response to the call for experiments in joy: poetry is a deeper truth-telling than more straightforward language in so many cases. nikki wallshlaeger and i started writing home is a collaboration together in 2013 and are still working on it. we invited each other into our writing soon after meeting, and this is the documentation of our experiences, dreams and ideas about home that we’ve gone back to find more of again and again. here’s a bit from the very beginning of it.
they said the sight of your face disrupted the learning process. Then they tried to take a photograph of you in the teachers lounge for their school district most wanted list. This was all because of the locution of your perfect point plus eyeliner and they were terrified. I was your friend and they hated me for different reasons, but basically both of us were criminals because we asked the obvious questions. She was hungry so hungry, but the home ec teacher was not. under her sugar cookie bunting her ramrod foisting of beeline values hysteria. parents were telegrammed for supporting sick fix jumpsuit uniform.all because of your face, which was beautiful. don’t they recognize when someone is trying to get out,.their from walkie talkies papering the lunchroom with the watery debris of school spirit spittle, not the cheerleaders, breakdancers. they thought we were a gang because some of us were asian and black. what are you doing here?
by the time i got to the front door the snow was up over my head and we had to make tunnels to the street. by the time the dust was drifting down in front of the windows, its thick music was stilled forever in a way that was captured by what was outside that window. there was no one else around according to my description but you were seeing a lot of other people. in a larger space that could fit a few hundred other families, she puked on my shoe. it was translucent with just a bit of yellow and thick at its edges where it dripped towards the white floor. this is always always the consistency of growth, and mine’s staying inside me. she looks up at me as if i could do something for her. what are you doing here?
day of dualities, sword play. was that really necessary. bouts of namesake, what she named me if i had been a boy. i saw a young man at night in the breakroom, he talked easily of learning other languages and i saw her sunning myself. because she encouraged me of careers of the body is why i think of this, her sardonic flat-top when i announced the bulk of college was over. i made a promise to open a telephone but i’d rather shop for a tank top with a cat on it. they are going to buy me a fern so i can look at my porch and think of new orleans so the transformation card is idle today. i got a package from thailand yesterday and i’ll do it again just for the relief of elephants stamps and a language I cannot read. now i cuddle up to the memory of elephant mothers attacking human villages, something i’ve never seen in person, but i’m comforted by his assurance that we will get out of here someday. i’m breaking local custom and I love strangers more than my country. what are you doing here?
she congratulates mothering in all its forms. in the next sentence she says the planet is far too overpopulated. there are many types of thrones. they want to move the books that are critical of society to the back so the plant books dominate since their reasoning is that no one wants a communist bookstore. plants are the safest way to start a conversation, i guess. especially today. the phones will be busy discussing which daughter spent the most money on floral arrangement caterers, and which victory garden has the best social connections. i will let my dog run loose today by the river even though we don’t have a dog. to hear a discussion on spikes in birth rates by surburban urbanites is business as usual because sooner or later africa comes up. i know what comes next because the ex-overseers were saying the same thing during reconstruction.
what are you doing here? i said to myself. i was laughed out of the brunch for not being a mother, so i just left. my other half and i exchanged stories over crossed wires that lay on top of each other like lovers. we’ve been lovers for a while. if i could have given birth to a cat, i would have, i pleaded with the bartender for the free drink that was promised to mothers. so is this home not complete? tomorrow i’ll go somewhere i’ve been so many times before, over water split by a fast boat moving towards a slower shore. i love the process of slowing down as we approach. i’ll be visiting a friend who used to be a lover who is now a mother. let us not get confused. let us never get confused. so let me ask. what are you doing here?
you smell like spring, she said, nostrils twitching. he’s fallen in love with my tiny ears, he adorns them with his tongue and jewels suited to my chakra florentines. but the sun has been giving me headaches so i worry about my brain leaking, posing as a runny nose. in the south, there will be a cicada insurrection this summer. everything will be complete if they come farther north than predicted. I love it when there’s many of another creature, doing their thing, i get this feeling and i glaze in my staring. people ask what are you staring at. i say someone leading an interesting life, like a spider baby waiting for the right wind. what’s neat about the lake is she has no use for a compass, but we do. i have one on the underside of my rape whistle. we’re planning on coloring inside the lines because the woodwork was made by folks a long time ago, and they deserve to be loved. i love my house when, there’s an increase in dream air, a fused point of muscle,but my joints have to get used to being home. they know building is two steps forward, two steps back. they know trust is always the issue, especially when you’re part of a war.
