i name my body girl of my dreams
i name my body proximity
i name my body full of hope despite everything
i name my body dead girl who hasn’t died yet
i hope i come back as an elephant
i hope we all come back as animals
and eat our fill
i hope everyone gets everything they deserve
Complete poem available online from LitHub
The ordering of Pushcart pieces, unlike BASS, is up to the editors. This year we opened with a cluster of art-themed stories, a theme that’s echoed from time to time throughout. I sense a distinct pocket of body-themed works, going back to Charlie, or even to Slocomb County, though now the theme takes precedence over other threads. The body as male or female, brown or white, me or not me, human or animal, cop or civilian.
I read a poem that starts out with elements of bitterness, but turns towards hope. I’m enchanted by the idea of wanting to come back as an elephant; I keep wondering what it is about the elephant that is so appealing. Its size? Its reputation for memory? Its thick skin?
I also spent some time wondering about all of us getting what we deserve. I think nearly everyone wishes that, yet I suspect most of us will be disappointed with our deserts, a kind of moral Ikea effect.
I was wondering how you were going to handle this one. I’ve been skipping most of the poetry, but for some reason, I read this one. I didn’t see this as an unambiguous turn toward hope. “I hope everyone gets everything they deserve” seemed at least as full of poison as perfume, and probably pointed back at the same “demon” cops the narrator dreams of horses eating. That ending’s double meaning echoed the earlier lines, “i have so much hope for the future//or no i don’t”. Or again, after naming her body “full of hope despite everything,” she then also names it “dead girl who hasn’t died yet.”
That last line made me think of Hamlet’s little one-liner on getting what we deserve: “Use every man after his desert, and who should ‘scape whipping?” There’s a pointed, highly politicized wish running through here for violence to return to the police state in return for the violence it has wrought on the narrator and her family. I feel like the narrator sort of ducks the responsibility for saying what she’s saying. If you’re going to write about how the cops are all dicks and deserve hell for it, stand in there and make that argument. Don’t drop a generic “they harassed my father for the crime of being brown” and then move on. Stand and fight.
As it is, the poem sort of takes its shots then gets behind cover in a sort of asymmetrical warfare of imagery. Every time it’s nearly directly in conflict with external, political symbols, it ducks behind private, internal ones, the main one being the poet’s own woman body. One could read this, I suppose, as a heroic freedom fight. I’m not so sure. That’s why I was really curious what you would do with this one. It’s possible for me to read this as something written by a woman about to go on a killing rampage against cops would write–hoping to come back after her suicide attack as an elephant, capable of remembering it all.
I agree about the mixture of hope and bitterness. I see mixtures of things to be bitter about, in fact: race and gender, intersectionality (as I semi-understand the term). But I did follow the “discretion is the better part of valor” rule on this one. I love your mention of Hamlet, I’ve been having so many Hamlet moments in so many contexts these days. What dreams may come – I’ve always imagined maybe we get the vision of the afterlife we most believed, in which case, elephant it is.
It’s a complicated poem, I just wasn’t up to it. I’m glad you were.