Creationism Theory; Curling Iron Anecdote; Everyone is a Sex Trafficker
By: Erica Hoffmeister
In Sunday School, I was taught of the point of creation. In the week the world was built, god decided upon companionship in the boundaryless, timeless universe. Metaphor or mystery—I didn’t know a thing.
Theory, by definition, is admitting you don’t actually know. There are several points of genesis. Worlds within worlds within worlds.
This is our creation point:
My body became a body became you. We are not separate entities. Our mothers’ mothers are gatekeepers of fate—visceral love rooted in fallow plots. A lifetime of departed identities—we’ve borrowed biology, sought genetic refuge in these internal universes. You are my orbiting sun tethered by galaxies. Lit with stars that glow behind pinpricked sheets used for fort-building: light willing light. Brilliance.
Speak to me in Latin, sweet child. Love me with an archaic fervor. Roar something primal, before social norms quiet the source. We are navigating roads with hearts agape, scouring the continent for life’s true meaning. Floundering from the start, only flesh and cartilage and cries. Let’s be honest with one another—life’s true meaning? There was none before you came, all heart beats and blue breaths, your tiny lungs desperate for air. This air, my air, all the air in the universe, recycled and unbreathable. Does it ever soften? This white-hot love searing the flesh? Overwhelming is an understatement. Come back around the earth as small as you are now, over, and over, and over again.
I created this gravitational pull in a god-made universe. Too many lightyears from point a to point b to travel. We will send our own comet-tails across the sky like footprints. You want to jump out of these tiny limbs, become person. I say: stay, sweet baby. Stay molded into the crevices of my joints forever. Let the world keep spinning its own creations.
Curling Iron Anecdote
To my mom’s boyfriend from college
and that stint at Round Table Pizza
who gifted her an unwrapped curling iron
the same day my dad showed up on a motorcycle
To my grandmother
who kept the door closed the first
time, the only time that mattered
To my teenaged-self
and that thing I used to tell you when I was angry:
you should have just had the abortion
To my mother
Everyone is a Sex Trafficker
this is the brand of fear that drives mothers
fathers to pump a shot gun
yes, I do have a beautiful daughter
I also have a gun, a shovel, and an alibi
aren’t you scared
to mother two daughters, oh –
you’re in for it
when I was three years old, I memorized my social security number
what’s your address? who is your adult?
can you memorize the ride home with your eyes closed?
Now, it’s not the walk home from school, it’s the Target parking lot
the viral stories, facebook photoshoots
when my niece was nine years old, she was given a phone for Christmas
I need to know where she is
now everyone does
I remember the cold metal smell of the security gate I hid behind
when a car crept at my heels / a night run around the high school /
my mother and her ladies’ group a block away, turning the corner at any minute /
refuge at a stranger’s house / pinned between the gate and their front door /
the car slowed and stopped at the curb, I held my breath until the storm
of mother bears pushing strollers were illuminated under the lamplight and
the car guzzled away
well, you ran that mile fast with those skinny legs
when I was sixteen, a youth group leader kissed my brace-faced mouth
on a dark playground structure and said:
god has plans for us
administration called my mother each time I was sent to the office
for bearing my shoulders, my fingertips too long to protect the fatty meat of my teenaged thighs
you have to watch out for a girl like that
they told her
sex will kill you
they said from the beginning
banning vulva from our vocabularies
we must protect at all costs
see, your body is a baited trap—
it’s like gold between your legs, girl
and, every one is a sex trafficker
Erica Hoffmeister is a rambling soul from Southern California who now lives in Denver, where she teaches college writing and is an editor for South Broadway Press. She is the author of two poetry collections: Lived in Bars (Stubborn Mule Press, 2019), and Roots Grew Wild (Kingdoms in the Wild Press, 2019), but considers herself a cross-genre writer and has variety of works published in Crab Fat Magazine, Motherly, Split Lip Magazine, Sky Island Journal, Under the Gum Tree, So to Speak, among others. Learn more at: http://www.ericahoffmeister.com
Interview with the Poet:
Cathexis Northwest Press:
How long have you been writing poetry?
I most definitely still have a (now anciently inaccessible!) floppy disk from the dark depths of middle school that is filled with poems, songs, and what I’d probably now label flash memoir. I’ve been writing stories since I could talk, but it was the first wounds of early adolescence that really drove me to start meddling and writing (guaranteed terrible) poems. Then, in high school, I tried to learn guitar and would sing my poems to the three chords I knew—really time-stamping that early 00s emo identity. It’s probably for the best that I have no way to read that floppy disk, honestly. My ego couldn’t take the awful!
Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?
When I was 15, I clipped William Carlos Williams’ poem “The Act” from an old book of poetry I found at a yard sale and carried it with me everywhere. I used the clipping as a bookmark, slipped it in my clearview school binder, framed it and put it at the head of my captain’s bed…. I thought those eight simple lines of poetry were the most honest, romantic, and beautiful thing that I had ever read. The brevity of poetry was fascinating to me—how I could read something so small and simple and feel so much sadness and joy all at once. And yes, I also put that poem to song—I can still hum the tune! CNP:
Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?
