Variations on a Theme

Birds and People

*For Darci Duncan

When you are always renting,
you become familiar with never
owning a thing. You can relax
into your temporary state,
not knowing when
your landlord might kick you out.

The house is riddled with other
people’s clothes, furniture,
boyfriends. You might not be
the first person to hang that painting
but it looks better here, anyway

Down the street, your roommate
is rummaging through a free pile.
Yesterday, she was at the bins
Every time you see her,
she’s wearing something new
Hasn’t paid full price in years

You wonder if you can learn
how to wear a stranger’s clothes
with grace. Worry that the previous
owner will laugh at your attempts
with their leather jacket.

Until you see your roommate,
grinning, again, at her latest find.
Peacock feathers pinned in her hair,
you would never doubt
that they belonged together.

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Everything in Season

When you’re buying an avocado,
he says,
it’s not quite like buying any other piece of produce.
You can’t just give it a quick rap on its side,
to judge firmness or readiness to eat.
You have to take it in your hands.
Sure, some would say that’s an infringement of
trust, that your grocery store companions would
never appreciate you manhandling their
fruit that way, but there’s just no way around
it. Grasp it lightly, press, ask yourself,
‘what’s the time commitment I’m
willing to make here? Am I thinking
fajitas? Or can this fruit wait a hot
minute, and become something better still
on my window sill in a couple of days?’
It’s important to consider these things.
You could be going out of town, and then
the poor thing is just going to go to waste.
If left alone, for too long, it might grow legs
and start thinking for itself, or, worse,
fraternizing with any number of exotic
vegetables. Those carrots, you know,
can be kind of easy. Slender and welcoming,
they have no qualms about getting what they
want. Who could blame them? Is it their responsibility
to keep track of your groceries? But stay
with me, here, I think we’re losing
sight of the big picture.

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Sent to Collections

The decision shouldn’t be hard. You have an infinite amount of things waiting for you to write them, a dozen books you’ve promised to read. Give up drinking, for the fate of your thighs, but give it up for the writing, too. It’s still a mystery how all those men did it, Carver, Hemingway, Bukowski. Boozed up and prolific, and most of it good, enough of it good, anyway. The man on his bicycle thinks it is very fashionable that you are a writer. This playwright from New York, with his collections of Greek myths. Promise yourself to collaboration. How do you live enough to have something to get down on paper? If you wanted, you could call someone over, warm up something for dinner, even if it’s already one in the morning. You might be cultured, but if they bothered to ask you, you’d almost always rather be watching television with a warm body. You’re secretly pining for grocery lists and remodels, the way that mundane tasks make you feel like god. God puts a new roof on his house. God goes to the gym. God tries the diet where you don’t eat bread or any refined sugars, and God swears that he lost a few pounds, even the first day. If you’re going to be an incoherent mess at the end of the tunnel, why does it matter if you write? There’s no use fighting, with the oceans getting warmer by the minute. This blue smudge, hazy under its magnifying glass, the terrible joy of its schoolyard bully. You middle class white woman, with your degree and your debt. You’re going to drop off the side, with these boxes of journals, paper piled thick, and no one might read them. Still, you take notes. You are saying, I am here, finally, I am really, truly, here.

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Beautiful and Talented

Dear internet,

I’m angry. I’m angry and it isn’t cute. It isn’t attractive. It doesn’t come with a hilarious anecdote or a filthy story. I’m angry for myself and I’m angry for all other female artists. I’m angry because my body, my physical appearance, seems to be tightly bound to the general reception of my art. I’m angry because I’ve been told to be docile, receptive, passive. I’m angry because I’m too often described as “beautiful and talented”, as if the “talent” aspect of that is shocking, unexpected.

Last night, a man approached me after my show. He told me he really enjoyed my set; he said many kind things about my work. I accepted his praise with gratitude. I turned to leave. He grabbed my hand and kept going. I became really uncomfortable. I did not move. I tried to excuse myself from the situation, and he ignored all of my efforts. He began to describe what I was wearing. He was leering. I took my hand back. I cut the conversation short. I left.

I feel embarrassed because I didn’t do more. This man crossed clear boundaries. At the very least, he ignored basic social cues, out of ignorance. At the very worst, he was totally aware of his actions and decided to disregard what I might have been feeling and trying to communicate. I’m angry that I didn’t stand up for myself. I’m angry that I feel shame about this at all, when shame doesn’t belong here. I’m angry that I stood there. Why did I stay there?

