SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: MEGAN WILDHOOD

After nearly ten years as Contributing Editor of this series, the time has come for change. I am thrilled to expand my role to Managing Editor and provide the opportunity for fresh voices to contribute to this ongoing dialogue. Today and in the coming weeks, please help me welcome a series of guest editors to the newest incarnation of the Saturday Poetry Series.

Viva la poesia!
Sivan, Managing Editor
Saturday Poetry Series, AIOTB



How to Use Water as Fuel
By Megan Wildhood

Dad says I should have been born a fish,
what with the eerily natural way I moved through water.

He and I got our scuba diving certificates
together when I was 12 – I didn’t notice

the Caribbean makes your hair sticky as it’s drying
under a sun I didn’t care would rudely

find every last fleck of flesh exposed.
My sister rejected diving, getting in the water

at all, because of what the wild does
to your hair and skin.

We glossed arguments in the family,
like makeup on my sister’s face. I had to be

persuaded to start wearing the stuff because it seemed
like both Mom and sister needed a cleanup crew

every night just for their faces. They used water
to wash; I used it to fly.



Today’s poem is from Long Division (Finishing Line Press, 2017), copyright © 2017 by Megan Wildhood, and appears here today with permission from the poet.

Megan Wildhood: Do you feel isolated, uncertain about where in the world your story might be welcome? Megan Wildhood, a Seattle-based writer and poet, can deeply relate – she feels like an outsider most places she goes. She’s written about the various ways she’s felt like a misfit in The Atlantic, Contrary Magazine, America Magazine and in her chapbook Long Division, released September 2017 from Finishing Line Press, among other publications. She’s working on a novel and more poetry projects; head on over to meganwildhood.com to learn more.

Guest Editor’s Note: Family dynamics are notoriously complicated, and Megan Wildhood tackles them with unflinching honesty in “How to Use Water as Fuel” from her chapbook, Long Division. In this poem, we’re immersed in water, exploring a closeness to certain family members and a distance from others. The speaker feels connected to her father — “Dad says I should have been born a fish, / what with the eerily natural way I moved through water” — but disconnected from her mother and sister. The final lines of the poem highlight this aching contrast: “They used water / to wash; I used it to fly.” Finding commonalities and bridging the gaps between us is critical. “How to Use Water as Fuel” ultimately explores the longing for connection, even when our differences get in the way.

Want to read more by and about Megan Wildhood?
Megan Wildwood’s Official Website
Buy Long Division from Finishing Line Press
“Not Jumping” in America Magazine

Guest Editor Alana Saltz is a poet, writer, and freelance editor living in Tacoma, Washington. She received her MFA in Writing from Antioch University and her work has been published in The Washington Post, The LA Times, The Huffington Post, Angels Flight, voxpoetica, and The East Jasmine Review. You can find out more about her at alanasaltz.com or @alanasaltz on Instagram and Twitter.

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At the Harbor Lights Motel After You Return

Loggerhead Sea Turtle (digital art based on a photo from NOAA.org)

At the Harbor Lights Motel After You Return

By Lynn Houston

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In August 2016, while at a writing residency, I met a man who was already supposed to have deployed with his National Guard unit. We were given the gift of three weeks before he left, time we used to get to know each other, as we helped out on a friend’s farm, had long conversations on a porch swing, and rode his motorcycle up into the mountains. The night before he left the country, as he was driving to the base, we talked on the phone for over three hours. For six months while he was gone, I sent him near-daily poems in the mail. When he returned, after an initial successful reunion, it became clear that he was plagued with anger issues and other problems associated with a difficult re-entry into his civilian life. He began seeing someone else, and we broke up. In my grief, I revised the poems I’d sent him and began submitting them to poetry contests. Unguarded won the inaugural chapbook contest of the Heartland Review Press and is due to be released in December 2017, with a series of readings and book signings in the Elizabethtown, KY, area scheduled for early 2018.

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At the Harbor Lights Motel After You Return

The fish aren’t biting on Key Largo
the morning we spend together
after you return. You nap all day,
sheets spiraled like a carapace
around your torso and legs.

Next to you in bed, I touch your head,
stroke the hair you’ve grown long,
and ask what it was like over there.
But you pull the blankets higher
and turn away to face the wall.

