“My eyes are shut, the insides of my eyelids are orange in the light streaming through. I’ve come to believe orange is the color of vast, unbroken love.”
My latest hybrid/prose poem, Cactus, now up at matchbook, is to my mind, the third in my loose series of “orange prose poems” as the rest of the piece troubles the opening quoted above as well as the series’ theme of family and unbrokenness.
I almost didn’t publish this piece. It’s my first explicit “personal as political” publication, and I tied myself into knots writing, editing, and submitting it. I felt guilty exposing my mother’s history, my husband’s family history, which may not be mine to interpret. I felt guilty about not explicitly naming the harms I dance around. Among other things, the piece is about guilt as a stalling act. As someone engaged in community organizing, I know Audrey Lorde was right when she said: “I have no creative use for guilt, yours or my own. Guilt is only another way of avoiding informed action, of buying time out of the pressing need to make clear choices, out of the approaching storm that can feed the earth as well as bend the trees.” Guilt is not a durable coat to wear when moving through the world. As a reader, I’m suspicious of liberal-leaning creative work about guilt. Still, as a person, I am grappling with guilt. And for whatever it’s worth, I’m trying to write from where I am.
A few months ago, the idea of publishing this piece was scary. I’m writing this post from the U.S. in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, under high-risk personal circumstances I’m too scared to share, and the above fears that seemed so real just don’t anymore. Audre Lorde also said: “Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action. If it leads to change then it can be useful, since it is then no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge.” This is what I clung to in order to accept this piece, but this kind of rumination also feels far away now. There’s much to do for my family, and in the world. The second and final prose poem of the series will be out in May in an all-time favorite journal. It is hard to imagine the world in May.