“The brightest memory fades faster than the dullest ink.” ― Claudia Rankine
Ma says I should be more active. Blog more. Write more. Say things that mean something, especially since it’s 2016. She’s afraid that if I don’t write, things will change for the worse. In other words, she’s afraid she’ll be erased from existence. Get lost to the cosmic dust of Internet obscurity.
[For those of you just tuning in: ma and I aren’t real. We are make believe. Learn more about us here.]
That’s the thing with ma. She’s hard to understand and doesn’t understand this: she’s an invention. A figment of my fictitious imagination powered by a mind that’s flawed and unreliable, yet ma’s as real as the scar on my chin, a chin that doesn’t really exist nonetheless. Ma is the boot in the face of a face that doesn’t exist. And the boot, well, it doesn’t exist either.
“And that’s the thing,” ma says. “You’re too psychological. Things like that shouldn’t concern you. Even the ‘real’ are delusional. Whether you’re real or not, doesn’t really matter any more. What matters is what you got to say even if what you say isn’t tangible or touching.”
I tell ma we’re not real just like our words are not real–and no matter how hard we try to mean something and to make that something become meaningful–our lives don’t matter.
“That’s fucking bullshit,” ma says in her piercingly unreal voice. “Our lives don’t matter. That’s why it’s so goddamn important that you make sure they do matter.”
It’s Sunday. Ma is drinking a warm can of Murphy’s Stout. Its caramel skin coats ma’s imaginary esophagus as I sit across from her studying the scars on her face. These postulates correspond to some truth hidden buried in her face. A kind of magical, twisted intellect informs her inappropriate worldview. Her wig is sad and ageless. Her only face since as far back as I can remember.
“Donald Trump isn’t real REAL,” ma says. “We make him real. We give him the time and space to exist in our culture, our politics, and we grant this to each and every one of us. We give him airtime and air hockey. We give him meaning out of all other possible meanings that could exist in his place. Use that space to create new possibilities.”
In many ways, ma is right even though she is flawed. She’s like the women left in these photographs. (Go ahead, click the link. It helps illustrate what I mean.) Without ma, or her words, even though those words or conjured up in the mind of a menace, at least she (sort of) exists. Occupies a finite space that could be occupied by someone else even more self-serving and maniacal.
“For now,” ma says. “Keep writing even though you feel like you’ve got nothing to say because nothing is something that silence can’t trump.”
I met Justin Petropoulos in Washington D.C. this past February at the AWP conference. The best thing about Justin is his last name which means something real cool. Just keep reading. The second best thing about Justin is that he is really tall and he wears cool glasses. He wears the kind of glasses that make him look super smart even though he is really super smart and doesn’t really need smart glasses. Like Einstein smart glasses. But I won’t hold it against him. The third coolest thing about Justin is that his real mother’s name is Dorothy just like mine except that I’m Almost Dorothy and his ma is the totally realized Dorothy without the Almost. She must have done something right to get that distinction. There’s one last (but actually most important) thing that I adore about Justin and that is his book Eminent Domain. On many levels, the book communicates with the spirits trapped or hiding out in the remote locations of his heart and head. In Eminent Domain, Justin brings the spirits to the surface, takes them for a walk and asks them to speak to us in tongues. As the spirits (by spirits I don’t mean drinks) communicate through him, we see Justin’s interior world inside his language. I have no idea what I’m saying at this point but it all sounds spooky. All you need to know is that Justin is an amazing human, brilliant as shooting Tomahawk missile in the night. (I apologize to Justin and his entire family if I’ve misspelled his last name. It’s a gorgeous name that tricks me every time I write it out.)
Almost Dorothy: What isn’t a poem?
Justin Petropoulos: Ah, the time honored question, or more accurately its inverse. I think squat thrusts are not poems, margin calls, pants suits and breaking-up with someone via text message or IM, also burnt flan is not a poem. Though, on second thought, the flan and the squat thrusts have potential with the right spotter. I really don’t know the answer to that question. There is so much collage work in my writing that it’s hard for me not see a poem in everything, or at least something that could be deployed for poetic ends. Poetic Ends would be a great title for a series of photos, don’t you think?
