Manifesto 2 (what else I'm collecting)
I’ve recently had a chapbook accepted. All of the poems inside that weird volume, to be published in 2022, take on a different metaphor for the brain. I’ve been obsessed with brains forever. I’m not sure when it started. I’m not sure when I first learned of the weird fact that lives inside our skulls, the thing that E. O. Wilson refers to as “a helmet-shaped mass of gray and white tissue about the size of a grapefruit” with a “custard like” consistency and surface “wrinkled . . . like a cleaning sponge.” There’s something taboo, transgressive, satisfyingly mischief-riddled about this kind of knowing. I am in love with the dumb reality that the abstract whispers and shadows that move through our thinking are born in the ugly clump of squishy stuff that lives in our heads, ringed in its layered moats of blood and bone and skin. It’s my favorite paradox. I am both the specimen medical students explore in cadaver labs to search for how intelligence grows, and also Emily Dickinson’s cerebral watercolor. She and I both know we’re wider than the sky.
It was Emily’s brain that first lit mine to what poems can do. I sat alone, an alien in a small town high school classroom with no chance of being known. Then all of a sudden this strange small voice, long dead, shouted to me from our Norton Anthology. The word brain yelled over and over again from the quiet of those pages. Suddenly the lonely quiet felt like home. Suddenly it didn’t matter that everyone else seemed to know so many things I didn’t or couldn’t. So what that the other kids went to concerts and kept jobs and had conversations that seemed easy and knew exactly how their bodies worked. Emily was weird like me. Emily knew.
So I collected her. She became part of my brain. And I keep collecting. I think about this now that I teach poets. I think about how my brain, sitting there all warm in my head, which I imagine is kind of like a private spa, stays roughly the same size even as the universe she holds grows bigger and bigger.
I think about what else I’m collecting.
I keep thinking about the thank you relics students have given me over the years.
I have this scarf a student knit me in 2020 and gave to me before the big change our era can't name yet. I have this foam plumeria flower a student brought back for me from his first trip home to Hawaii in years. It usually sits in my office near my tea. I have these earrings a student made for me, paintings on the wall, drawings in drawers. There's this rolled-up poster of Neil Hilborn's "OCD" a student got for me before it was my diagnosis, too. I'll frame it and hang it soon.
I have these dragons from a student, new to creative writing this semester, who throws himself more and more each week into the wildness of his own brain. There's this octopus another student stole for me--much more gift than theft--that's a kind of totem now. She sits near me sometimes when I write. This key--one of many a whole class selected from one day for a writing prompt about unlocking a poem's door. I keep it in my pocket sometimes.
All of these pieces of them have become pieces of me. Another kind of lonely quiet. Another kind of home.