Hours later, I call to you from the doorway
to show you a snapper on my line. You dress,
find me on the dock where we drink beer
as the sun slumps behind the palms.

You sleep through the night, and in the morning,
before you leave for a dive on a coral reef,
you tell me that turtles sleep like humans do—
you’ve seen them at night tucked into the nooks
of wrecks, heads withdrawn into shells;
you’ve seen their eyes blink open in the beam
of your dive light; you’ve even seen one wake
and swim away when a fish fin came too close.
They have nerve endings there, you tell me.
They can feel when something touches their shell.

When you return from the reef, I ask you
again how it was over there, and this time
you begin to tell me what you can.

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Editor’s Note: This poem is the third of a series. The first poem, “On the Farm, Before You Leave for Afghanistan,” and the second poem, “You Leave and I Can’t Sleep” were published in late 2017.

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About the Author: Lynn Marie Houston holds a PhD from Arizona State University and an MFA from Southern Connecticut State University. Her poetry appears in numerous literary journals–such as O-Dark-ThirtyGravelPainted Bride QuarterlyOcean State ReviewHeavy Feather Review–and in her three collections: The Clever Dream of Man (Aldrich Press), Chatterbox (Word Poetry Books), and Unguarded (Heartland Review Press). For more information, visit lynnmhouston.com

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Growing up on the Island of Misfit Toys or: Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer as a Queer Allegory

Growing up on the Island of Misfit Toys

or:

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer as a Queer Allegory

By Chase Dimock

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(Note: This a reposted and edited version of this article originally published here in 2013)

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The Misfit Narrative and Queer Youth

The narrative of the misfit character struggling to find his place in the world is a well-used trope for popular entertainment. It is universally identifiable and it lends itself to a light, yet redeeming moral at the end of the story. Everyone thinks of himself or herself as a misfit to some degree and everyone is accustomed to the simplistic and not controversial message of tolerance and treating everyone equally.

Yet, the story of Rudolph as a misfit takes on a different dimension for the 50 years worth of queer American children who grew up watching the holiday classic every year on television. While these stories about treating kindly those different from us and not being afraid to be different were commonplace in the American classroom with their examples of not being ashamed to wear glasses, have freckles, stutter, etc., the narrative of tolerating difference resonates differently for queer youth. Unlike the child with glasses who knows he is the same as other children beneath the glasses, queer youth often feel an intrinsic difference; they are often treated as though they inhabit a different kind of body and thus live as almost another species of being. The queer youth is looking for more than a little hope that they will be tolerated and accepted; they are also looking for a subject model to emulate, a guide on how to live as a misfit.

For most of the past 50 years, lgbt youth have had to look for subject models in the abstract. Until the past decade, there were few, if any, lgbt-identified characters in the media that their family consumed. Unlike today, where lgbt youth have a character on Glee or Modern Family to point to in order to navigate their lgbt subject position, children of previous generations (including myself) had to look elsewhere for characters and subject models who mirrored their queerness in non-explicitly gendered or sexual forms. Coming into one’s gay identity meant identifying across a variety of different kinds of queerness and cobbling together a sense of how to think and live in a marginalized subject position by observing and learning from other forms of outsider status, like racial minorities, the disabled, immigrants, the poor—pretty much any oppressed class of people who had some representation in the media.

In a certain way, maturing into my gay subjectivity by identifying through the similar outsider subject positions of others was beneficial because I saw my gayness as united with other disadvantaged segments of the population. It allowed me to see that some of the challenges facing the lgbt world come not simply from sexual or gender difference, but also from how society defines and polices otherness. In contrast, growing up today with gay visibility in the mainstream media sometimes cuts out some of the unique self-invention that the queer youth historically went through in understanding their sexual or gender identity. Now they are given preformed, and usually limited, definitions of what constitutes an lgbt person. We now tolerate same sex attraction insofar as it does not disrupt or challenge our cultural norms.