AD: I don’t think. I just type and I think that breaking-up via text message or IM is way appropriate. What’s not appropriate is your last name, Mr. Petropoulos.
JP: Poems should push on the language and the language should push back. Maybe a food fight breaks out between the poem and the language and it’s mashed potato day in the cafeteria. That’s a poem. I want poems to move me, somehow, emotionally, intellectually, make me laugh, however, in some direction, even if I hate where I end up. Ambivalence in a poem is great, but if that’s the reaction of the reader…that might not be a poem or at least not a good one. Lucky for me, being moved is so subjective.
AD: Hmmm…no comment. In your new book, Eminent Domain, where the domain is eminent, why did you write “para meus pais com todo o meu amor”?
JP: Because I love my parents in Portuguese a little more than I do in English, or maybe, they love me more in Portuguese. I forget what they told me before they left me at that rest stop off I-95.
AD: You too!
JP: My parents have always been supportive of my writing; I wouldn’t have a collection of bottle caps, much less a collection of poems without them. There was always a second language being spoken, a pun, joke, (mis)translation or innuendo flying about in my house; language was very fluid, unstable, and there was a lot of it. We’re talkers. At home language was this incredibly dynamic construction, simultaneously personal and public…a performance. I fell in love with words because of that context, because of my parents. That’s what I tell my therapist anyway.
AD: I therapise my therapist. I’m gonna come out and say it: you write prose poems. Deal with it! What is the difference between a prose poem and flash fiction or a short short or a short short short?
JP: Yes officer, I was driving that car when it went over the bridge, but I have no recollection of who was driving the car. Sorry, got my interrogations crossed there for a second. What was the question? Oh, right, prose poems vs. flash fiction, what is the difference?
I want to quote Gloria Leonard here, she said, “The difference between pornography and erotica is lighting.”
AD: I thought it was the size of the penis.
JP: Don’t ask me which is which, prose poems and flash fictions are both pornography and erotica at different moments. The only differences I see between prose poems and short shorts are in the degrees specific techniques expected from the ‘traditional’ or source genres, i.e. fiction and poetry, from which these ‘new’ forms mutated, are employed and for what purpose.
But it’s all by degrees, scaled, some prose poems have a strong narrative element, others a more associative structure, but they both may have a heavy focus on a highly lyrical syntax or on character development, if one can call a poems speaker a ‘character.’ The same is true of short shorts, both the ones you wear and the ones you read. Leonard is right; it’s all in the lighting?
I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [prose poetry]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it…. (Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184, 1964)
AD: Jeez, I just wanted a yes or no answer. So, do you wear short shorts?
JP: I wear shorts as frequently as possible. There’s never enough time for shorts. That’s why theories of multiple dimensions are so wonderful, because at any given time/position, in at least one of these congruent dimensions, I’m wearing shorts.
AD: Hot. In the “The Coincidence of Wants”, there’s a memory of a prayer for snakes and a bit about punching out zygotes. You write, “If you say the words through the nose the snakes disappear, lassoed off by the wind….”. I’m curious: how is your nose, why are you anti-zygote, and when will you reveal the secrets of snakes?
JP: My nose is quit fit. Thanks for asking. Some light, weight-training three times a week has it blowing at capacity and yoga keeps the nostrils limber and balanced. I’m not anti-zygote, at least I don’t think I am, I just wanted to mechanize their production a bit. I don’t know their secrets. They don’t trust me since I bought that pair of boots. Let’s not talk about it. Feelings were hurt, let’s leave it at that.
AD: What is your favorite word, real or invented?
JP: This week: concretize, putrefaction and hippopotamus.
AD: Marxist, socialist, capitalist?
JP: Activist. At least I used to be.
