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  #1  
Unread 04-15-2019, 11:47 PM
Mary Meriam's Avatar
Mary Meriam Mary Meriam is offline
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EKPHRASTIC: https://images.app.goo.gl/QZiLKopbgDwQKLJP8
[when you realize your ekphrastic can't be separated from the picture]

Black Bark
After Ana Mendieta’s “Tree of Life”

I decided I wanted to be a black girl.
If I couldn’t be a black girl
I’d be a white girl but I didn’t want to be
a white girl.

I find a tree and drag the bark on my skin,
some grasses and earth, until I am black
by the sweat of my own skin.

I’m caught by a pool and captured and shipped
someplace else.
It’s such a shitty thing they do to me
but it’s only the first shitty thing.
One shitty thing after another happens.

I wonder why the goddess I pray to
allows this to happen.
I don’t know her anymore,
and no one knows me anymore.

I will not titillate you with sordid confessions,
nor will I dwell upon the horrors inflicted upon me.
Instead, I will eat the black beans of my own skin.

It was a dangerous decision to become a black girl.
I didn’t know my skin would be a red flag,
and my people would be lynched.
But I feel better not being white,
since it’s the whites in charge that lynch
black girls like me
whether they knot the rope or not.

Whether or not you know it or not,
the tree where they tie the rope
is the tree that bathes my black skin
with tree mercy and consolation
so my black soul wiggles loose from the noose,
junks its losses, and slips past them.


~~~~

Gay Girl

I decided I wanted to be a gay girl.
If I couldn’t be a gay girl
I’d be a straight girl but I didn’t want to be
a straight girl.

I find a tree and drag the bark on my skin,
some grasses and earth, until I am a gay girl
by the sweat of my own skin.

I’m kissed by a pool and captured and shipped
someplace else.
It’s such a shitty thing they do to me
but it’s only the first shitty thing.
One shitty thing after another happens.

I wonder why the goddess I pray to
allows this to happen.
I don’t know her anymore,
and no one knows me anymore.

I will not titillate you with sordid confessions,
nor will I dwell upon the horrors inflicted upon me.
Instead, I will eat the lentils of my own skin.

It was a dangerous decision to become a gay girl.
I didn’t know my kiss would be a red flag,
and my people would be hanged.
But I feel better not being straight,
since it’s the straights in charge that hang
gay girls like me
whether they knot the rope or not.

Whether or not you know it or not,
the tree where they tie the rope
is the tree that bathes me
with tree mercy and consolation
so my gay soul wiggles loose from the noose,
junks its losses, and slips past them.

Last edited by Mary Meriam; 04-17-2019 at 07:22 PM.
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  #2  
Unread 04-16-2019, 02:26 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Mary,

I find this poem resonant and affecting. I think the most touching moment for me is the tree mercy. You turned my mind to lynchings - I don't know enough of the history of gay lynchings to speak to it, I just know a bit of Matthew Shepard's story. I was struck by the tree coming in in S2, foreshadowing what comes later. Finally, might you use wriggle at the end, instead of wiggle?

Cheers,
John
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Unread 04-17-2019, 02:38 PM
James Brancheau James Brancheau is offline
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I just mentioned Plath's Daddy in another thread. While I love Plath, and still, believe it or not, love that poem (she's just a wonderfully raw technician), the noose here seems clumsy. Or, for me, you didn't quite pull it off. Although I'm sure it's happened, to gay women, it feels like you're hijacking a pretty brutal experience, that is, the hell of black Americans.

I do like the first stanza a lot, a lot of pressure on "decide," right?
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Unread 04-17-2019, 03:57 PM
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Mary Meriam Mary Meriam is offline
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Thanks, John. Wiggle and wriggle are practically the same thing. Guess I'll stay with my first thought.

James, thanks, you made me remember I recently saw this horrific photo from The Handmaid's Tale - must have influenced my poem.
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Unread 04-17-2019, 04:25 PM
James Brancheau James Brancheau is offline
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Yeah, my buddy just gave a presentation on both the, what do you call it-- postscripts? of the dystopian worlds of 1984 and The Handmaid's Tale. I get that perhaps the image(s) comes from feeling, and that's fine. I'm not trying to be judgemental. I just think the poem fails to convince because the history of that word/image is just too heavy. And rightfully so. Not saying it's impossible. Just extraordinarily difficult.
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Unread 04-17-2019, 04:47 PM
Mary Meriam's Avatar
Mary Meriam Mary Meriam is offline
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I just remembered something else - this was originally an ekphrastic: https://images.app.goo.gl/QZiLKopbgDwQKLJP8
then I revised it to "Gay Girl." So I posted the original. Dammit, James, I think you're right.
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Unread 04-17-2019, 05:18 PM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Yes. It feels like the poem it wanted to be now, Mary.
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Unread 04-18-2019, 10:36 AM
James Brancheau James Brancheau is offline
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I love the close and it's great that the revision isn't just a superficial fix-- I think the images work better, really click with this. I do want to drop a note about the first stanza of the original. This decision is really compelling. I had the idea that this was a young girl coming to realize her sexuality. That she still sees this as a choice and that the repetition of gay girl and straight girl seems to underline this. Maybe another poem, or maybe it's just me. If I can add anything more to my comments on the revision, I'll come back.
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Unread 04-19-2019, 05:18 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Hi Mary,

This feels quite different for you in terms of its style, in that it swaps your usual musicality for a more declarative sort of tone (though I know I've seen you do this before). It’s complex and challenging in the way it plays with ideas about appropriating and rejecting identities and about collective guilt and responsibility. But it never feels didactic, because it is far too mysterious and slippery for that. It bears so much re-reading, which is great. And it leaves the reader slightly uncomfortable and unsure of what to make of it all and what position they are being invited to take toward the speaker. Which is also great, because that complexity is exactly the feeling any thinking person has when trying to untangle the knotted discourse about race and identity and privilege and appropriation that permeates the culture right now, and on which we are all supposed to have very clear ideas. The poem seems genuinely, deeply felt but simultaneously aware of its own complex ironies.

I may be reading too much, or too little, or entirely the wrong thing into this. I think it’s a powerful piece of writing. And I love the sculpture that inspired it.

And I love these lines -- the repeated 'not's and the play on 'knot':

whether they knot the rope or not.

Whether or not you know it or not,
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Unread 04-20-2019, 12:09 PM
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Felicity Teague Felicity Teague is offline
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Hi Mary,

Thanks for introducing me to Ana Mendieta; I love the picture :-)

I like the language of the poem and its very natural flow. I like the swearing. I enjoy wondering about the identity of the goddess. Does 'eat the black beans of my own skin' refer to self-harming? Sorry if I've picked up the wrong meaning there.

I like how the poem comes full circle, with the return of the tree at the end. I also like that and many other things in the first poem you posted, 'Gay Girl'. That's super-strong too.

Best wishes,
Fliss
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