Cathexis Northwest Press
In the Beginning There was Eagle Sex; The Salt Flats; The Unfinding of Me
By: Kelly Gray
In the Beginning There was Eagle Sex
I have many creation stories to tell you.
First, there was Girl Hyena, the thick of her man genitals, inching up screaming, fiend-edly, and
slope-ishly, tearing in birth. The cassowaries danced in her seed, thick footed and blue. Tell me what
it is, the way it hangs. Dust was created.
Then, there was Marsupial, snake slayer. She gave birth to a thousand crawling babies, pouch bound,
tic fed, blind like the world wasn’t worth seeing. Her head sways against fern leaf. Low. Her tongue
rubbing along the alps of her teeth. Jagged. Spores broke the land.
Girl H took A Boy’s hand and taught him to hold his breath underwater. Look up at the sky of
whale belly. Look at the moon of eye. Help me while we hold them up, all three. The arch of pink,
awe hard. They spill stars across the glass of sea top. Milk coursing ocean.
They move belly to belly. He holds a smooth pebble in his mouth. She takes it in hers. Lays an egg.
He is flightless. There is current between their knees. He says, this way, towards the back of the
turtle. This is where we lose identity, where the rain in your hair is the manifestation of fecundity.
She removes her breasts. He takes off his shoes. Slowly. Dazzlingly. They are in space.
Like Two Eagles leaning, after they flew the world into view.
The Salt Flats
Her madness widens here,
where there is stretch, no mountain, no roots,
her world smells of eggs.
There is space, over there, to build a city.
She can construct walls, government, garbage service.
She can carve incantations with her finger nails,
call them logos.
There will be room for everyone because
the outskirts are limitless,
like her white dress bleached by her act as god.
What used to be fine embroidery now only knows drag
as she grinds playthings into existence.
The place her mind spills ear-side, her tongue talks that of the ibis
who land near her with blood face, bent legs,
but leave for their throats need minnow and mate.
Sing to her:
Bring back your dusted footprints across the bedroom floor,
find your bed above the ground, your home on stilts.
This ground is not steady.
She cannot hear you.
The Unfinding of Me
I think you may be the man on the bus. I have to sneak sideways to look and see the book in your
hands. I try to imagine our lives (together), us on the bus (together), the way we lean against the
turns not wanting to touch the railing (together). This is ridiculous, because we are already on the
bus (together). You are sitting there, and I am sitting here. You are not looking at me, while I am
looking at you. Now we know that this new version of you is the same version of me that I have
I see a woman with long curled hair and a hand on her heart. I lean in close, is that you? You blink
back like a warm washing of bathwater and soft knit. Your love is ceramic, mug shaped, lichen
scented, the inner windows damp with our touch. I rub spices into the skin of your breasts till you
turn browner and browner. I lower my tongue into the liquid. It remains unblistered and I remain
I see you as a hollowed tree. I lay eggs and rocks in your cavity. Lick the burned bark, the sooted
mouth of beggars. I take a shovel and dig along the trenches of your roots. Hello, I scream, into the
world of dirt. You are quiet like the sky above the clouds. A worm retreats. I am a wood beetle,
laying powder at your feet. Give me home. You say nothing but sway your ancient tree sway.
I saw you as spider bite, flesh raised and harping for scratch.
I saw you as cemetery, an obituary themed park, a register of boxed bones.
I saw you as tail end of conversation, the switch of inflection cuing closing.
I saw you as a dust,
I saw you as blow,
I saw you settle in the afternoon light.
Kelly Gray (she/her) resides on Coast Miwok land amongst the tallest and quietest trees in the world, writing of the inherent queerness of nature, flipping the constructs of predator and prey, and embracing the cringe. Kelly's writing has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Pretty Owl Poetry, River Teeth, Lunch Ticket, Bracken Magazine, CULTURAL WEEKLY and many other swoon worthy publications. She's been nominated for both a Pushcart Prize by Atticus Review and Best of the Net by the Account Magazine, and her debut book of poetry, 'Instructions for an Animal Body,' is forthcoming from Moon Tide Press in the summer of 2021. She is a poetry reader at Bracken Magazine but you can read more of her work at writekgray.com and follow her at @_west_of_west.
