READ LOCAL First represents Utah’s most comprehensive collection of poets and authors. This month we bring you a unique selection of five authors (Karen M. Bayard, Sean Patrick McPeak, Suzy Eskenazi, Emilia Wint, and Gail Weinflash) who share the experience of River Writing. River Writing is a community-based writing practice. It exists to help individuals find and foster voice. The program provides people an opportunity to write together, listen, and be heard.
Karen M. Bayard
Bayard is the owner of Whole Body Laughter. She sees joy as both an essential element of wellness and a revolutionary act. She has worked with Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, the United States Air Force, Huntsman Cancer Institute, and other major organizations.
20/20: Providence in Retrospect
Mercury takes me back again. Once for the living, once for the dead. Love at the root, heart open and flowing. Passion and ecstasy…
That’s what I wish was going on in my chest, instead of this tangled, tightness snatching my breath.
My past returns it, seems, only to taunt to me. To remind me of how much we really can hurt. How we crave everything good, that’s just… always… out of reach.
He longed for me, the way I longed for her… one of us doesn’t survive. In a time of distance and civil unrest, it’s not another bullet that takes him; but a heart broken inside a black man’s chest.
We are literally dying of broken hearts in search of life’s sweetness.
Sean Patrick McPeak
McPeak is a Jungian-oriented psychotherapist. He is currently finishing his dissertation for a PhD in depth psychology. He uses non-academic writing (like River Writing) as a method of healing and processing grief. His contribution, “My Bones Said,” was inspired by Andrea Gibson’s poem, “The Madness Vase/The Nutritionist.”
My Bones Said
My Bones said, “Shut the fuck up!
Don’t tell me how to love!”
My Bones said, “You can love more than one at a time.
It’s an A-bomb, not an arrow.”
My Bones said, “You didn’t fucking know her!”
and my Heart said, “I’m so sorry you didn’t.”
My Bones said, “I’ll knock your fucking teeth out!”
My Soul said, “He’s probably right.”
My Tongue said, “I’m sorry. This isn’t about you. It’s my shit.”
My Bones said, “I want to follow you.” She said, “If you do,
you’ll undo all the good I’ve done.”
She said, “Put your glasses on.”
My Bones said, “Fuck… your broken Heart loves more than most.
My Broken Heart said, “Enough is enough. I’m tired.”
My Soul said, “Then rest.”
My Bones said, “Sit still.”
My Mind said, “Fuck that noise.”
My Ears said, “Yeah! Play more noise!”
My Bones said, “Lie down.”
My Belly said, “Lie Down.”
My Heart said, “Soon, friend. Soon.”
Eskenazi is an archaeologist, cheese lover, and Airedale terrier owner.
Letters to My Former Selves, Part II: My Best Mistake (or a love letter to trouble)
Dear Skilled Troublemaker,
You know, you grew up a shy kid but at some point you forced your way out of the introverted shell and into all of the things that had, at one time, seemed terrifying.
Remember at Camp Tockwogh, when you crept out of your cabin at night with a few of your bunkmates to go meet the boys halfway between their cabin and yours? I don’t know what you even did aside from whispering in the trees, G-d knows you were all too awkward to do anything else. Remember when you were 14, and you snuck out of the rented beach house in Wildwood with Cory to go meet the skater boys at midnight? You snuck out the back door feeling smart and mischievous - but then Dad did one last house check after you left, locking the door behind you. Your excuses didn’t fly when you came home much, much later. Dad forgave Cory though, and I think he always had a special place in his heart for her, your only rabble rouser friend.
Remember when your on-campus apartment was on the ground floor, and you would talk for an hour with your friend Johnny through the screen when he would walk by in the evenings, and eventually the two of you and Cheri would hit the Waffle House, and how you had a mad crush on every Hispanic boy you befriended in Albuquerque? That accent, that dark skin, all of it trouble for you.
