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deerI imagined myself coasting calmly into the ten-day silent Buddhist meditation retreat. Instead, on day two, I was teary, overwhelmed and my mind roared. Secluded at a rural retreat center in Massachusetts, I was in heavy withdrawal from Manhattan’s chaos, din and light. Uncomfortable, I craved a fix. So I snuck into the bathroom, locked the door and sat on the floor checking my contraband: a Bic pen and paper.

KENDRA DE COLO horizontal

A lot of poems in your poetry collection Thieves in the Afterlife reference female desire and the body. Have you always written about sexuality?

The first writers I fell in love with were Pablo Neruda, Anais Nin, and Henry Miller. I remember reading Delta of Venus when I was 14 and wanting to write just like her. I was compelled, not necessarily by the content, but by the tough sensuality and unapologetic voice. She was my hero—probably the first model I had for bisexuality and writing outside of standard hetero/gendered love forms.

Starry-eyed and ravenous, we wait for it
to serenade us like a bullet singing to a wound.
Is this what you meant by romance? Me, scouring the remains
of my life over a pool of ketchup, thick as the spunk of creation
while the city blooms smoke, waiting to be swallowed?

IMG_1857My dad left on a Wednesday afternoon in July. He had made some trial runs; leaving the house late at night and heading off God knows where only to return days later, his clothes wrinkled and stinking of cigarettes and beer, the shadow of a beard growing on his face. But I would never have expected him to leave the day the fish fell from the sky.

The coyotes worked in teams, taking what they needed while the subdivisions slept and the moon and stars rattled around in the sky. It took two or three of them to carry a piece of lumber; they would clamp it in their jaws, stop every so often to rest and readjust. Other items were more trouble: slippery things like jars of nails, or heavier things, like the outboard motor they abandoned on the sidewalk after their backs nearly buckled under its weight. Still, the coyotes were mostly quick and effective thieves. They fanned out through the valley, careful not to hit the same neighborhoods over and over. The humans never knew what was happening. By the time the water rose and they were drowning in their homes, it was too late to do anything but stare as the coyotes floated past on their ark, saving no one.

PhotoMarinSardy4In the aftermath of Robin Williams’ suicide, a plethora of articles and blogs have been published on the topic of mental illness and depression. As a writer whose work often directly or indirectly addresses mental illness, do you think this sort of mass response is helpful?

In some ways, yes, absolutely, the mass response is very helpful. The cultural silence around mental illness, without a doubt, made my experience as a child of someone with schizophrenia far worse than it needed to be. I had no one to talk to about it and no vocabulary for it even, and so that silence stunted my ability to even do my own thinking about it. In a culture without open conversation around mental illness, I was cut off from social support that could have helped enormously. So I’m pretty much glad across the board whenever anyone is openly discussing it. But with this I’ve also been glad that most of it seems to be aimed at educating people and fighting stigma.

chokecherriesAt Easter, in the early years when my mother was still sane, she cut lengths of pussy willow branches and brought them inside. Not yet budded, they came laden with soft silver pods like rabbits’ feet. She took colored powders and dusted the fur pods. Pale yellow, pink, lavender, blue.

My mother told my father, They’re trying to kill us. She said, They’re coming after us.  She said, They are a band of assassins hired by the CIA to kill the families of Green Berets. He said to her, that doesn’t make any god damn sense.

Reality is slippery. If someone tells you something often enough for long enough, regardless of whether it’s true, you begin to believe it. Or at least you might begin to doubt your own perceptions, think, maybe she knows something I don’t know. Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe there’s something here that I don’t understand.

photo (3)As we are walking through the park, Mitchell asks me about my nail polish. What is your nail polish? he says and examines my fingers and holds them up to the light.

Mitchell is no fool, knows his color palette. The reason he asks is because the color is translucent and always changing, so it looks different when the sun hits it directly versus when it glints off building windows versus the busses versus when it blinks out in the shade of tree leaves as we pass from the cobblestone street into the park.

If you want to see something striking —
the bits flying upward, dusting
the air with cyclones, perfectly conical,
particles gaining speed and imploding
on Demerol and smudged ink
like a star’s last wheeze
you don’t wait light-years
to receive — call something dead.

mount rainier TNBWhen I first read drafts of your book, you were still thinking of a title. Rollercoaster. “Terrible title,” you said. Dyke Aching. You sent it through Google Docs and I chatted with you. After a break, you were writing again and it was feeling good, raw. New.

Sometimes when we talk it’s like neurons synapsing – we’re going through texts, emails, voice messages, Skype, Google Docs.

“Love it. I love when Finn says ‘I’m a small little animal?’”

“Here’s a link to this John Prine song.”

“I’m drinking a beer with my melatonin.”

“I so suck at letting things go.”

p3“It’s cold in here,” he says, sinking into the wingback chair. His hoodie bunches up near his neck as he leans back. He smooths his salt-and-pepper mustache a few times then puts his hand down, only for it to rise up again automatically. He sees me watching and stops fidgeting.

I grab his arm for leverage and pull, rolling my chair closer to his, knocking our armrests. “Here.” I kick one leg up and rest it on his lap. I smile. “Have some body heat.”

Erin Marie Daly-26Researching and writing about drug addiction and personal loss sounds not only challenging, but very depressing. What kept you going as you were developing the book?

Guilt. When my brother died, I was shell-shocked. I felt a strong sense that I had failed him. Pat was 10 years younger than me, and our dad was sick with cancer for most of Pat’s life (he died when I was 19 and Pat was nine), so I spent a lot of time babysitting Pat when we were younger, and there was a maternal aspect to our relationship. But I also tried to foster openness and honesty between us, which is why I didn’t understand the secrecy of his addiction. Hiding is a part of addiction; no one wants those who love them to know the depths of their darkness. I didn’t know that at the time, so I felt that Pat was either making stupid choices or actively trying to hurt me—sometimes both. And because of that misperception, I was angry with him. I had no experience with addiction and I certainly didn’t know about the link between painkillers and heroin. I ended up saying things to him like “just stop doing drugs,” as if it were something he was doing for fun. He wasn’t. His downfall was hard and fast, and shocking in the context of our family. Of course we’d had tragedy with the loss of our dad, we weren’t perfect, but we loved each other and lived in a great community where this type of thing didn’t happen.

Generation RX_FINALJust Let Me Forget

 Luke tells me it is the rush that draws you in. It makes you forget the darkness.

He flicks a lighter under a spoonful of syrupy brown liquid and says he is ready to die. Fumes rise from the potion, filling the room with the scent of vinegar. It is sickly and sweet at the same time.

We are sitting side by side, Luke and I, on his unmade bed in a sober living house in San Juan Capistrano, a seaside town in southern California where I am reporting a story on the epidemic of pill and heroin abuse. We have just met, but he lets me in, lets me close to the poison that has taken over his life since he became hooked on prescription painkillers eleven years ago, at age fourteen. And he’s right: there is a rush. There is something exhilarating about the poison in his hands, just in its presence, the way that it swirls and bubbles in the spoon. I wonder about the strange seduction of these little bits of crystallized black tar swimming around in circles. I wonder what my brother felt like as he stared down at them three years ago.

LeMay