Interview with the Poet:
Cathexis Northwest Press:
How long have you been writing poetry?
I started writing poetry in 5th grade, inside my closet on the walls.
Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?
Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath. I’m pretty sure that Edgar Allan Poe preceded her as a strong lit crush, but as for falling in love, Sylvia, it’s always been Sylvia.
Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?
Right now, I am all about Sam Sax (Essay on Crying in Public) and Richard Siken (War of the Foxes). I am eagerly awaiting a book by Rich Ferguson, Everything is Radiant Between the Hates, who is a spoken word poet residing in Los Angeles. Rocket Fantastic by Garbrielle Clavocoressi is a collection that gets me every time, as does the poem ‘American Cockroach’ by Robyn Schiff. Once a month I watch Dominique Christina perform her ‘The Period Poem’ and I am better for it.
Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in the zone?
Not to sound like a literary snob, but my primary ritual consists of dating representatives of the patriarchy, going to therapy and then writing poetry about it. Which of course is a joke that it not a joke.
For me, walking or movement is essential to my writing process. Movement may consist of emotional disturbance/growth, or it may be the physical act of driving backroads or walking through the forest. Very rarely do words come to me if I sit down to write, in fact, I detest the idea that writers write at desks and that they should do so every day. For me, I am pushing myself into a meditative state that exists between my thinking brain and my feeling body, and at some point I have a compulsion to vomit up words. I drag poetry back home from the outside in hopes that it helps make sense of my insides.
Another place that I find this essential movement is within ongoing conversations with kindred spirits. For instance, I have a weekly ritual of discussing animal sex with a friend who is a trained scientist but rooted in anti-colonialism. We both have a proclivity towards debunking western human sexuality narratives by exploring the world of slugs, flatworms, whales, and so on. Much of what we discuss has recently made its way into my work. My friends are generous with what they allow me to see of their thoughts, dreams and desires, and I try to be as honest as I can in representing them. These days, friendship is ritual.
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 grew up reading the Beats, and listening to hip hop, and so for a long time my poetry appeared to look like lyrics. As I have grown into my own voice and begun to write short stories, my poetry leans towards prose. Form is important to me, but only as long as it adds to the sound, silence, smells and imagery.
Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice?
Write as honestly as you can. Expose more than you want to. Lift up your skirt when you aren’t wearing any panties. Be obscene and lavish till it tires you out and then just write subtle nuance. Read your work aloud. Record it. Listen to it. Read as much poetry as you can, especially by poets who make you want to quit. Then write about how lousy you are till something lovely comes out of you, because it will. Each word fires a synapse, so be surgical when you revise. Be a worthy puppeteer of electricity.
What is your editing process like?
First, I tangle with content. I ask myself: Am I truth telling? Have I allowed myself to say exactly what I want to say? Then, I ask myself if I have done my best to convey my feelings/images to my imaginary audience, who is typically critical and doesn’t like me very much. And to be honest, I don’t feel invested in my audience liking me, although I desperately want them to feel moved and exposed by my words. Like, I see my ugly and I see your ugly, too, and there is nothing that any of us can do about it. And hopefully that is what makes it beautiful, maybe ache-worthy.
Then, I have a strange process of compulsively sending unfinished work to a few people (they have kindly consented to this burden). As soon as I imagine them reading it, I find where it is clumsy, overreaching, frivolous, tedious. I can hear the stumbles through their ears. I keep hacking at it to catch the right sounds, pauses, and loops. Then I record myself reading it and listen to it as many times as needed. The ending is very important to me, and probably where I spend the most time.
When do you know that a poem is finished?
I don’t know that I do. I don’t even know when they start.