And do you remember when your parents tried to make you promise that you’d never go up in your friend Clayton’s plane? You never did promise and you went up with him, flying over Los Lunas, the sunset turning the Sandia Mountains pink in the distance. You didn’t lie and you said yes and you had no regrets.
Remember the months after your sister died and a planned wine lunch turned into an 8 hour wine afternoon, when your friend almost walked out with a stranger and you had to run out the door and rescue her from the grasp of a strange man on the Las Vegas Strip? Country music on Sunday evenings in cross-town bars, martinis on patios and decks, the first shots of whiskey you’d ever had, remember how many poor choices you made during those last months you lived in Las Vegas?
No regrets. For this is a love note to trouble, and sometimes trouble is exactly what you need. Sometimes it pulls you from your shell, forces you out of old habits, gives you new friends, and pulls you through overwhelming grief. Remember the ties before you took risks and played it safe and asked, “what if?” I don’t remember them much anymore.
Dear Trouble, thank you for giving me the world.
Dear Skilled Troublemaker, you’ve earned your wings. Keep on flying.
Wint (They/Them) is a non-binary educator, facilitator, writer, and organizer. They love sleeping under the stars, laughing until they cry, crying until they laugh, and being with the people they adore. In a past life they lived in a van named Goose, and before that they were a professional slopestyle skier.
What a delight to come home after a jaunt in the desert to a pleasant day in the city. It felt fun to name some of the gains from my recent organizing – it feels like I’m finally getting a little break from the emotional slog.
I had a great day. I’m so pleased. I’m the perfect level of high and my outfit looks fantastic and gets my gender right. And I had lovely serendipitous moments, and sparky side conversation, and I got my Medicaid application figured out, and began a campaign for the trees, and got a letter from a friend, and I sat in the park and I wanted to write.
But I didn’t have a pen. And it was the first time I had really wanted to write. And I was trying not to be upset about a pen, so I picked up the Audre Lorde book. And I opened it to a random page and the poems were so true and so real and so sad.
And my friend sent me a video from her wildland firefighting job in California.
And the forest where I met her, and where I fell in love, and where I swam naked and was truly on my own – that forest is burning down. And my ex had to evacuate. And my friends’ coworkers’ homes are burned down. And my neighbors have trees in their living rooms.
And one day groceries are going to cost three times more.
And why did all the trees fall down. Trees like that aren’t supposed to fall down.
I had such a good day.
I’m full of joy.
And I’m so sad.
And I almost cried in the park.
And I had a really good idea.
I just didn’t have a pen.
What does it mean to live through climate collapse?
Weinflash lives in Ogden with her husband and two dogs.
I felt the aftershock last night and thought I heard it, too, but am not sure if it really made an audible rumble up here or I simply gave it one.
This morning in the library I dusted the orchid leaves with my hands and thought, “I am caressing the dust off of orchid leaves. How fortunate I am.” They were careful strokes, so as to not cause the later trembling of petals, the noiseless drift, the slight unsettling of air. Maybe that is the way sound settles, like dust: sometimes scattered and sometimes exact, the tremble that transcends the senses, and like dust, is the remnant of things.
How is it that people who are born deaf – when somewhere in their slow dance the sound and air lose their way, lose each other – learn how to modulate their voices, their volume, their tone and inflection? Beethoven had memory to reflect upon, but most soundless people do not. They are not without sound, though; they create it, their muses the silent thrumming of the floorboards or the tremoring of a throat under their fingertips. The dusting of orchid leaves. A miracle.
Why, then, with headphones on, do we shout? Is it perhaps because when the experience is solitary, self-centered, we have no sense of how much or how little anything else is? Why is that that some people who do not feel heard, shout, but others whisper?
Some of us, like Beethoven, are able to conjure melody out of memory.
Then there are those of us without memory who are able still to render something beautiful and whole. Alchemists, all.
Because sometimes, like a miracle, all we need is dust and air.