hello. you have been located at “home”. please do not be alarmed that the door is not attached and you feel as if you will never be well again. you should know by now that feeling should pass. the chill is being generated gently and circulated in your area. please feel free to try and find some warm milk soup on your own. there might be a bit of fish in it. the landscape rushing by, the clouds, the evening coming on, these should all be identified by you as somehow comforting. please allow for your body to adjust. you are meant to become stronger by recognizing your own weakness when confronted over and over again. please try to understand your strange dreams before you forget them, like the boy in the orange t-shirt folding his arms, then body, over the monarch butterfly printed there. please confirm your location when you can lift a finger. sent from mobile. what are you doing here?
the loveliest day is the day after. it was an easy gill to receive as my own interrogation room broke into knotted sheet cakes of climbing ice take-away, before she had a chance to beat me in front of my sleepover friends novels. now a group of them picket my adolescent clinic, and in future time the one i relaxed my fertility cycle with aims his car and parks. he gets out and demands what the hell they think they’re accomplishing. they see nothing wrong with photoshopping to build their case for house arrest in the name of someone vague. her car won’t make as much noise if we push it off the gravel. she convinced the cop when we got pulled over that she was a star on the tennis team and a ticket would devastate her career as a high school student. i just sat there and was grateful to be ignored, because this was someone with a badge. then she says i am as far away as I could get. yes. i always wondered about fishing shacks. they look like refuges for lonely people. what are you doing here?
your memory might react as a meaning or you might not remember much at all. please concentrate on the here and now. if you have someone who you look after, keep them close and if not, please look after yourself. i’m sorry, but please beware of the friendliest of faces. please keep all limbs close to your sides. you may feel a bit of shifting as we get started, but we hope that ultimately you’ll feel that it was worth the trip, even if, especially if, it does not make sense right now, because it won’t. and if you remember this, well. what are you doing here?
it always sounds like there’s someone else here when i finally get back, sleeping in the room that’s been added on, the squeaks and scratches, the sand that’s shifting under this small house. the wind broke the waves into little ones like all the considerations of a situation you don’t want to hear but she’ll tell me everything as she’s filling those bottles up with milk. when it’s time to turn in she tells me it’s like a switch, there’s no snooze button for new moms. under all the blankets i close my eyes finally. what are you doing here?
the world is abuzz with perfect PR this morning. a celebrity got preemptive breast surgery. suddenly women everywhere, we’re all standing up on a united front on the first morning talk show, our seconds of teleprompt applause actually mutating the cancer itself into gallons of celebratory pink lemonade. people forget that the rich are dangerous, that she built it that way. sometimes people who think they’ve failed live through other monsters. they tell their children they need mammies when they work two jobs, and substitute a fixed income relative instead. i can hear the rattle of pink cotton candy in the distance, pearls clattering, fake or real. tell me an illusion at bedtime, anytime. make me feel like i’m part of something on a screen whizzing by. I’ll hold an oscar party. we’ll share in our love for royalty, eating cake from the gas station. next year i might have cancer from the company i bought our deserts from, and then i’ll receive a cure from the same place. the dots on a map are few, and they fly there. the doctors are kind to them. they edit their op-eds for them, and expect everyone to have flight insurance. i don’t go to the waiting room to be billed. the last time i did, she put her hands inside of me and stared. what are you doing here?
after a bit of a trek it’s good to come home to an empty space where just a mouth can wrap around any sounds. i thought of you and talked of you. there was this wave of lighter blue that looked like you. underneath it was the thick night sky with, believe it, sharp stars. in the end there was no end, as the translation tried to make clear. there’s room for two only sometimes on this simple couch, its cushions contrast with the fabric, and it is where i live and call home. it came out of me in a wave of the most appreciation. i love regret, too. i saw you and i saw everything that happened in that one moment. we were chasing each other around the yard like children with found plastic swords with fantastically pointy ends, each pointing in a different direction, finding each other in whatever way. a toast with the kind of drinks that look like jewels and a fluttering out of doors back into webs. is winter ever really over in some layer of the world’s crust? you know i asked this same question before. you turn to me and say, what are you doing here?
Nikki Wallschlaeger’s work recently has been featured or is forthcoming in jubilat, Apogee, Georgia Review, American Poetry Review, Witness, PoetryNow podcast through the Poetry Foundation and others. She is the author of the full-length collections Houses (Horseless Press 2015) and Crawlspace (Bloof 2017) as well as the graphic chapbook I Hate Telling You How I Really Feel from Bloof Books (2016). She lives in Wisconsin.
Laura Goldstein’s first collection of poetry, loaded arc, was released by Trembling Pillow Press in 2013 and her second collection, awesome camera was published by Make Now Press in 2014. She has also published several chapbooks with vibrant small presses across the country. She teaches critical thinking and writing, literature, and poetry workshops at Loyola University and is the co-curator of the Red Rover Reading Series in Chicago.