AD: “We wash each other’s hands, we create phantom syntax, we caress the morning’s flimsy coat, like a whisper” (p.13). What does the whisper whisper?
JP: What the whisper whispers is less important than the (f)act of the whisper itself, I think. The message can be dirty and it can be sad, or shy or really anything, comforting, that doesn’t matter as much to me. I like all the messages I get whispered. They stay with me.
There’s something so perfect about communicating that way, especially now when we’re all on blast twenty-four hours a day, on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Plus I love that exchange, the transmitter/receiver dynamic, the body as source (instrument) for words, when people whisper, it’s like they’re two bagpipes playing each other.
I realize that there is an a priori assumption at work in my logic: that this is a whisper between two people, which forces me to rethink all of my previous whisper rhetoric. (Contemplative interlude.) No, it doesn’t seem to change that much for me if we whisper as a group. But to be honest I prefer my whispers as a pair…a bit 50’s of me, but there it is. I’m a cliché maybe, but there’s just something about whispering that tears me up.
AD: I think you’re a liar. What’s the one thing you want people and their pets to know about Eminent Domain? About Petropolulos?
JP: Well, I’m not sure I want them to know anything about me, at least not the humans. As far as the poems in Eminent Domain, I think that the important thing for me when I wrote them (collaged them) was to offer the reader a huge space to read/write into. These poems need readers to finish them; at least I hope they do.
AD: Thanks God I don’t read. Do you own a lion? If not, why?
JP: I’m not sure ‘own’ is a word one can use regarding any proximity to a lion. So no, I don’t own a lion, but that’s just semantics.
AD: The [digression on the corn trade] culminates in a kind wind that “recognizes how lost we are”. Will we ever recognize what the wind sees?
JP: The existential answer is no, we’re too close to the object observed, but I think ‘recognize’ is a great word in this instance. The idea, that to know a person, for example, is an ongoing process, requiring a constant re-imagining of that person as a context in their own right, nesting in other, equally dynamic contexts, is an idea I’ve obsessed over. I also love Venn diagrams.
JP: I feel like these poems were fueled by that desire though, to ‘recognize’ language, to recast certain lexical features from economics or chemistry in an attempt to replicate the displacement of people by and within language itself. It’s also really kind of romantic to me. Like a vow. To think and re-think someone for as long as you both shall live. I now pronounce you. You may kiss the philosopher.
AD: At this point, I feel like you’re either really smart, really high, or i’m really smart because I figured out that you’re either really smat, smart, or really high. High-five! Favorite drink:
JP: Patron on the rocks with lime. It was a gift from a great poet and friend.
AD: Favorite scent:
JP: I love the smell of the ocean, of bacon frying, and the rest, I know I won’t tell.
AD: I smell like bacon therefore you love me! Define Petropoulos:
JP: Petropoulos is a wheel with a grooved rim around which a cord passes. It acts to change the direction of a force applied to the cord and is chiefly used (typically in combination) to tell lies to strangers in gazebos.
Justin Petropoulos’ poems have appeared in A cappella Zoo, American Letters & Commentary, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Crab Creek Review, Gulf Coast, Mandorla and Portland Review. He received his MFA from Indiana University.He lives in Brooklyn, New York where he and co-curates Triptych Readings (www.triptychreading.com) with poets Mary Austin Speaker and Anne Lovering Rounds. He is also a part-time bunny rabbit.
Amanda B. and I are watching the 2010 FIFA World Cup soccer match between Spain and the Netherlands and we saw this topless guy in the stadium and he had nipple missiles, which are long, pointy man nips that look like warheads or eraser tips. In any case, I’m not sure why ‘the’ has to go before the Netherlands or why the Netherlands is also called Holland and why isn’t never(the)less just neverless. What does FIFA stand for, anyway? First Idiot Farters Association? I mean, come on. The Netherlands, Holland, pick a name like Spain, which is only Spain, not ‘the’ Spain or Spalland. Amanda B. is rooting for Spain, she’s insane and incensed because I’m pulling for Turkmenistan because I was once in love with a Turk, or Turkamen? They make great flat bread with butter and stick to one name at a time. You can’t root for Turkmenistan, Amanda B. says. They’re not in the finals. Oh, I say. But, I can root for who I want. Deal with it.