Screen Shot 2013-12-13 at 12.36.53 PM

This is the legacy that the “be nice to those who are different” and “be proud to be different” morals have left modern LGBT youth now that movements like the It Gets Better Project and anti-bullying causes have updated this message for the 21st century. These are fine messages to begin with: on the very basic level, we should indeed be nice to those who are different and be proud of our differences. Yet, just like how the It Gets Better Project (in spite of itself) became a vehicle for press-seeking celebrities and corporations to dilute its specifically LGBT oriented message with vague assertions of “hang in there kids”, so too does this tolerance fable often miss the supposed point of its own message. It’s okay to be different, but more often than not, the happy ending of the story is that the misfit learns that their difference is their key to fitting in.

Rudolph’s red nose is accepted once it is discovered that society has a use for it and he can fit in at the front of Santa’s sleigh. When the misfit’s happy ending is finally finding a place to fit in within the same social system that had once rejected him, ultimately the moral of the story is to tolerate only minor, superficial differences. The moral of the story declares it is okay to be a misfit by showing how a misfit has a place in society—which renders him no longer a misfit. It is the story of social assimilation—difference is tolerable as long as it fits into the social hierarchy and structure and does not threaten it.

This is the same problem that lgbt youth face today as society has become more accepting of gay identity and more exposure has been granted to gay characters in the media. There is increasing support for coming out as gay, but because modern lgbt activism has stressed its “normality” as the key to gaining rights. One comes out to a specific idea of what gay sexuality constitutes, including a preconceived identity politics and culture. Now that there are “uses” for the gay man in society (largely stereotypes of the interior decorator, hair dresser, stage producer, though there is no shame in these vocations) he is encouraged to come out because there are non-threatening, economically viable uses for his labor in mainstream society. His misfit status isn’t accepted or defended, because ultimately society has a found a “fit” for him that serves the dominant culture. Essentially, you are allowed to be gay, but just not queer.

Rudolph also invents the possibility of a queer utopia: The Island of Misfit Toys, a place where being different, thus queer, is what makes one belong. It’s an alternative form of community that we arrive at near the end of the story after we have followed the journey of the aforementioned Rudolph and his unlikely fellow misfit, Hermey, the elf who leaves the drudgery of assembly line manufacturing to become a dentist. The film’s narrative gives us fascinating insight into how society determines and polices difference.Through Rudolph’s story, we can see how the queer individual is constituted through:

1. Sexism and the Patriarchal Family System (Donner’s  fear that his son’s nose will prevent him from maturing into a proper, heterosexual patriarch)

2. Industry, Capitalism, and the Means of Production (How Santa’s system of production values certain traits amenable to his production of toys)

3. Through Class (and Possibly Racial) Identity (The Reindeer and Elves as permanent underclasses of laborers with essentialized identities that lock them into their drudgery)

Finally, when Rudolph and Hermey the elf band together as misfits, become “independent together”, and visit the Island of Misfit Toys, the film suggests an alternative kinship structure where difference within the social system is not defined against an internal norm, but as a virtue proper to itself. Yet, the Island of Misfit Toys is a paradise lost, a queer utopia that could have been. They present the possibility of a society based not on prefabricated social roles, but on mutual support of each other’s individuality.

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1. Sexism and the Patriarchal Family System

Screen Shot 2013-12-13 at 12.16.23 PM A child is never born as a blank slate. Not only does he begin life with unique genetic traits that will influence his course of life  he is also born into a subject position preconceived by his parents, and by association, their social position. As the son of one of Santa’s reindeer, Rudolph’s identity is already predetermined by his sex and social position. This is the legacy of patriarchy; his manhood, future vocation, place within the reindeer community, and concomitant beliefs and values are all formulated for him before he has the ability to understand any of it because he was conceived in his father’s image to become a patriarch himself. Continue reading

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You Leave and I Can’t Sleep

John Coates Browne “View from parlor window, Presqu’ile” Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

 

You Leave and I Can’t Sleep

By Lynn Houston

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In August 2016, while at a writing residency, I met a man who was already supposed to have deployed with his National Guard unit. We were given the gift of three weeks before he left, time we used to get to know each other, as we helped out on a friend’s farm, had long conversations on a porch swing, and rode his motorcycle up into the mountains. The night before he left the country, as he was driving to the base, we talked on the phone for over three hours. For six months while he was gone, I sent him near-daily poems in the mail. When he returned, after an initial successful reunion, it became clear that he was plagued with anger issues and other problems associated with a difficult re-entry into his civilian life. He began seeing someone else, and we broke up. In my grief, I revised the poems I’d sent him and began submitting them to poetry contests. Unguarded won the inaugural chapbook contest of the Heartland Review Press and is due to be released in December 2017, with a series of readings and book signings in the Elizabethtown, KY, area scheduled for early 2018.

