BY AMANDA KILLIAN
My dirty secret has always been that it’s of course about me.
You don’t feel half as much pain and sadness when we’re apart
You don’t feel anything at all
–Genna Rivieccio, Bowery Poetry Club, 9/14/15
I was introduced to read a week ago at the Bowery Poetry Club…Cafe? Are they just BOWERY POETRY now? The particulars I’m not very familiar with because, surprisingly, it was my first time there, ever, in my 10 years in New York scribbling down the sideline chatter on the subway in the margins of my books, finding an acute little poem that comes from both the conversation and the words the conversation is transcribed next to. My introduction is prefaced withThis won’t make sense to anyone but me and she goes on to introduce me with two lines of poetry to which I respond at the mic, What do you mean? That totally makes sense. It’s always about me.
I was trying to consume Maggie Nelson’s out from Graywolf Press, The Argonauts, methodically, and now I laugh at how impossible that is to do with Nelson, a writer who has been/is my literary guardian angel. Her method is her own and her books always reach me at that particular moment of breaking. Let it break! Fracture all around…it’s so much more fun that way! Or sometimes there’s no other way to come out than a little cracked. In Argonauts, Nelson uses the ship the Argos as metaphor for our identities…Parts may be replaced over time but the boat is still called the Argo.
I’m absolutely fascinated by the hair that falls out of my head. The bends of light in them and particularly these three coarse white strands that have begun to grow right at the top of my crown. About the hair in mid fall from my hand to the floor in the morning is just as sweet as the notes I would float down to my mother from the top of the stair so that they would land right in front of her bedroom door. I’m sorry, they would say. Something specifically about this manipulation of my mother and my inability to intrude on her and say it directly…
Throughout The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson argues for the particular, the personal, the individual, not the categorical, or the overarching identity of a mass, or one identity for one person. There are just so many identities inside us. She speaks to one of hers as mother, I don’t ever want to make the mistake of needing him [her son Iggy] as much as or more than he needs me. I pause here. I pause here a long time. I realize a something of my mother that soothes a little crack I’ve retained from childhood, dashing home with stories from school and my mother hunched over the typewriter or crouched on the floor with bits of handmade paper, pressed leaves, and some copper wire on a cutting mat, You’re boring me right now. I was crushed or alternately vehement and insulted, Why are you so mean?! Only to be flatly answered again with What? You’re boring me. I naively thought that mothers were supposed to be interested in the mind-numbing particulars of an eight year old’s day.
As I get to read my work in public more and more, I stand up there appalled that I am shoving this in people’s faces. I start talking to myself on stage, side-banter directed at the floor. Maybe my voice is not a voice that needs to be heard right now in all the much needed choruses calling out the particular injustices of each murdered individual, each moment of insult of mass injustice that we are too in our own selves to see all at once.
Maybe there’s more to be said for and by the voices that don’t get heard. Why do I assume that this deserves the space of your attention? And then I know that I don’t think this at all. Why write when I could lay it on you in person? One more note floats down from the stairwell. I’m sorry. I cannot do anything but have the lesson my mother gave me: Get used to it. No one is gonna give a shit about what you think. The secret message, you will feel and fracture anyway.
I write my mother an email and wonder why she doesn’t respond. Is she sick? Is she okay? Should I ride the train back to her tonight? She would never want this. The point of her silence is a misguided punch to save me from her need for me. Now then, always, because to reach out once nakedly is to be overwhelmed by your lack, then overwhelm you child with it. What great force inside of her which said, No, I will teach you to be on your own, to deny you as much of me as we can stand so we can live here where we must always be stronger than our emotions, but rarely are.
So this as Maggie Nelson says, Because nothing you say can fuck up the space for God. So because all of this very specific stuff of me feels particularly rebellious to what bored my mother, the bits and pieces of my day in the margins. So because this rightly and justly fractured in all its second-wave feminism, in all its we will never escape ourselves, in all its privilege that was given to me by the very fuck ‘em attitude of my mother. This need to save your blood from yourself. So you stop asking permission where there’s no note that says it’s sorry for the voice no one ever really wants to hear.
Amanda Killian is a poet living in New York. Her work has appeared on Everyday Genius, Yes Poetry, and Luna Luna Magazine, as well as published in The Opiate. She will begin her MFA in Poetry at Brooklyn College fall 2016.