I have a huge compassion for the selves I used to be. I have boxes of old journals, the first books I loved, middle school mix CDs, old collages licking over my walls. I keep anything that will keep some past self alive; I keep the notebook from my first airplane trip, in which I wrote of the sunset over the Rockies. It is prity. And on my computer, folders and folders of old poetry, essays, mind-parings stretching back to whenever I started typing them up; this made them real. I look at these old poems and cringe — as Wallace Stevens wrote in 1950 of his early collegiate writing, “Some of one’s early things give one the creeps” — at the same time as I feel deeply for this messy naïve passionate self I have always been, differently expressed. Poems from eight years old, eleven, fifteen, eighteen; the feeling of warmest, most loving embarrassment, as if this memory-self were a child in front of you stretching out her hands.
Here’s the first poem I published in the first issue of Bullet, unedited since, written in my freshman year of college. I guess it wasn’t even that long ago — but it seems so old and clumsy and young to me, so real and true.
At night I clasp cold airs
between my hands,
my hands which show maps
reissued when the trees are bare.
The roads are there,
with rest stops and motels
this route to my capital
drawn in blue inks.
Natural disasters are common in the capital city.
When your blood touches mine,
strings shift uneasily. Faults vibrate.
When your lips brush my neck
there is a red tsunami
whose warm foam floods the city,
its suburbs, the country:
no one minds.
They think it’s quite a nice change
from the winters that happen
on no schedule, frosting their plants
and pets, like cakes, with sweet snow.
I should try to be warmer for them.
Try to make the salty rains
less frequent, or less salty,
or more warm, or just less.
But I protect them well enough.
The ones who choose to live
in the capital city are caged,
cushioned, from all sorts of invasion,
surrounded by sand and coral reefs,
marrow. But some choose
the country; they are
vulnerable. Especially the people
who choose to live in my hands,
which are covered in stubborn
black inks and never cease their
flickerings over the page.
Who could live in these unstilled hands?
I wouldn’t, but I’m bolted
to my knuckles
as a rib to my spine.
And how would I
speak without them,
these moving things
made of rolled-up paper
and pulps and serif alphabets?