Poem of the Week | June 11, 2018
Megan Fernandes: “Sonora”
This week, we are excited to offer a new poem by Megan Fernandes. Fernandes is a South Asian American poet and academic. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Tin House, Ploughshares, The Common, Rattle, Guernica, and Pank, among many others. She is an Assistant Professor of English at Lafayette College and lives in New York City. Her website is www.meganfernandes.com.
— after Hannah Lillith Assadi’s book, Sonora
I read Hannah’s book to learn how coyotes can be baited
off path with a piece of bloodied meat in a ziplock bag.
Hannah writes about why aliens always land in the desert
(because it looks so hygienic) and why teenagers keep ending up dead
next to cacti erected like crucifixes in the night. Some parents
caress a child’s imagination to see nightmares. I saw just one ghost
when I was little, rocking in a chair next to my bed, a pioneer lady
with a bonnet. She told me to meet her on the tire swing
in the daylight but never had the nerve to show.
As a kid, I had a blonde imaginary friend named Jenny who
wore a red collared white dress. I gave her my bed one night
because she was my guest and I didn’t want to be rude.
I was hallucinating white women everywhere— so deferential
to their graceful, immaterial bodies, their cooing requests, the demure
fashion that hid a lust for conquest. I slept on the ground of my closet
like a servant. When I was found, it was sweet distress. My parents held hands,
relieved that no man had come for the youngest child of the only dark
bodied family in a radius for miles and miles of this Albertan suburb.
What would I have done if I were them? Who would I have accused?
I went missing a few times as a child and I always wanted a trophy
when I was found, as if there was credit to be given for being discernible.
Hannah writes about how curses spread best between the narrow chop
of mountains and valleys. She writes that suicides can multiply due to weather,
how the inside of wind is a voice telling you where the pistol is kept,
how lightening becomes like ibuprofen. In Arizona, all the Starbucks
feel haunted and people get haircuts as a way to time travel. It’s the kind
of book that follows you around afterwards, where you try to shake it off by
drinking too much coffee and then masturbating or walking barefoot
on a small stony overgrowth of a stranger’s driveway in Montauk, NY,
hoping the imprint massaging your underfoot will knead the spells out
of your ever thickening blood, knotting itself into a gentle exorcism.
I’m an East Coast girl. Even when I lived in California for a few years for grad school, I have always felt more at home with distinct seasons and a green wetness that I associate with the stormy, summer rains of the mid-Atlantic and New England. Yet, I found myself completely mystified and given over to the debut novel, Sonora, by Hannah Lillith Assadi, which details the tragic coming-of-age of two girls in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, and later, their move to New York City.
I felt a major “book hangover” after finishing Sonora, which I read during a residency in Montauk last summer. It made me mull over how our adult imaginations are so shaped by the landscapes of childhood. The Sonora Desert presented by Assadi is a lyrical, feverish, supernatural place where teenagers commit suicide and apparitions are as common as cacti. The book made me reminisce on my own childhood in mid-Western Canada, particularly being a brown-bodied family (similar to Assadi’s main character who is the child of a Palestinian refugee) in an extremely racially homogenous environment. It made me wonder why children see ghosts and if, as Edourdo Kohn in his excellent book, How Forests Think, these visions are related to our own past violent, colonial traumas. It also made me think about the role of hallucinating in literature and how different environments produce radically different phenomenological relationships with the world.
The way Assadi talks about time travel and alien visits and curses…well, it was like watching a beautiful self-mythology come together. And we all have that, I think. Each of the places that we live and call home have their own set of rules, and many of them would appear like a kind of magic to an outsider. And further, Assadi’s book is disguised as a kind of intense, fatalistic friendship. But it’s really a love story about smart women. My poem wanted to partake and honor all of Assadi’s gestures. We should have more poems by women written about the art and novels and films produced by other women. We should have more of these kinds of love stories.
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