Welcome Back, Erica Wright!
This month we are featuring the poets and writers who have signed with us since last summer—all writers who submitted work during one of our two annual open reading periods.
Today we bring you Erica Wright whose poetry collection All the Bayou Stories End with Drowned will be her second with Black Lawrence Press.
Erica Wright is the author of the poetry collections All the Bayou Stories End with Drowned (Black Lawrence Press, 2017) and Instructions for Killing the Jackal (Black Lawrence Press, 2011). Her poems have appeared in Crazyhorse, Denver Quarterly, Gulf Coast, New Orleans Review, and elsewhere. She is the poetry editor at Guernica Magazine as well as an editorial board member of Alice James Books. Her latest novel is The Granite Moth (Pegasus, 2015).
For awhile this collection contained a poem titled “He Who Transplants, Sustains,” which is a variation on Connecticut’s state motto. Surprisingly, Connecticut is one of the few places I haven’t lived while working on this book. I started in my Washington Heights apartment in New York City where, if you stood on your tiptoes, you could see the George Washington Bridge. Then I lived in Atlanta, Georgia and Gainesville, Florida before landing in Nashville, Tennessee. If anyone needs advice on packing, let me know. This photo of an albino alligator at the aquarium in Atlanta pretty well captures the book’s spirit.
What is your favorite memory from working on this manuscript?
On May 21, 2011 the world was supposed to end, and I was out of town. My friend, poet and translator Ricardo Alberto Maldonado, texted that if I were raptured, he would take care of my cat. That’s real friendship, right? I started a poem called “Lola and the Apocalypse,” as a joke or perhaps a gift for Ricky. Instead, it became a centerpiece for a collection that is about, in my view, the lengths we go for survival.
How did you know that the book was done and ready to send out?
I wrote a poem called “Trespassing,” which revisits subjects I tackle again and again—what Frank Bidart might call my “radical givens”—poverty and privilege, nature versus humans—and felt spent. That it’s, I thought, I’ve finally been as honest as I can be with myself.
I’m currently reading three great books: Ann Neumann’s The Good Death, Sandra Meek’s An Ecology of Elsewhere, and Laura Benedict’s Charlotte’s Story. Next up, Look by Solmaz Sharif and Red Storm by Grant Bywaters. I’ve also been meaning to pick up Thief in the Interior by Phillip B. Williams and Dress Made of Mice by Sarah Messer. Then I’ll see where the summer takes me.
Lola and the Apocalypse
She sees catastrophe in every crow,
in every knocked-down clothesline—mostly
volcanoes and floods but sometimes scourges,
blue tongues, waves that forget their place
and storm into cities. Her mind stops at flesh peeling
back from the bone until it’s white as milk
the kind that makes grown men grow breasts,
and they feel that this is a catastrophe, but it’s not.
Once when men were automobiles, the roads were slick
with sweat. They gleamed. Days were lost
to spectatorship, making bets on which color would rise up
out of the dark. Our girl made twenty dollars
on violet, but someone stole it. Who knows who?
It was hard to tell one chrome from another.
You couldn’t cross for fear of getting hit, a parade
of reds and browns. And maybe the afterlife is a bookshop,
and she’s been good, so she’ll get to loiter
by Pop Culture/Crime instead of Business/Money.
From her perch, she’ll count personality types. The schizotypals
will never object when she fondles their frontal lobes,
that gray, dirty satin. Elbow-deep in it. Her epigraph will remain
unwritten because there’s no one left to scrawl platitudes:
For every pain, there is a duck with your name on it.
But there aren’t any ducks. At ponds worldwide, they ate
each other when no guests tossed crumbs and shooed away
the geese that strike as if their bodies are lit fuses.
When cities were coal mines, the children played
color games, too, but it was hard to determine a winner.
Lola knew a man there who didn’t balk at anything, could stare down
whatever slime-bellied beast approached their home.
She can’t recall his name, but it could have been Roger.
They had books, too, mostly Cultural Studies.
“Maybe I’m not alone,” she thinks. “Maybe the devil stalks me
right this minute, wants me to run, make it more exciting.”
Lola sits down on the nearest ledge. “Ha,” she thinks. “Haha.”
She doesn’t notice the fissure at first. It sneaks
between floorboards, and when she pries them apart,
her fingertips bleed in protest. They drip
onto the bleach-white worms that catch fire in the light.
And then the floor collapses and then the world.
The survivors are called hostages or will be
if any are met. Hostages in pines, hostages in barns,
hostages in the great wide open
that makes them feel slit, wrist to armpit, in littleness.