In Their Own Words

Maya C. Popa on “Mine’s Not A Political Heart”

Mine’s Not A Political Heart

All of my childhood fantasies—icescapes
with Alaskan cranes, treasure diving
in the Black Sea—Putin has beat me to them.

He drapes a medal over his shadow
then extradites the dead from purgatory.
I live with this deadweight of humor

and scorn until the humor burns out.
I know my birthmarks aren’t heraldic,
the sunspots transcribed don’t form

a line of sheet music. Blinking, I kill
a group of gnats; I kill only to see clearly.
Give me refuge from that sentence,

freedom from the choir sanctioning.
Each day, the grail looks more like a chalice.
Each day, the chalice more like a mug.

American Faith (Sarabande Books, 2019). Reprinted with the permission of the author. All rights reserved. 

This is the opening poem in the collection, and there’s something slightly insincere in its title, a misdirect from what’s to follow.

And yet, I felt this the most earnest way to articulate the sense of genuine unease and puzzlement I feel in considering the careers of certain political figures, the examples their actions set and their corresponding legacies. In this poem specifically, I was thinking of Putin’s egregiously staged cinematic triumphs, which are easy to parody, and the darker truth of what’s suggested by a figure that pursues them. I remembered the film “Fly Away Home,” which came out when I was a child, and which provided an echo to Putin’s botched attempt to guide Siberian white cranes on their migration in 2012. It’s easy to smirk and roll one’s eyes at this stunt and the self-absorption it illustrates. And the temptation to do so, to rely on a sort of familiar irony, comes, I believe, from a place of self-protection. The alternative is disillusionment and fear.

I wanted there to be a palpable tension between the absurd childishness of these stunts, which might indeed be enviable to an average citizen, and the more sinister implications.

More In Their Own Words

Aricka Foreman on “A Longed-For, Which I Enter Gratefully”

“A Longed-For, Which I Enter Gratefully” arrived in tandem while visiting NYC, a trip familiar with beloveds and the chance to read poems, talk shit, laugh, and be quiet. It receives its title from a phrase in Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider essay “Uses of the Erotic, The Erotic As Power.”

Read Article
Jessica Q. Stark on “Explanatory note”

“Explanatory note” was one of the last additions to Savage Pageant, a hybrid poetry book that centers (in part) on a defunct zoo called Jungleland. In the book, I juxtapose poems about my first pregnancy and my own terror of bringing a child into this world with the chronology of California landownership, Hollywood gossip and concealed information, a zoo and its zookeepers, and a history of ecological violence nearby

Read Article