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You Leave and I Can’t Sleep

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If I’m writing this, it means I can’t sleep and that
the rain outside my window drops blindly in the dark.

The crops need it, the cashier told me earlier, ringing
me up for a pint of milk, making small talk, making change.

And now the tipped carton has marred the pages
on my too-small desk. I’m trying not to make too much of it—

this mess, the disasters my life and pages gather.
I’m trying to be kinder to myself, more forgiving.

Outside, a leopard moth lands on the screen, shudders
to dry its wings. One touch from my finger would strip

the powdered coating that allows it to fly in rain.
I wish it might have been so easy to keep you

from boarding the plane that took you to war.
In the predawn, my neighbors still asleep, I am the only one

to hear the garbage truck grind to a stop,
its brakes the sound of an animal braying.

The rain has stopped, too. I look over the smudged papers
on my desk. Nothing important has been lost.

When you come home safely to me in six months,
we will be able to say, nothing important has been lost.

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Editor’s Note: This poem is the second of a series. The first poem, “On the Farm, Before You Leave for Afghanistan,” was published two weeks ago.

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About the Author: Lynn Marie Houston holds a PhD from Arizona State University and an MFA from Southern Connecticut State University. Her poetry appears in numerous literary journals–such as O-Dark-ThirtyGravelPainted Bride QuarterlyOcean State ReviewHeavy Feather Review–and in her three collections: The Clever Dream of Man (Aldrich Press), Chatterbox (Word Poetry Books), and Unguarded (Heartland Review Press). For more information, visit lynnmhouston.com

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Two Prose Poems

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Two Prose Poems

By Mike James

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That One Singer

Seems to know your life…How you lift yourself, just a little, from your seat when she reaches up past the ceiling, the roof, the trees, up near that first cloud to hit a high note…Or how you almost brace for a train to thunder by when she growls down and down with low ones…It’s like she looked out the window, for no good reason, the night you got your first streetlight kiss…As if she knows how you got that knee scrape from belt buckle dodging at ten…

 

Beyond The Land Of Misfit Toys

Drop that bucket into the memory well and it’s never what you wish. You pull up clown porn. (Yes, that’s a thing.) Shot glasses serve as telescopes to galaxies you’d rather not see. Even one night stands, much heralded in the movies, offer minimum relief. Every woman you end up with wears heels or boots you desire more than her. You beg to be her carpet, her footstool, her bath mat. If the question is lust, the answer is confusion. You look at every closet and hope for big locks. More than the butterfly you love the butterfly tattoo.

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About the Author:  Mike James is the author of eleven poetry collections. His most recent books include: Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog), My Favorite Houseguest (FutureCycle), and Peddler’s Blues (Main Street Rag.) He has previously served as associate editor for both The Kentucky Review and Autumn House Press. After years spent in South Carolina, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Georgia, he now makes his home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with his large family and a large assortment of cats.

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: MALAK




From MALAK
By Jenny Sadre-Orafai:


LAST READING

There is a pregnant bird in the cup.
Malak looks at me like she has never looked

at that in a cup before. My father looks at me
like there are things I’m not telling him.

She crochets baby caps, square blankets,
booties in Neapolitan ice cream colors.

If I ever have these babies, if I’m the bird
in the cup, I’ll want to devour them.

After the last reading she leaves the cup turned up,
daring the bird to forget I was pregnant.



MOTHER SPELL

I felt for mountain
and ocean, my first globe.

Mouth or beak. Arm or wing.
Skin or feather. Feet or feet.

Who brought these to me
to dress in booties and caps.

I didn’t ask to know a belly
so tight.

I didn’t ask if it was girl
or boy or bird.



LANGUAGE OF SIGNS

I slept the whole day
without remembering, Malak.