Amanda B. and I both miss mom because we know it would be really fun if mom were here watching the finals with us. If you haven’t been following me lately, I busted out on mom and hid with Amanda B. Mom thinks we’re dead or long gone, but we’re just around the corner in Amanda’s sugar shack. Amanda B. likes treats. She dumped mom, which meant she also dumped me, because mom is the male version of Hunter S. Thompson. I hate rejection, so I left mom and chose to stay with Amanda B. because the B is silent when I need to think or just be Almost Dorothy. In any case, we’re thinking about calling mom over to welcome her back. Amanda B. shows me the unauthorized tattoo of a rat that mom (while drunk or stoned or sober) haphazardly drew on Amanda B.’s ass in the middle of the night while Amanda B. slept peacefully cause mom put sleeping pills in her milk. Amanda B. says we’ll call her after the game. I cross my fingers for good luck. Amanda B. crosses her fingers for good luck too as we sip from our 7-11 blue monster Slupees. Viva Turkmenistan, she says and winks I love you.
Programming Note: My Potty Mouth Interview series resumes tomorrow with an interview with the fabulous documentary filmmaker Sandrine Orabona who was one of the two cinematographers on Michael Jackson’s “This Is It.” Wonderful interview with an amazing, enlightened and inspirational figure. Fo’ sure, kids. Stay tuned.
I wonder how many balls it takes to win a world cup soccer match. Assuming each player has two balls that’s about 22 balls. How many of those balls are protected by a jockstrap and cup? How many blades of grass sacrifice their life to cleats? How many shoelaces are broken during a game? And, most importantly, is every player required to wear a cup and jockstrap? Please, if you have the answers, let me know. Thanks.
I’m heading to the pub now with Amanda B. to watch the next game and I can’t get the idea of jockstraps out of my head. Amanda B. says their importance cannot be underestimated for the survival of the human race. Full-time protection of the crotch leads to more sex with undamaged goods and therefore may lead to more babies. I have no idea why, but I might buy one and wear it on my head next Halloween. Maybe then I’ll be a real macho boy like the ones they feature on ESPN. In the meantime, I’m going to wear my white dress and red shoes today.
I haven’t been able to post because of my _____ relations with my new boyfriend _______ who is from Nicaragua, which is close to Nevada, but not really close. I swear I’ll never tell mom cause she’s against sex before marriage even though she had me before she was married. Actually, she had me the first time she had sex. Bad luck, she said. I guess, I said. Anyway, I don’t speak to mom anymore cause she’s nuts. Certified USDA. When Amanda B. and I returned from Disney World, we discovered mom had broken into her house. Mom’s footprints were all over the walls. (Amanda B. is my mom’s ex-girlfriend who was once a boy many many years ago named Steve.) Anyway, after I ran away from mom, Amanda B. rescued me, but I’m safe now. I’m in my own skin now. I’m waiting for Amanda B. to bring me tea and chocolate chip cookies. Waiting for her to tell me the story about Big Foot. The story about his inability to gain national credibility.
Amanda B. and I went to Disney World to chill. We thought it would be good considering I just ran away from mom and she was trying to find me. When we left Amanda B.’s house, we closed all the windows and the blinds. We hid Amanda B.’s patio furniture in the garage so mom wouldn’t vandalize it. We put a for sale sign in the front yard so she’d think we skipped town or something like that. We even put fake blood on the front door so mom would freak and think something bad happened to us. Amanda B. said mom deserves it cause of how she acts when she’s in public or Publix. Said it will make mom calm down and be more respectful of other humans. Like hell, I said. Amanda B. laughed and we got our photograph taken with the crew–Mickey & Minnie Mouse, Snow White, the dwarves, and Donald Duck. All of them. The only character missing was Goofy, who was probably peeing on Amanda B.’s mailbox for good luck.
