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Order a copy of Cameron Quan Louie’s chapbook Apology Engine right here.

 

 

My therapist says trauma is simply an encounter with something that we cannot make sense of. I struggle to make sense of this. My therapist is skilled, practices the technique of self-disclosure, establishes rapport with me by confiding about her own trauma. As a young girl growing up on a farm, she witnessed the long, bloody birth of a calf in a barn. No explanation is the default. She says that trauma is stored and released in certain parts of the body, which is why we cry unexpectedly during yoga, arching and bowing our backs through the familiar sequence. Cat, cow. Why being overcome with feeling makes our throats shake. The vagus and the vague. If poetry troubles sense and multiplies the senses, that would make poets the professional purveyors of trauma! Just think! Teachers, performers, and poets laureate are paid to drive around traumatizing people, telling them how valuable, how necessary it is to be traumatized, even being thanked for the service. I have a plan: At the beginning and end of every poem, every work of art, the person responsible for it should get on their knees and beg for forgiveness.

 

 

 

 

The professor is mild-mannered, dresses in tasteful khakis and lumpy shoes. He is the kind of person who leans approachably, without any irony or self-possession, against his desk at the front of the room. We are a mixed class: Half of us are writers who are embarrassed and ashamed because we spend too much time writing and not enough time studying literature—its histories, theories, great pasty men—and the other half are devoted to the study of literature, but too embarrassed and ashamed to admit that they want to write themselves. Who apologizes to whom? The professor says, The thing about you writers is that you’re always thinking: How can I use this? What he means to say is that our ability to operate shamelesslyto separate reality from responsibility, to consume, is limitless. Our loved ones die in a fire, and all we want is a flawless description of the fire. I crackle in my plastic chair. The professor is not wrong.

 

 

 

 

Some apologies are impossible to receive. The night before my mother checked all three of us into the shelter for women and children fleeing domestic violence, we slept overnight at her office. At the time, I did not find this strange. It seemed feasible that adults might do sleepovers at work all the time. My mother worked for a high school, taking care of some overweight goats and a lame horse named Barney. What a school needed with goats and a horse was not a question that crossed my mind. Whenever we bring up this particular night, my mother apologizes over and over again. Over and over again, I tell her that it is one of my fondest memories! I didn’t know we were hiding from anyone, so I cheerfully ate Cheetos and watched the 1985 movie, Clue. As I recall, it is frightening at times. In one scene, a man with greasy hair shuts the only door in the room and turns off the lights. A thud, a gunshot, broken glass. One throaty scream. The lights come on, the man with greasy hair is dead. Then, a chorus of voices, all of the characters going to work, trying to figure out who’s to blame.

 

 

 

 

As an American, I have learned to be comfortable—but not too comfortable—in a condition of sorrow for an almost endless list of atrocities. Today, I am most sorry for misting the jungles of Vietnam with an orange fog of dioxin, a solution manufactured by the great American companies Monsanto, Diamond Shamrock. There are five Diamond Shamrock stations in my city and the closest one is four-point-four miles away. Inside the station is a package of corn nuts, roasted to perfection. Each kernel, dusted with smoky chipotle powder, carries the muted potential to produce a stalk of Zea mays, one hundred and fifty-five buttery yellow calories domesticated in the Tehuacán Valley seven thousand years before the birth of the mythological figure celebrated on the Ford F-150 with the bumper sticker that assures me, Faith: Through it, all things are possible, which is comforting.

 

 

 

 

I take the aptitude test and it reads like a fortune cookie: You will have great success in people-oriented roles. Counselor, lawyer, copyeditor. Cause for concern. People I enjoy, but being fixed to them the way a needle’s fixed to north, or any point, sends polar shivers down my spine. I’d really like to be an albatross’s eye. They say fear of commitment stems from fear of loss, which is like saying soil grows out of the leaves of trees. Well, I call vermicast on that! The only truly noble occupation is the aperture. Holes in a honeycomb, each diamond opening inside the lattice of a microphone. Apologies are such openings. And in particular, to the idea of selves, plural, transitional. Which brings us here: I’m sorry that I want to write like you. Not write the way you write, but write as if I were you.

 

 

 

 

Cameron Quan Louie lives in Tucson, AZ. A graduate of the University of Washington’s MFA program, his chapbook, Apology Engine, was selected by Trace Peterson for the 2020 Gold Line Press Chapbook Contest. His poems, essays, and erasures appear or are forthcoming in The Rumpus, Entropy, Quarterly West, Best New Poets, Asian American Writers Workshop, The Gravity of the Thing, and elsewhere.

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