I find your title quite confusing. Can you explain it?

The toothless house is an image that came to mind when I was working on this book, which is primarily about parenthood. I imagined that the experience of raising children was akin to being a krill swallowed whole by a blue whale. One minute you are just swimming along happily minding your own business, and the next minute you are in the belly of the whale. Blue whales do not technically have teeth, they have baleen, which are similar to the bristles of a brush. Though one’s house isn’t technically a jail and bristles aren’t technically teeth, escaping intact in either case would be quite difficult.

I know that is a ridiculously convoluted (and probably scientifically inaccurate) metaphor, but there you have it.

Parenthood has turned out to be the best experience of my life, but this book is about the first years, which were like knocking up against the bristles, both physically and emotionally.

credits: CameraRAW Photography


Do you believe in ghosts?

No, but I believe in being haunted.

You hear words

By Gayle Brandeis

Poem

You hear words like burn and drown and freeze and scald and they’re just words to you. You hear stab and strangle and pummel and hack and they’re just words, too. A few letters, easy to say. Easy to move past. Burn. Drown. Freeze. Scald. Compact little sounds. Some may make you flinch. Send a momentary shiver down your body, raise a bit of gooseflesh. But then your nerves settle; your body seals itself again.

 

When your body knows these words, knows them in every fiber, the words change. They become the smell of your own scorched skin, the taste of your own blood, the sight of your own fingers on the floor, separate as dropped slices of apple. These words have become something more than words. They have become weapons, ready to get under the surface of you, pry you back open.

 

Your body remembers even when you no longer have a body

(some tender part of you still flinches)

(some immaterial nerves still flare)

 

Would you consider yourself an immigrant poet?

Yes, I would. But who isn’t an immigrant? And I don’t just mean that tired old explanation of we all come from someplace else if weren’t not true native americans. I mean more that we all came from that before-time, before the alpha, when it was…what? Womb-darkness, star-fizz, spiritual-shampoo. We’re all immigrants having arrived at this particular existence. We don’t know what we really all are, so why the hell do we insist on labeling other human beings anything other than human beings?

I can’t stop thinking of the blind young man’s tapping,
and that dandy cuckolded Bloom, the sickening sirens,
and the whole work laying over my commute, the highway,
like an exploded Church, my tires crackling over each brick,
every day like another ballad to the sun, exposed like Dedalus
buying a little milk in the morning—Comey, Yates, McCabe—
the tarpaulin, pulling, the top, the teepee, top parade, the babe
being strolled by his good mother. I listen to the seashore,
the heave and ho of the country’s nostrils, its punctured eye,
the people asking: “Who did this to you?”—America responding,
“Nobody. Nobody did this to me.” His falsehoods are music,
nearly innocent and childlike. His Hamlet-breath, still speaking
to his father atop a real estate project. “I am thy father’s spirit.”
Swelling at the throat, the aria that may cast a darkened light.
Marking the long tale, I feel as if my insides were cold dust,
the heart reduced to a monologue. Where to go for lunch?
Somewhere where I won’t run into him, the world-whisperer,
the eternal flatterer, the black helicopter filled with steaks
and the stone wife, playing at odds as if we needed to believe
in her statuary. Dignam is dug and gone; his life is spoken for,
the attributions, the lectures in the library, the greasy man
has passed, the barmaids giggled, the world is the world.

You were born and raised in the Bronx, what brought you to LA?

For better or worse, I really didn’t think about it much, I just did it. I had a best friend who moved out here and I was curious to see the city that Bukowski wrote about. I was only writing for a few years at this point, still trying to find my voice, but I thought throwing myself into a whole new strange world and starting from scratch would give me the kick in the ass I needed.

To be quite honest, it damn near killed me. Writing was the only thing that kept me going… that and booze, lots and lots of booze.

today
will not
get away

it will be
hunted and
stalked

opened
and entered

feasted upon
and finally
laid to rest

well lived
and unwasted.

What does it most often look like around you when you write? Do you have a zone?

I like a big desk and a bulletin board. I decorate my writing space with earthly treasures and many different notes that help guide me through my process. I also like to have space to get up and dance while I work because moving my body makes it all better. I like to be in complete solitude while I write. The best is a room with a view of nothing but landscape and a nearby wall that I can tape paper and images to. I’ve been lucky enough to conjure this at various times in my life and am in awe of the privilege. I seek out solo retreats in Joshua Tree and Humboldt County. The natural world, as opposed to the urban, is a consistent part of my practice.

Start by loving a God that lives
Inside the shell of a black beetle.
Now get a little older
And become a Jew
Who loves a God inside letters
That read backward on the page.
Older still and Christ comes
To teach some other version
That wipes us all clean
When we get dunked
In an above-ground swimming pool.

What was the genesis of this book?

Save Our Ship was inspired by “The Diverse Vices of Women, Alphabetized,” a renaissance alphabet intended to instruct women to avoid sensual pleasure, particularly that of speech. I overheard my art history colleague, Theresa Flanigan, mention her work on it, and my poet-spidey-sense tingled: I knew I could use it. I began by writing against it, but the result was too one-note. Meanwhile, I had become increasingly obsessed by the climate crisis and sixth extinction. So feminist rants were joined by environmental freakout poems, with some more quotidian poems mixed in, I hope leavening the whole with some humor. My elevator pitch is: “#MeToo meets Global Weirding, in abecedarian form. But in a good way.”

Your clamshell rings and rings
                                                         wrapped in seagreen plastic

         Mer-crone calling Fisher King

The number you are calling has a voice mail box that has been deluged

          a drowned sailor picks up

… crusts of dried salt in the streets …
                                                                      you’re breaking up …

          the tide of pink jellyfish
                                                      big as washing machines
                                                                                                     rises

When did you first think about talking to the dead?

As a child first without thinking, it seemed normal to have a cast of characters always in my head separate from the voices we all carry. They have their own languages. But with intention, not until my brother suicided; then I thought there must be a way to tune in and reach specifically, blood of my blood and coded the same as we are. I spent two years meditating while writing BASIC PROGRAMMING creating a visual narrative that involved walking 108 steps, one for each isolated inhale or exhale down a spiral staircase to the underworld where I could shed this coil and find him. If I lost count going down or my focus wavered, I would get up from the mat. And when I finally reached the bottom, I realized I didn’t know what to do at that point. You have to know how to get back up safely.

110 < >

By Megan Burns

Poem

what I do/ bemoan loss/ my betrayal/ what’s good/ never
traveled a land of dead to get me/ would you/ never waded my city
to pull photos from floodwater stained walls/ would you/ never tried
to pull my spine, notch vertebrae notch through back where I’m split/ spit on me/ would you/ never lowered yourself into mud spewing vomit, your lies that bile thick hanging from your chin/ or clawed your eyes out to not see pain you cause me/would you/ never put muzzle back of my head/ but you did/ never pulled trigger sending metal biting through wishes, dreams, nightmares / never put your mouth on mine & sucked out my breath or put it back in/
wouldyou/wouldyou/wouldyou/

photograph by Emily Raw

Here’s a way to start a self-interview. How are you not yourself?

How am I not myself? I’ve had to cut out dairy, I moved twice in a year, I’m trying to leave academia. I hardly recognize myself.

liver licked out of shape,
moldova moya, liquor
loves your shakes

louder the laughing,
lucky the fool, moldova
moya, playing pool

laid out, olives
like eyes, moldova moya,
milk and lies