Little Brown Mushroom is my sandbox; a place for collaboration and low stakes play. In the beginning of this year, this took the form of the LBM newsletter. I published eight issues before 2020 got the best of me. But lately I feel like a little serendipity is starting to sneak through the cracks again.
In September, while biking home from my studio, I decided to take a different route than normal. I rode by a house with a poem on the window:
After They Left
We policed ourselves, restored our spirits in quiet tasks until the earth ran crimson with iron and sweat. We called old seeds from the cavernous cold to rejoin them with the heartsick soil, then tended our crops by hand. Every day everyone bent down on knees to pull the weeds away. Pests took their part but left plenty. Each harvest, the village gathered together. To each a share. For all it had suffered our body stayed whole. Trauma dissipated. Where our wounds were acute, we applied more salve, calling our injured closer in, so we could sing to them and give them more fruit.
When I got home, I looked up the poet. His name is Michael Kleber-Diggs and he is president of the board of the Minnesota Prison Writers Workshop. The next morning I learned that he was a former teacher of my friend and collaborator C. Fausto Cabrera.
I did some more research and learned that the poem had been put on the window by Monica Larson, aka Sister Black Press. Monica and I had never met, but a couple years prior she’d emailed me a kind note out of the blue and shared a transcript of Tracy K Smith’s lecture “Staying Human: Poetry in the Age of Technology.” Smith gave the lecture in 2018 while serving as the US Poet Laureate, but it has even more relevance in 2020: “I am operating on the notion that poetry can save me from disappearing into the narrow version of myself I may be tempted to resort to when I feel lazy or defeated.”
While I was writing Monica a note of appreciation for her installation, a bird slammed into my studio window:
The bird was still alive, but unable to move. I wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t have the stomach to put it out of its misery.
I wrote to Monica that I wanted to commission her to put a poem on my window; not only to “keep from disappearing into the narrow version of myself” but also to keep birds from killing themselves in my window.
About thirty minutes after sending the email the bird recovered and flew away.
A month later Monica showed up at my studio to install the poem she’d selected. We’d agreed in advance that it would be a surprise:
The poem by Laura Kasischke is one that Tracy K. Smith talked about in her lecture:
A bear batting at a beehive, how
clumsy the mind
always was with the heart. Wanting
what it wanted.
timidly the heart approached the business
of the mind. Counting
what it counted.
Light inside a cage, the way the heart—
Bird trapped in an airport, the way the mind—
How it flashed on the floor of the phone booth, my
last dime. And
I didn’t send
to find it now.
All this love I must have felt.
I’m so happy to see this poem every day when I arrive at my studio. It feels especially connected to the book of C. Faust Cabrera and I just published entitled The Parameters of our Cage.
Back in May, before Fausto and I knew we’d be publishing a book together, he agreed to do a photobook review for the newsletter. I chose Midnight La Frontera; a recently published book of Ken Light’s late 80’s nocturnal documentation of migrants crossing the Mexico border.
The publisher, TBW Books, immediately sent Fausto a copy, but the prison where he resides tried to keep it from him. After an exasperating six months of bureaucratic nonsense, Fausto recently sent me a powerful narrative of what happened. [Read the whole essay HERE]. It concludes:
This struggle to improve one’s station in life, for immigrants, convicts, the downtrodden, whoever— is met with such a harsh and unfounded spirit of pushback. And where is it coming from? Those who have it in their minds that there’s something to lose? Like the jobs migrant farm workers are taking will steal food from their plate or prevent their privileged kids a spot in their choice college? If COVID doesn’t level the mentality enough for people to buy into the idea of wearing a simple mask for their fellow American, what hope do I have after all of the stupid shit I’ve done?
The relentless pushback is crushing. It makes me all the more grateful for people who strive for the opposite, the voices of inclusion and openness, the poets. “We have to go quiet, slow down, allow ourselves to be both vulnerable and brave,” writes Tracy K. Smith, “and approach one another with an idea as simple as, I’m me, you’re you, we are not the same, and yet perhaps we can feel safe here together talking about something as simple as a poem.”
Thank you to Monica Larson for opening up my heart to serendipity again. Monica can open your heart too. Subscribe to her beautiful quarterly letterpress mailings HERE.
Thank you to C. Fausto Cabrera, Michael Kleber-Diggs, and the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop (MPWW). All proceeds of my book with Fausto, “The Parameters of Our Cage,” go to MPWW. You can read about it HERE and purchase it HERE.
Midnight La Frontera by Ken Light can be purchased HERE.
Lastly, Little Brown Mushroom has a book sale until the end of November HERE. I’d love to send you a postcard.