Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2023  Vol. 21  No.3
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I envy poets who always seem to know exactly how much of the story to tell. Over a lifetime or within a single book, so many poets I admire have a consistent degree of narrative or lyric momentum, so that when I sit down to read one of their poems, I know whether I’m going to get connected dots or a collage. The tug-of-war between narrative and lyric hasn’t settled in my work. Where each poem lands on that spectrum depends on the type of memory I’m working with and how it presents itself—sometimes wholly, but more often fragmented, dim around the edge, conflated with other events, tangled with emotion.

My writing of “Like Riding a Bike” had the impetus of a single event—the death of the mother of a childhood friend—and so it lent easily to the telling of an uncomplicated memory. It allowed me to slip into a narrative voice and look at moments in my relationship with my own mother with frankness. “Relic,” from the outset, dealt with tricks of the eye and mind. The visual strangeness of mistaking broken glass for something living, illusions doled out by the church to impressionable people, memories that appear like silent film clips. What better way to explore the fragments of memory and image than in the place that taught me to venerate bone splinters of St. Therese. The stitching in this poem is more visible as I piece things together, trying to tell as much of the story as I understand myself.

There’s freedom in listening to the needs of each memory and writing disparately narrative poems as a result. I imagine the cohesiveness I’m enticed by in longer works is something that happens as complicated memories unfurl, simple ones crack open, and the
questions—Am I telling too much, or not enough?—fall away.  

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