One of the pleasures of being the new prose editor at BrickHouse Books is discovering the people who have published with us, including the poets. After all, I have said that what I look for in prose submissions—among other things—is “a distinctive voice . . . and an obvious love of language.” Meaning a touch of poetry.
And as someone who has traveled more in the first years of her life than many have in a lifetime, I was delighted to hear from poet J. Tarwood, who happened to be in Laos at the moment. Here is what he sent me a few weeks later from who knows where:
As an adult, I’ve worked in Kenya, Turkey, Yemen, Oman, Colombia, and Dubai; I’ve trekked by all sorts of dubious means through most of Africa, Europe, and South America, even darting a few times into Asia. I’ve lived out globalization from aerograms to emails; that’s given me a vision quite different from many contemporary American poets. I like what Rimbaud said: “I is another.”
In high school, I wanted girls. All I had for wooing were words. The right ones, though, said at the right time, in the right way, could work magic: the wow of sex, the blessed chance—
You could go to another world;
You could talk to a pretty girl.
Mother knew words. Born in the Blue Ridge, mired in the Midwest, she yearned for the lost home like a Palestinian. Silence a growing hole in and out, she battled back with savage stories of invisible kin, entrancing me along. Up North was a hungry hell. Only Back Yonder got to be real.
Father hated words. In the kitchen, alone with the light, he would read big borrowed books. “All talk,” he’d curse. Up North was fate. Swallow and shut up.
Up North certainly had no place for me: deindustrialization’s cannon fodder, “No Future” stamped on the forehead at birth. Leave or rot, honeychild.
I left and just didn’t stop. “Grin like a dog, wander aimlessly,” a drunken Tamil quoted to me in Istanbul. I followed adventure or dollars, my life a travelogue of hard to say places. At interviews, I pretended I had a career. Practical people understood it really had been one foot after another.
Yet like the superheroes I had so intensely scrutinized as a boy, I had a calling I held close—as if I were to spy for a goddess, and all this gadabout were both education and mission.
A calling makes sense with divinity. Otherwise—scour the bio for the prof who loaned the book, the gal who wrecked the heart, puzzling out a life obsessed.
Land of luck, that. I prefer a life possessed.
Words alone conjuring worlds? In high school, I drifted through the Upstairs Bookstore, where I bought a paperback of The Waste Land, lightly yellowing, thin as a broke wallet. Eliot never had me in mind as a reader: I had been streamed into Jolly Books of English courses to prepare me for a life of stupor. Nevertheless, his words dazzled me the way my mother’s had and the way I wished mine to dazzle the girls who dazzled me.
Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
—But who is that on the other side of you?
Poetry must be magic, a secret kept by being shared.