My first night with my new mom, Amanda B., didn’t go so well. She’s a vegetarian, so we didn’t eat any meat. I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do. We didn’t even have turkey bacon for breakfast this morning. At least I didn’t get burned by a cigarette, but I miss my real mom’s quirks. I’m not sure what I’m going to do because Amanda B.’s cat looks so delicious. I wonder if Amanda B. will notice her cat has a missing leg. The meaty one on the left side. I have to go. Obama is making a speech right now. God save the cat! Long live the cat!
I want to glide down Biscayne Bay in my pink and yellow muumuu. I want to call the cops on the muumuu monster called mom. I want to suck the madness out of the Gulf. I want to fly without wings. Mine the world with mines.
The scene: 9AM. Mom’s false teeth on the kitchen counter. Her push up bra unclasped. No bottom. A frozen chicken pot pie melting in the sink as her lipstick melts on the window sill. Sunday. My photograph of Squinny torn into a hundred tiny pieces on the breakfast table.
Mom said she was upset or pissed off because I had disrespected her when I had sexual relations with that Puerto Rican-Peruvian-Sephardic boy. She said I’d go to hell and my panties would burn in hell. Said that my privates would burn in hell. Said that I’m whore and that I would burn and burn and burn till I understood what she was talking about. You dirty little whore, she said. Just like you, I said. Just like you.
Mom smacked the wind cause I’m too friggin’ fast. I ran to my room. Assessed the importance of things like my Hello Kitty purse, red red ruby slippers, the pink lava lamp. I left my underwear behind. I left the lava lamp and potted cactus behind. I left the whole world behind and Bobo the Mutt too. He was furious at me for leaving him with mom. He looked at me and cried. He said don’t go, don’t leave me, in the language of dogs.
The world is not big enough anymore. I packed my mirror to remind me of who I was and where I’ve been. I scooped up all the pieces of Squinny and sealed her up in a pink envelope. I swiped a pack of mom’s cigarettes from the kitchen counter and then hauled ass out of that house as she hauled ass after me. I jump into the arms of Amanda B., who had waited for me in her getaway station wagon ever since she left mom and me. Hanging. Just in case I needed a lift away from Mars.
Today was a bad day. Mom cried all day and the baby birds trapped inside the attic. I’m sad because they won’t listen to me. The termite man will tent the house tomorrow. I climbed ladders for them. Cooed them toward nowhere safe.
Today was a bad day and the thunderstorms couldn’t hush the howling of mom or the wind or that thing that makes moms and the wind howl like mad, mad wolves. Or hatters. Howlers that not even the wind can muffle or silence.
Mom was screaming. Is screaming. Will never stop screaming for Amanda B. She will count on her lungs to feed her today. She hasn’t eaten in days. Hasn’t peed in the toilet for days. Hasn’t used my name in days. I am screaming.
In a moment it will begin to rain (again) and the Puerto Rican boy next door wants to take me on a date. Says he has something to show me. Says I am pretty in the light and dark. I wonder if he knows I’m a boy just like him. I wonder if he cares. I wonder if mom will care. If I take his offer and fly with him in his red Camaro, will I repeat mom? Will I die? Collapse into his arms? Vanish from the face of the unknown universe?
I wonder if I’m old enough to fly. I feel like I have the right to clear skyscrapers with my bare virgin hands. I have the right to examine the nature of boys in the backseat of sports cars on the birth of Biscayne Bay. I promised mom I’d be safe and she nodded yes and uh huh and then screamed uncontrollably for B. She nodded toward the door. Nodded toward the place where Amanda B. fled in her butch attire and flats. She nodded toward the exit where all stories begin and end. For mom and Amanda B. For mom and me. In a few days. More.