sucks (and not in the right way).

I hear that. Why do so many of them have such filthy bedrooms?