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Still

By Sarah Xerta

Poem

When people come to me I want them to feel like they are standing at the edge of a lake. I want to be reflective like that, cool like that, calm like that. When they touch me I want them to feel infinite and not because of me but because of them. I want you to love yourself, why don’t you love yourself, who’s been stopping you all these years?

I study neuroscience and know we are infinite. There are a trillion neural pathways in each of our brains, it’s no wonder we feel lost, it’s no wonder we always find ourselves anyway, blinking up at the light like the children we fear we still are.

We still are.

Roll it into a log
Get it wet
Place it at the base of a tree
It will grow mushrooms
I know this because it is a mushroom poem
And because my cat fights herself in the dark
Like my father did in prison
My father said that is all you can in prison

I can do anything now
Because this is my mushroom poem
This may not make sense to you
But the sky doesn’t make sense to me
And I don’t come down to where you work
Asking stupid questions about the sky

Must another love story end, and how, and when? Asthmatic, shifty,
and hood-zipped with snow ghosting the 2 AM Kalamazoo avenues, Ann and I
hunch and hobble the hospital parking lot
with our tube-socks soiled, the dead asphalt buried in dirty slush,

the automatic urgent care door yawning open, and we want
to spill our emergency all over the hallways, but insurance forms, signatures,
the blank faces of receptionist
cashiers cataloguing, monotoning, two photocopies, two keyboards,

an examined and re-examined ID, and as a wallet fumbles open painfully
from a purse to squeeze out an insurance card, the hurt widens, widening, and Ann
doubles over as if some tank-grenade has detonated
in her belly and is still detonating, its shrapnel spreading

the only thing that
upset Mr. Jain more than
the death of his dear wife
a day before, was, when he
returned home from the
funeral, to find her shadow
lingering near a cupboard
in the living room
startled, out of his mind
at first, two days past, he
grew to adjust to watching
the wraith move around the
place, get lost in dark rooms,
and against the pitch black
wall of the study, disappear

There was the loneliness I kept in the cupboard
next to the sugar & the pile of dead ants
I told you in confidence I was done with sex
You didn’t laugh but
I could tell you were laughing
Have you looked in my sock drawer lately?
I lie/I don’t have
a drawer for my socks
My room’s a mess
There’re newspapers guarding
the hardwood from black paint
In another life this is all very interesting
to you/to me
In another life my mother is a falcon
The apartment smells like eggs
Sometimes I dream I wake up
covered in blood & I’m not sure
if it’s mine

Honey hones
its honesty

right off the comb,
no distillation

needed.
What is sweet

in Athens is
sweet in Oakland,

in Ames. At the party
last night I drank

until I drowned. This morning
my body language spoke

only in spasms and whispers,
the twelve months

of my face
clouded with rain.

Puerta del Sol:

In Puerta del Sol there are living statues. An ocean away from home, she watches them and pretends she is someone else. Their eyes are eerie, barely-blinking, hovering like moons in their cracked metallic facades. They maintain impossible poses; minds are still moving, but the act itself transforms them. They don’t look her in the eye. She is drying her wounds with the saltiness of Iberian ham, chewing the fat like gum.

IMG_0369

 

Have you ever done a self interview?

No, and I don’t like it. I am the last person in the world I would want to interview, live with or have to deal with on cleaning day. Nothing is ever clean enough. There is not enough bleach in the world and Swiffers are the devil’s contraption.

 

Why Pittsburgh?

I am a lifer. I love this town like people love the Outer Banks or Disney (people do, you know). I love the rivers like arteries, the bridges like bracelets and the industrial skyline that shuns gentrification — the mills, the steel, the labor, the blessed tunnels. I love its compartmentalized neighborhoods and how we are proud of never crossing to the other side. We are self-sufficient. I love the hills and the grey weather — how I never crave anything flat.

