My friend Asad asks me if I’ve ever been in love.
“Have you ever been in love?” he asks and we are at a coffee shop on a Friday morning. I chose a seat in the sun and ordered a Christmas coffee. He is wearing a hat. I feel like someone has hit me over the head with a chair.
“Uh,” I answer and then stare out the window, trying to collect my soul from where it is slipping out of my mouth.
The question startles me because it is asked with sincerity. Sincerity is disarming. Literally: to render harmless, “to take off one’s armor or lay down one’s weapons.” What was I taking off? What was I laying down? I don’t remember what answer I cobbled together but I remember after, Asad suggested we read each other a poem before we leave. He went first. He almost read Lucille Clifton’s “i am running into a new year” but I recognized it so he switched to another. I read Chessy Normile’s “And Send A Bird” because I just finished her collection and Asad likes birds.
It turns out the poems are spells after all because Lucille’s poem began haunting me like a half-summoned ghost. I, petty and stubborn lover of doing the opposite of what I should, chose to entice this ghost by delaying reading the poem even further, even as it popped up like a button mushroom in a thousand corners of my life.
Maybe it was because I felt so contrary to the first line. Lucille runs—I sit. I feel out of step with my own life, I text my friend Sav. I feel like a ghost, my friend Sav texts me.
I am sitting by the door of the new year, waiting to be let in. Wondering if I want to be let in. I am stalling and lingering and enjoying wasting time, rattling at locked doors, humming. I feel comfortably disavowed from hope and ambition. Desire is dull. There is no “changing” or “bettering” myself. There is barely a self, to achieve or discipline. I don’t give time to thought or thought to time. Existing is enough. I trade my joy for presence. I promise only what I do.
Poetry asks for a particular kind of focus and attention from me. I can sit and read the back of a cereal box as my nephew chatters behind me, making a mess of his boiled egg breakfast to the tune of “Baby Shark.” I can even pull out a novel and manage. The words and the moment are placid, passable, like walking by a still lake—or muffled and sinking, like diving into its depths.
But if I tried to read poems at breakfast, I would probably become the egg. The lake would stand up and chase me down the street. I can barely stand music while reading poetry too because poetry is not still but very quiet. A room rearranging itself with every step you take. Stanza, door, sinking floors? No. In Poppy War, Chaghan says to Rin, “You think calling the gods is like summoning a dog from the yard into the house. But you can’t conceive of the dream world as a physical place. The gods are painters. Your material world is a canvas…an angle from which we can see the colors on the palette. This isn’t really a place, it’s a perspective. But you’re interpreting it as a room because your human mind can’t process anything else.”
Poetry is the dog, the god, the palette, and the room. Poetry is the brush and inside the brush, there is a smaller brush, just light enough for us to hold. In me, that light requires time. It usually takes me at least a month to read a book of poetry, if not longer. And then there’s the need to reread poems, to carry the book with me everywhere I go, to read it on the subway and in the parking lot and at the grocery store in front of the cheese until someone behind me says, Excuse me, I can’t reach the gouda. I practice the poem until I understand the where and when it requires of me. Maybe this is architecture too, building a house of memory, a route where the poems can live. A few years ago, my teacher Jill Carter shared with our class that her community, the Anishinaabe, would not record history through time—when did that happen? May 1933—but through place—where did that happen? By the mouth of the river. In that old wooden classroom by the park.
This orientation of history to place does something powerful to memory. A latch in the earth. Memory loves latches. Just today, my sister’s sister-in-law walked by me and smelled exactly like my late aunt. That smell pulled me across the room. When I hugged her goodbye, there were two people tucked inside my arms.
Someday I want to write a romance novel because I want to fall in love. The other day I learned about Tales & Feathers Magazine and slice-of-life fantasy, which reminded me of Studio Ghibli, Ocean Vuong and kishōtenketsu.
Maybe my love will grow wings. Maybe I wish it could fly.