I stayed there because this is what I’ve been taught. Female artists are raised to be humble, to lay themselves down at the feet of their following. A woman who makes demands is seen as a diva, an individual who asks for too much, due to their inflated sense of self. I have been taught that this man was being nothing but kind, that I should wear something less attractive if I don’t want that kind of attention. In short, I’ve been taught that it’s my fault. It is not my fault. It is not the fault of any female artist. How long will it take our society to place blame where blame is due?

I have chosen to take action. To stand against situations like these, to be emphatically clear about my own personal boundaries after a show. However, those individuals that cross the line are responsible for their own actions. Old man, you knew better. I tried to be gracious and you took advantage of it. No more. Do better. There is no room for your brand of misogyny here.

Sincerely,

Jessica

A writer whose vagina should have little to nothing to do with how her work is received, in the same way that one wouldn’t expect special treatment for being a writer who happens to have an elbow.

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The Inherent Danger of Exotic Fruit

Oh, spring fever, you are upon us.

Yes, it is June. But here in Bellingham, this month is nothing more than the cruel tease of summer. The sun is out long enough to convince you it’s swimming weather, but is gone before you’ve so much as put one vitamin D deprived limb in the water. The women in my town remain both hopeful and obstinate, banishing leggings and tights from their wardrobes and bringing out short shorts far too early. The theory is that you can convince the season to change, if you are perpetually ready for the next season.

Here’s the other problem with spring fever: I have a crush on every boy. Of course, by I, I really mean we, and by boy, I mean whomever you might have a crush on. Clearly, this is not a time for red flag dating. The guidelines are simple; if you see any red flags, you leave. For example, you’re having dinner with someone and they casually mention that they voted for Bush both times. Red flag. Get up and go. Of course, everyone’s red flags are different. Theoretically, when you meet someone with these tendencies, you would call it quits right there, without getting involved. Doesn’t that sound mature? Sensible, even? Be warned, spring fever has a complete disregard for your responsible inclinations. There are sunsets to reckon with. Sangria comes back into play. Sure, this guy is super homophobic, but he has a boat! And you can reach him, change his mind, probably, by making out with him! Right?

Best to take up a lot of hobbies. And since you’ll need something to distract you from poor decision making, how about coming to my show this Thursday? I promise, I did write something on my residency, though I might not be able to write again until September. The show is at the Honey Moon and it’s called Thirty Days in the Wilderness. Troi Gale will be opening it up and I will be accompanied by the incredible Sarah Goodin. It starts at 8:30. There’s a patio, and mead, and maybe there will even be a spell of warm weather. Come and make some good decisions. Or bad ones. Either way, you know I won’t be the one to judge you.

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Lessons in Public Speaking

Hello from the wilderness!

I know, I know, if “I have access to internet” than apparently “I don’t want it!” Such impassioned terms! So many promises! Well, I have been writing like crazy, and I couldn’t keep it in anymore. Also, if I make the promise, I can change the promise. So here we are. In the wilderness! And connected to the internet.

Holden Village is exactly as fantastic as I had hoped it would be. It’s also very different then I had expected. I’m writing some weird material….and it makes me a little nervous. But I press on, and hope for the best. I have many stories for you, but those aren’t for right now. The internet that I do have, I only have a short amount of time. Time is of the essence!

The poem I have today isn’t about this place, exactly. But its subject matter has been on my mind and I had to write about it. That’s all. I come home in about two and a half weeks, and I couldn’t be more excited. If you’re in Bellingham, you can come see me June 7th (TONIGHT!). I will hosting the inaugural Grown Ass Poets’ Society show (special thanks to Robert Lashley for coming up with the name). It is going to be at the Green Frog and it will be featuring…..drum roll……Buddy Wakefield! And Jack McCarthy! This is going to be a show to end all shows, you don’t want to miss it. So, to review:

Grown Ass Poets’ Society!
Featuring Buddy Wakefield and Jack McCarthy
June 7th, at 7 pm at the Green Frog on State Street
$10!

I will be hosting! Get there! I will hold you, and tell you about my adventures. Hell, I might even buy you a drink.
Home can’t come soon enough. Now, to lead us into the poem, here’s one of my new favorite quotes.

“God instructs the heart, not by ideas but by pains and contradictions.”
-De Caussade

When you Decide to tell your Church Group about Domestic Violence

you’ll stumble, at best
at worst, you’ll cry
Not in the classy way -
how they show it in movies -
A stern professor approaches the microphone
delivers an impassioned plea for justice,
a message that demands the best of his colleagues
He’s almost made it through the entire thing
when suddenly the music swells
and he’s caught,
our stone man now transparent
One tear running from retina to jaw line
a more honest hero than we’ve ever known.