Well firstly, it’s difficult for me to think of individual poems, because for me, I’m always thinking of them as one small part of a larger context, so my heart is drawn to collections. On that note, Kate Greenstreet is the first poet I read that made me realize poetry still exists; I had been stuck in that teenaged cottagecore image of very old romantic poems. I was also still only really writing short stories at the time. So when Greenstreet read from Case Senstive at an on-campus poetry event when I was in my MFA program at Chapman University, I thought “people are still doing this—writing things that make me feel this way.” It was not long after that reading that I actually switched my program focus from Fiction to Poetry. Young Tambling, though, is my favorite book of Greenstreet’s—it feels like entering a dreamscape when you read that book. Just, totally transported. Denise Duhamel’s Kinky comes in at a close second. Most recently, Sasha Banks’ America, MINE blew me away the same. When poets shape language into experience, and you’re no longer thinking of line or device—when you can find yourself lost in someone else’s dream as if it were your own thoughts, feelings, sensations, inexplicable. That’s when I remember how to fall in love with poems again, and again, and again. CNP:
Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in the zone?
I had two (unplanned) children back-to-back right after completing my MFA program, so I went from produce-produce-produce writing, to figuring out an entirely new purpose in life (and you can see that this group of poems, which is about my experience in early motherhood!). I used to just write on a whim, whenever I felt like it—or whenever I was pushed into a deadline. Now, I have no deadlines, but I also have no free time! As a scrambling adjunct professor and working mom, “writing on the margins” could be my brand slogan. But I’ve made those margins work well for me. A lifelong night owl, I trained myself to be one of those weird morning people that wake up with the sun. I sneak down to my desk before my family, before I start work, and write with my cup of coffee. It’s not a lot of time. Sometimes it’s an absolute garbage hour and I’m just staring at the screen sipping hot brown liquid, and sometimes I can feel the waves flowing through me and I’ll turn the TV on for my daughters once they scuttle downstairs, throw a few bowls of cereal at them and keep writing a little longer. Sometimes I’ll read instead—only having an hour or two to myself a couple days a week, I have to make those choices. I’m always wishing for more unstructured time to write without thinking about grading papers or my kids’ screen time but, for now, I have this. Somehow, I’ve written more in the past five years with this process than I had with unlimited time, so something is working.
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?
That really depends on the larger project (if there is already one in mind as I’m writing). Or, more accurately, what stage I’m in in that project—what writer’s hat I am wearing that morning. I always have a couple of projects going at once, and still vacillate between writing prose and poetry, so I generally only intentionally write poetry if I already have a collection of pieces emerged that have asked to be poems. Long answer of it: I generally start by writing prose. A thought, a wish, a moment. If it feels like a poem, I let it take me on that journey. But it works, because I love prose poetry and hybrid forms—so sometimes, the piece never really gets a label, anyway. The exception to that is when I am already waist-deep in a poetry collection—I might already have an idea of what kind of poem I need at a certain place, what I need to say, how much I need to say it. Then, I can think about form before I start writing. Even with poetry, I’m still a storyteller first, always keeping the larger arc in vision. CNP:
Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice?
Stop trying. Keep trying. When I first discovered I wanted to really write poetry, I tried too hard to “find my voice.” I thought I needed to be different than the writer I am naturally. The poetry world can feel intimidating, like this elite intellectual circle of perfectly articulated language, impossible to infiltrate. I don’t think I feel imposter syndrome as deeply as I do at poetry readings, even still. Me and my prose poems and flashes of memory, while the slam poets and scholarly poets are up there commanding poetry like they invented it. So, my advice would be to seek the voices on the outskirts of those spaces. The poets doing weird shit, bucking the rules, making you feel like you’ve been punched in the stomach when you read/listen to their work. Reminding you the purpose of poetry—giving you the infinite space to say what you need to, however the hell you want to. Sometimes it is more about finding out what is not you in order to find your authentic self. What do you want to say? Why do you want to say it? When does it feel like you’re tugging at your guts, pulling them through your throat to speak? Find that.
What is your editing process like?
Obsessive, endless, exhilarating, frustrating, stubborn, defeating, satisfying…? I’m strictly an organized-chaos writer; I have schedules and lists and goals and notes to guide my writing and editing process. Part of that has been born out of necessity because of my busy life-schedule. But, I still work off “feeling” like I always have. When I begin to approach editing stages, I’ll usually spend a lot of time at first with those lists and goals and notes—organizing and planning—which then allows me to just free-for-all with my raw material. With collections, or clusters, I always print my poems out, put on headphones (I like to listen to film scores for this) and order, reorder the groups of poems, post-it the shit out of them, pencil-mark all over the margins. Then I’ll go back to my computer and make my edits, then do it again. And again. And again. Until it all comes together. That’s my favorite part of the editing process—the physicality of putting things together like that. Otherwise, with single poems or stories, I don’t know if they’re ever actually done; I still go into the file and re-read and edit work that has already been published! I’ll do that sometimes just for fun, or to procrastinate writing new material. I think this is quite normal, yeah??
When do you know that a poem is finished?
Same as above—do we ever know? I think that’s what makes poetry different than prose, in the most fundamental way. There’s not really an inciting incident, a climax, a resolution. It’s just a glimpse. Into a moment, a feeling, a story. That glimpse changes every time you read the poem—from the framing of the scene to the weight of what you bring to the page as you read it. A changing season can make me read a poem again and want to change the whole damn thing. As a poet, then, acutely aware of this malleability, it can never really be finished, but that version can be immortalized, remembered as it is when you say “done,” after working on something for a while—when feel that pinch in your chest, and just know it’s finished. Well, for now.