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Catch me inside of whatever is the opposite of grief.
**Quick note up top** For the month of June I’m holding four speculative seminars on Zoom as part of HUMANS HAVE LEFT THE CHAT, an exploration of writing with instead of about our nonhuman companions on Earth. The first one happened on June 7, and it combined an overview of my work with lichen, a guided meditation for participants to find nonhuman writing partners, and a communal chat conversation geared toward writing ecosystems as conversations. The next one is on June 15, and you don’t need to have attended a previous session to take part. Registration is very sliding scale, and so far it’s been a lot of fun :)
Now, on to The Molt.
They’ve been tearing down the old post office, and they’ve been taking their time. No fewer than three backhoes paw at the rubble everyday and still it’s been more than a month since they first bared the skeleton of rooms and cubicles. Maybe it’s a good thing that destruction takes so much time and energy. It can’t be undertaken on a whim. Strategies and protocol must be considered for the safety of the tearer-downers. A transparent screen is erected to shield passersby from the sound and debris plumes. Each day another room is unveiled and tagged by nighttime graffiti artists excited by the chance to paint on fresh canvas so soon-to-be destroyed—ephemeral in the extreme like colorfully spray painted mayflies, crawling from their brutalist larval state to explode in big loops and swirls only to take up a death float on the eddies of rubble and rebar.
A city grows another skin while we look away.
I’ve been watching the lizards molt. Attentive owners use fingers and tweezers to carefully remove translucent layers of dry skin under which the reptile has grown another skin, supple and hydrated. A molt must be removed completely lest it get infected or dry and cut off blood supply to part of the body. When removed carefully, a molt looks like an Eva Hesse sculpture, dead skin and latex being the same yellowed white color, preserving in exact detail spines and scales and claws like a paper-thin fossil. Strangely, even the eye molts, gelatinous membrane sloughed off from deep within the socket to debut a shiny new sight.
A reptile grows another skin while we watch closely.
Supposedly our cells complete a total turnover every seven years, but physical evidence of this change is hard to spot. Wounds heal and leave scars, the body makes deposits of hair, fingernails, and salts in the shower, in the hard-to-reach dusty corners of our home; age enacts its own softening of youth’s permafrost; tattoos remind us that we can mark ourselves, make ourselves, but if it wasn’t for the writing there would be no record of the days on the skin approaching the molt. Words are the tweezers and time is the hand that wields them—sometimes gingerly, sometimes with cruel impatience and force, ripping new skin away before it’s hardened into dermis. The sentences preserve our impressions. Occasionally whole sheets will peel away preserving in a paragraph or an essay some salient observation, some opinion fervently held. But it’s not until the eye molts, when the writer turns the writing back on themselves and takes stock of what they’ve written and previously believed to find it wanting or wrong, that the molt is complete. Then the jelly-cased “I” falls away to reveal a wetter, gooier “you” or “we” or still an “I” but with another facet, with weaknesses. Weaknesses as a writer are important—they’re what give us style.
An essay about cities and lizards grows into an essay about writing the self while we read.
Looking at the past lies somewhere in between molts and demolition. If we look too closely at the carnage it shimmers and disappears mirage-like before our very eyes. The exact moment of change, of disappearance and destruction, can’t be isolated—we only know it happened because we feel the pain at the loss of it. Something is there and then it’s not. We grieve. But then, the same can be said for the appearance of a new skin slowly accreting cell by cell beneath the surface. The moment it started, the moment it membranes, the moment it slithers in between our insides and the outside world is likewise impossible to see. We must become as attuned to this creation of the new inside ourselves as we are to loss. We obsess over loss; we ignore the newness of our own skin.
Maybe you’ve experienced something similar. Did it take you awhile to see it? Did the sloughing come with a feeling? Or were you suddenly, bewilderingly, someone new?
What I’m Reading
Two books of poetry have kept me alert to beauty and strangeness lately:
The first, Should You Lose All Reason(s) by Justine Chan is an unusual retelling of a Southern Paiute tale of the coyote which Chan told many times during her tenure as a park ranger in southern Utah. The story is retold with careful attention to its lineage and detail, and the fact that Chan still manages to interweave her beautiful observations, humor, and language in between makes it a stunning feat of ecology, intercultural conversation, and meditation on what it means to have found one’s place and lost it over and over again. Thank you to my friend Miranda for pressing this book into my hands and insisting I should read it—it’s quickly become a touchstone for me. Miranda has her own newsletter Writing Toward Nature that explores the more-than-human craft of writing during climate emergency that you will probably enjoy if you enjoy this one.
Second is On Centaurs & Other Poems by Zuzanna Ginczanka, translated from the Polish by Alex Braslavsky. Originally published in German in 1936, this is the first time her first and only published volume of poetry appeas in English alongside her earlier poems. Born to a Jewish family in Kiev in 1917, she was murdered by the gestapo in Krakow in 1945 shortly before the war ended, and in between her star shined brightly in the literary world of the European interwar period as part of the Skamander group. Yusef Komunyakaa provides a moving preface to this newly issued translation—overall it’s a stunning beautiful book, one that many more people should be reading.
I have a new story, “The Worker and The Hawk,” published in the newest issue of annulet poetics, as part of a special fiction folio edited by Kelly Krumrie. The long stretch of I-5 between Portland and Salem are where I first remember seeing the hawks and the people that inspired this story. We drive by them so quickly. Rescuing characters, both human and not, from the drive-by of daily life feel really good sometimes. The story itself is a 3,000-word single paragraph. Buckle up.
If you’re local to Portland, I’ll be hosting an as-yet-unannounced workshop in the offices of Tin House with friend and writer Luke Sutherland, and a reading following in the queer bookshop Bishop & Wilde downstairs on July 6th. More info will be coming before then (and I may be writing this newsletter more frequently through the summer—there’s so much going on!)
ALSO, again if you’re local to Portland, my husband Ruune will be playing with their band New Here at Holocene on June 14th. It’s the release show for their new EP Get Sick of Me, which is what I’ve been rocking out to for the last week. It’s headbanging queer angsty pop punk! Ruune shreds a mean guitar solo! You should come!