Crash; Twins; Doldrums
By: Jennifer MacBain-Stephens
The imagination is my daemon because it is my best friend and my worst enemy. It is my twin because I am my own best friend and my own worst enemy. – Mary Ruefle
I had a twin who walked into a lake with rocks in her pockets
I had a twin who got too close to the monkey cage at the zoo
I had a twin who skied too fast down the mountain
I had a twin who I devoured in the womb
I had a twin who was allergic to chicken stock
I had a twin who had a heart condition
who drove off a ledge
who died from a broken heart
who disappeared over the Atlantic
who disappeared in the Andes
When I say twin I mean me and the way I
maybe get mad too quickly
feel envious of others
wallow a bit
maybe want more than what I have
or wish ill on someone
or act petty
have trouble coping
and don’t breathe through it all
or count my blessings
and remember that I am loved
that I love in return
that I appreciate all that I have
because someday I will be in a hospital bed
thinking about the good old days
of mowing the lawn in ninety-degree heat
or disagreeing about music or
with a loved one
or not wanting to walk the dog in winter
and that moment will already be gone
and that one
and that one
and that one
and that piece of myself
and that piece
and that piece
until I am many pieces
scattered to the wind
and no one ever says
I wish I had battled with myself more
The Intertropical Convergence Zone, known by sailors as the doldrums because of its monotonous weather, is the area where the northeast and southeast trade winds converge. It encircles Earth near the thermal equator, though its specific position varies seasonally – National Ocean Service
my rib cage houses
no dolphin spirit
You may be lacking motivation
sometimes I fear water
being thrown into a lake as a child
the silence surrounding
over my head
trying to bob above
Create a schedule
I cannot breathe
sometimes in bed at 3am
when I ponder tomorrow
which hasn’t happened yet
what didn’t I act on
and the night before
and time management is key
the correct question tomorrow is
too much already
spit and salt
singing without song
Ease your anxiety by controlling what you are able to
a lip lock hum under waves
an ankle swerve
in the foamy bath
an unknown girl who looks like me in my dream
long dark hair
in doll t shirts,
Consider the positives
memories of petting a violent
German shepherd in fields
His saliva flying
all bodies groan animal and human
in an angry Mercury year
take up a hobby
the moon so bored
we reach and choke, pulled by fingers
Make it fun!
ache for more in this freezing room
the water plays my forearms like a flute,
the notes barrel down my throat
Lines in italics taken from The Gundersen Health system (gundersenhealth.org) “Five Coping Tips for Quarantining at Home.” (Last updated August, 2020.)
Jennifer MacBain-Stephens (she/her) went to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and now lives in Iowa where she is landlocked. She is the author of four poetry collections and fifteen chapbooks and enjoys exploring how to blend creativity with nurturing the earth. Recent work appeared in The Westchester Review, Cleaver, Dream Pop, and Grist. She also hosts a free, monthly reading series sponsored by Iowa City Poetry called Today You Are Perfect. Find her at http://jennifermacbainstephens.com/.
Interview with the Poet:
Cathexis Northwest Press:
How long have you been writing poetry?
Over ten years now at least. I started writing poetry when I moved from New York and went to live in Lake Arrowhead, California. My husband at the time had a job opportunity in the area. Lake Arrowhead is at the top of a mountain north of Los Angeles. It was remote area, but I saw in a newsletter that a group of people was meeting at a cafe to workshop writing so I joined up and connected with some great friends and poets at that time. We even put out a little zine of our writing.
Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?
I definitely fell in love with Poe and Sylvia Plath in high school, not knowing that “horror poetry” could exist or that one could write poems about “beds.” But some of the first poems that really struck a chord in me was Juliet Cook’s “The Laura Poems” which were all about the television series Twin Peaks. I fell hard for poetry then and I still love horror and fantasy poetry.
Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?
My favorite poets are Nikki Giovanni, Terrance Hayes, Tracy K. Smith, Sarah Nichols, Ellen Huang, Elizabeth Strauss Friedman, Jessica L. Walsh, Fox Henry Frazier, Juliet Cook, Sarah Lilius, Patrick Armijo, Michael Sikkema, and Christopher Eck.
Here are some links! Scraped at Cotton Xenomorph by Jessica L. Walsh
3 poems by Juliet Cook and Daryl Shupe here at Menacing Hedge:
Poems by Sarah Nichols inspired by the film, Suspiria at Yes, Poetry:
Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in the zone?
A big part of my writing process is getting to my computer and having some quiet: not feeling that I have to be somewhere else. I have 3 kids, so this is actually super important! Getting to the screen or journal and just free writing, walking in nature, going to art galleries, staring into space. All of these things help me hear the thoughts in my brain.
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?
I’ve gotten great advice from my fellow friend and poet Sarah Lilius. I used to write my poems in huge chunks of words, more prose like. I would then workshop them with Sarah and she will suggest couplets or adding more spaces between the words, based on the poem. Like this one poem I have about trees has a ton of space between the words, since I was trying to create the feel of a quiet forest. It’s pretty fun to play with words on the page. It can really change the meaning of the poem for you. I highly recommend it!
Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice?
I would say, definitely read the poets you love, read the journals you love. Your mind can be blown from a single poem. The important thing is getting to the page, right? Writers write. who cares if it isn’t what you want at first? Come back to it. Time and space always help. When you are passionate about something, you get it down on the page. Or it might even become something else entirely!
What is your editing process like?
I will do a lot of free writing about an idea I like. Then ideally, I will put it away, and come back to it the next day. I will try to do this several times, until I feel good about it. If I can, I will also show it to my friend to workshop. Big or small ideas on how to revise can be found in workshopping with other poets you trust. It’s amazing. At some point, I will feel satisfied about the poem.
When do you know that a poem is finished?
It doesn’t always happen-but sometimes I do have a a glowy, inspirational feel that says YES, this is done. I’ve said something I wanted to say. But most of the time, I just know, I don’t have interest in working on it anymore. And then that’s it for me. It will fall where it may.