Instead of despair; Beta
Instead of despair
i circle fresh pond six times / where trees pity my barely-surviving / offer remedial lessons in rebirth / hidden somewhere in this budding branch / i pull close to my face.
behind me a voice remarks / i know aren’t those beautiful / though i have said nothing / might be a red maple but i’m not sure / sounds good to me i say / certain that all we can ever know / are our own stories / and wishing i had a different story than this.
some water weasel / disturbs the pond / its carefree body / buoyed by trust enough / to turn its face from earth / and backstroke under a sanctuary of blue.
otter is my best friend’s safe word / an incantation of last resort / joggers pass and i whisper otter otter otter / may the dark release me / let me float to the surface / remembering the sky.
and the wild geese high in formation / what is left to say of them? / their belabored flight / cannot bear more metaphor.
unpoetic eyes / might render avian fleets unremarkable / but when they call today / how could i hear it as anything other than an invitation to believe / there might really be / a place for me in
the family of things.
a rotting stump holds no interest / but for what thrives off decay / the turkey tails bloom in ghostly ripples / like the aftershock of death / made artful.
underground networks nourish them / as they transform dead things / into a kind of life / which i guess suggests / all is better / more connected / than it seems.
dazed on a bench / i write my goodbyes / until a flash of fur sends my tiny machine tumbling / awakens me / with a wall of hot breath.
i’m so sorry / screams the owner / drowned out by fierce ear licking / it’s okay i say / because when tears and dog spit mix / it tastes a little like love / so i surrender would-be last words / to momentary joy.
propelled onward / my leaden legs / stumble over roots / until i see bark marked by a single axe blow / fresh with regret.
my fingers trace its splintered braille / eager to know / why not a second blow / but the lipped scar only reads / who cares / i’m alive / i bear my wounds / and thrive.
oh / might not this survivor pine / be a sign / welcoming me into the world / of people who have changed their mind.
My mind swirls with the force of self, worries
whirlpooling inward until he collides with me
the small blond boy running down Cambridge street,
his tiny cold fingers clutch a clear plastic bag pregnant with water,
a blur of deep blue suspended
in a translucent womb.
His bundled body vibrates with care to give.
He imagines flakes to feed, an empty bowl
to appoint with pebbles and plastic grass, does not sense
the man chasing after as though the child might outrun his father’s love—
and how I forget myself, suddenly cannot recall the lie of my aloneness when faced with this
The man catches up; the boy runs on;
they leave me longing for the grace I swim in,
floating in the belly of a question:
who are you with when you are alone? If you looked up
what warm, wide hands would you see holding your world together?
What legs rush forward, eager to carry you home while your life spins out
a great tangle of unseen affections?
Rachael is a writer and researcher residing in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her creative writing has appeared in The Rumpus, The Outline, Wherever Magazine, The Pinkley Press and Ruminate.
Interview with the Poet:
Cathexis Northwest Press:
How long have you been writing poetry?
I first wrote poetry very young – at eight or nine years old. Insomnia plagued my childhood, and verse helped me survive the dark. In the early hours of morning, I scribbled gel-pen verse in my Lisa Frank journals. Language kept me company when nothing else was awake.
During college, I stopped writing poetry—anything, really. Don’t ask me why—some form of punishment, a self-denial. Only in the last year have I returned to it. These two poems represent my re-introduction to the form.
Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?
Emily Dickinson had an outsized impact on my early love of poetry. Someone gifted me her collected poems when I was young. I memorized “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain” and “I’m Nobody! Who are you?”, chewed on the words like some sweet blessing. Here was a woman that read my mind. Here was a writer who could give voice to what I felt like were silent truths. I wanted these seemingly psychic powers of poetry for myself.
Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?
I love women who speak truth on their own terms. Maggie Nelson, Anne Sexton, and Sharon Olds are near and dear to my heart. I am currently obsessed with the idea of joy as a practice, as resistance, so Ross Gay is top of mind. My writing mentor, Nadia Colburn, just published a book called The High Shelf which I’m enjoying. Call me pretentious, but I never tire of reading Neruda in the original Spanish and Rilke in the original German.
Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in the zone?
I do my best writing when I’m not writing – walking, running, hiking in nature. Poetry for me is the ritual of attention, a fidelity to witnessing. When I am blocked, it's usually because I'm too in my head. Moving, being out in nature, helps me surrender to perception: what am I noticing? How do I feel? You’ll see this dynamic at play, Instead of Despair, where I circle my favorite park, Fresh Pond, in search of inspiration.
How do you decide the form for your poems? Do you start writing with a form in mind, or do you let the poem tell you what it will look like as you go?
My poems know their form before I do. I let tone and content dictate how the poem looks and feels on the page, but I often have to write the poem first before I can step back and ponder if the container is right. When I’m blocked, I write a villanelle, sonnet, or sestina. Creative constraints make it easier to write. However, I rarely share those poems – writing them feels like taking my poetry vitamins.
Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice?
It’s counterintuitive, but I’ve found that best way to find your voice is shut up and listen. In our culture, it is easy to mistake speaking for having a voice. We overvalue reacting, opining, taking a stance on everything and anything – quickly. It is easy to lose your wisest intuitions amid the din of glib hot-takes. Be quiet for a time. Only then will you recognize the sound of your voice when you finally speak.
What is your editing process like?
When do you know that a poem is finished?
I ascribe to Da Vinci's belief that art is never done, only abandoned. Or perhaps Gardner, who said that a painting [piece of writing] is never finished, it simply stops in interesting places. That said, I struggle to know when a piece has arrived at a point of critical, rigorous interest. I often seek out submission opportunities to impose deadlines on what would otherwise drag for months, years.