No,
when you do it,
you won’t make it through the first stanza.
The poem you picked
because of its subtleties,
turns out to reveal your weakness
more quickly than a politician’s intern
You are crying in earnest now
soggy and pathetic
Your voice, a pitiful sliver of what it once was
Worse yet, they’ll listen to you
Cock their heads to the side
and start nodding
bring you tissues
and say,
keep going.

Once, in this very sanctuary,
you watched a man
trying to light the candles for the service
The altar was a dreadful thing,
too small for his thick frame to maneuver around
He lumbered back and forth,
smiling,
the flames paper thin
his body, his weight,
so earnest to do the Lord’s work

You felt embarrassed for him
Couldn’t believe he would
put himself on display like that
And look at where you are today,
wailing, publicly,
with no dramatic music
to soften the blow

Best to go as quickly as you can
No use pretending
to gather yourself
Sob through the whole
goddamn thing -
you have to get
the candles lit,
somehow.

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Later, in Wenatchee

“Write like hell.”
-Amanda Bettis

Here we are, at the Amtrak station in Everett, WA.
The word of the day is trust. Yesterday, the word of the day was bourbon. Perhaps, if we’re honest, the word of last week was bourbon. Yes, let’s be honest. Best to start things right.

In one hour, we’ll be boarding a train for Wenatchee. Tomorrow, we’ll get on a ferry for some unknown port, Lucerne. Why not finish it off with another bus ride? Into the mountains. We’ll get off the bus at Holden Village. These bags are heavy. Maybe the community will smile, knowing that you packed too much. We are going to turn off our phones, our computers, our anxieties. We are going to learn to trust.

You might be asking yourself, has Jessica lost it? Has all of the last minute packing caused her to remain stuck in this awkward third person writing tense? It is possible. I am sleep deprived. But this style choice is intentional. I am trying to use grammar to express this feeling of gratitude. I am about to enter into one of my greatest adventures. I would be remiss if I did not thank all of those individuals who got me here.

Do you know what a hard sadness is? It is impossible to describe without sounding trite, dated. It inhabits its own cliche because when you experience it, it is all you experience. For a long time. I have not found any new language for it. I only write what I observe, what I feel, what I know, what I want to know. I know that this strain of melancholy takes root in my chest. Wraps arms around lungs. An unwanted house guest. But I don’t want it to leave, not really. It becomes familiar. December, nearly two years ago, I was introducing it to all my friends. My friend Jon grew to know it well. Amanda, Anna, and Jessica. Hanna, with her gentle suggestion to politely ask it to leave. Not a chance. All the space he had once taken up, the three years of inside jokes, the muscle memory, our vernacular, I gave it to this selfish guest, this hungry, angry, blind thing. They say time heals. Fuck time. Time during despair is your condescending minister, suggesting you give it all to God. You say, God doesn’t fucking want it.

Measure progress, instead. The first fifteen minutes in the morning, when you didn’t think about it first thing. Choosing this salad. Choosing to eat. One less drink. A brisk walk that reminds you of running. Remembering to call back a friend, finally. You are starting to go places.

I am going places. I am living my life’s dream for thirty days. Do you think I got here because of my obnoxiously fantastic breasts and humble nature? I got here because of you. This morning, on a bus, I asked this irritating house guest to leave. I don’t even like this metaphor anymore, but we are going to stick with it, for consistency’s sake. I told that motherfucker to get out. That it’s time for me to participate again, to have some purpose. To probably pray and maybe fall in love. To promise to exercise and only do it some of the time. To moisturize. To stop biting my nails. To call my mom back. To follow this ambition somewhere, anywhere. To appreciate the city I live in. To start a band. To at least continue to talk about starting a band. To forgive all individuals involved in the end of things, we all only do the best we can.

This is my last blog post for a month. I don’t think I will have internet access where I’m going, and if I do I don’t want it. I promise to tell you all about everything when I get back. I can’t promise to not be irritating with all of my new, off the grid, faith based tendencies. I do promise to come home. To keep my filthy mouth. To pour you a drink at my bar, ask you how you’ve been. If you want to hear more about my adventures in writing land, come to my show on June 14th. It will be at the Honeymoon again, at 8pm. I am going to be performing with Sarah Goodin. It’s called Forty Days in the Wilderness. Sure, I’m only going for thirty, but I like to keep the Jesus image intact.

This train I’m on, with all of its easy poetry about coming out of the woods, whole and fulfilled on the other side. Let’s let it write its own poem. Today, it is taking me where I need to go.
Thank you for taking me where I need to go.

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