I dreamt I had a son
growing so fast,

a tomato plant sprawled
everywhere, unstoppable.

I held him at my hipline.
And I fed his hunger.

Now he’s a pitcher
of water.



Today’s poems are from Malak (Playtpus Press, 2017), copyright © 2017 by Jenny Sadre-Orafai, and appear here today with permission from the poet.


Malak is an invocation of past and future. With familial lament and childish wonder, the words lay tribute to the infinite—to the beauty in descent and the heartache that binds us to place. To our smallness in death and the importance of conjuring anew.

Jenny Sadre-Orafai is the author of Paper, Cotton, Leather and five chapbooks. Her poetry has appeared in Cream City Review, Ninth Letter, The Cortland Review, Hotel Amerika, The Pinch, and other journals. Her prose has appeared in Los Angeles Review, The Rumpus, South Loop Review, Fourteen Hills, The Collagist, and other journals. She is co-founding editor of Josephine Quarterly and an Associate Professor of English at Kennesaw State University.

Editor’s Note: Birds, tea leaves, foxes. If there are talismans that illuminate the path Jenny Sadre-Orafai’s Malak lays out for the reader, these may be those divining objects. There is magic within these pages — the kind that is conjured up in Gypsy tents and over old world kitchen tables, magic from a time and place when women were believed. But the future is always uncertain, and the tales that unfurl within Malak‘s pages curve and splinter like the lines on a palm.

What is inheritance, this collection asks. What is lived? What is lost? Do we inherit even that which cannot be passed down? Are predictions only as good as their fruition?

Malak is a book that pairs loss with beauty, future with past, the certainty of fate with the unknown and the unknowable. Throughout its pages, a sense of familiarity is established that both grounds and destabilizes. Its stories are told in the dark of night, but under the light of a full and generous moon. When Malak‘s truths reveal themselves, you bask in their luminosity and marvel at the careful magic of their making. You do not ask if they are boy or girl or bird.

Want more from Jenny Sadre-Orafai?
Buy Malak in paperback from Platypus Press
Buy Malak on Kindle from Amazon
Jenny Sadre-Orafai’s Official Website

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On the Farm, Before You Leave for Afghanistan

Jack Delano: “Rural Scene, Near Andover, Maine” Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

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On the Farm, Before You Leave for Afghanistan

By Lynn Houston

 

In August 2016, while at a writing residency, I met a man who was already supposed to have deployed with his National Guard unit. We were given the gift of three weeks before he left, time we used to get to know each other, as we helped out on a friend’s farm, had long conversations on a porch swing, and rode his motorcycle up into the mountains. The night before he left the country, as he was driving to the base, we talked on the phone for over three hours. For six months while he was gone, I sent him near-daily poems in the mail. When he returned, after an initial successful reunion, it became clear that he was plagued with anger issues and other problems associated with a difficult re-entry into his civilian life. He began seeing someone else, and we broke up. In my grief, I revised the poems I’d sent him and began submitting them to poetry contests. Unguarded won the inaugural chapbook contest of the Heartland Review Press and is due to be released in December 2017, with a series of readings and book signings in the Elizabethtown, KY, area scheduled for early 2018.

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On the Farm, Before You Leave for Afghanistan

Henry was the first to know I was your woman.
Henry, the goat. The one who hates you.

Since then I’ve been surprised by how often
clouds take the shape of curled horns
and remind me of that Tennessee morning

we left a shared bed to feed the herd
and took the smell of love-making with us.

Like any hard-headed man, when Henry knew
I was yours, he wanted me for a goat wife,
butted my thigh and bit my boot top,

rubbed his face against its orange leather.
Aware of Henry’s macho display and the force

of his horns, you turned your back on me
and walked toward the house, knowing that
to keep me safe you had to leave.

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About the Author: Lynn Marie Houston holds a PhD from Arizona State University and an MFA from Southern Connecticut State University. Her poetry appears in numerous literary journals–such as O-Dark-ThirtyGravelPainted Bride QuarterlyOcean State ReviewHeavy Feather Review–and in her three collections: The Clever Dream of Man (Aldrich Press), Chatterbox (Word Poetry Books), and Unguarded (Heartland Review Press). For more information, visit lynnmhouston.com

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