One blue hour simmers on the stove, steam rising
like a slow train up and over the mill line —
still-life burnt in coal, black heat, skin cold-split
in the third shift. The radiator hisses.

Flurries dance on the wind in spun madness. She
presses her hands to the hot pipes, looks out across
the Pittsburgh grey, soaking it in, spreading it like a blanket
across her memory — thick like miner’s dust, an iron door.

She wears gloves to bed, wakes to the itch of wool,
startled by how her fingers feel like someone else’s,
how rough they’ve grown — like a man’s — inside
her winter skin. She pictures the man, bright within

her childhood dream-head like the light at the end
of a shaft. He is twice her size and she can’t see
around him. Warm bourbon breath that melts the snow
before it lands. The game will be played in the big wooden house,

Luis Rodriguez 2013 - credit CGP

Questions as if Anne Coulter or Bill O’Reilly were asking them—assuming, of course, they’d let me get a word in edgewise.

 

How does a Mexican get to be a poet, let alone “poet laureate”?

Nobody becomes a poet or poet laureate just because they’re Mexican. Still Mexico has contributed world-renowned poets like Octavio Paz, Jose Emilio Pacheco, Juana Ines de la Cruz, Nezahualcoyotl… I can go on and on. In the United States, poets of Mexican descent have won National Book Awards and are now poet laureates of the United States (Juan Felipe Herrera), Arizona (Alberto Rios), San Antonio (Laurie Ann Guerrero), San Francisco (Alejandro Murguia), and yours truly in Los Angeles. Other Chicano writers of note include Sandra Cisneros, Victor Villasenor, Ruben Martinez, Ana Castillo, Lorna Dee Cervantes, and Luis Alberto Urrea. Our literary peers have recognized our value to U.S. letters, even though we are still highly marginalized in publishing and academic circles. But we persist with powerful work (mostly in English, but many are also writing in Spanish).

“Oppression makes even God smell foul.”—Felipe Luciano

Reading the newspaper I feel like an accomplice;
a voyeur is also guilty of something.
So the murders, the corruptions
and calculated larcenies against the spirit
reside in me too.
It’s easy, I suppose, to pretend
I don’t pay rent to the conspiracies.
And that the church is immune
because it’s tax exempt.
But from a landfill or cemetery
grow multi-colored flowers.
Who can say then
from what polluted soils
my blossoms will spring?

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Why do you hate interviews so much?

Because I don’t know how to answer these questions without feeling like I’m lying in one way or another. Which isn’t to say that I am lying, but how could I ever possibly tell you the whole truth of me when you are there and I am here? It makes me sad that we are not dancing right now or laughing over drinks on a rooftop in a city. I want to be small in the world with you. Interviews are a tangible reminder of the space between us and I would like whatever is the opposite of that space.

Cat Lady

By Sarah Xerta

Poem

And it wouldn’t be the strangest thing
if I never had sex again, but that’s because I’m having
sex all the time, my eyes like two clits, my ears
like two clits, my mouth. . . Today I’m drinking
coconut tea and looking at photos
of women I’ve never met, their spines like hybrids
between xylophones and violins, throats like galaxies, all the moons
sleeping in their bellies, and I wonder
why I’m not a lesbian, why
I don’t want to reach out and touch them.

  Sleep’s tentacles loose and tickling
should not be the enemy
nor the medicine. And when Day
stands in its way, it collapses under the demand.
  Parables, too, reach beyond night,
never stay taped with snapshots
on wood paneled walls and turn history
even in the present.
  Dreaming to understand them only means
understanding will never happen.
Sleep can never be the enemy; not the medicine
unless it’s supposed to last forever.

One

By Rich Ferguson

Poem

Be one with the world. One with yourself. One with the tranquility gallery behind your eyes, its humble paintings of peace & prosperity. One with how that gallery is so often under reconstruction, deconstruction. One with how everything is so impermanent, so fleeting. How your every thought breeds Frankensteins & angels. Be one with all your Frankensteins & angels.