My handkerchiefs are stained
as though I have been suffering
all my life,
but instead of blood staining the cotton
a crimson Rorschach test,
it is the black of India ink.
She pressed a needle into my skin,
and I think the color seeped into my bones.
Now, I am fated
to spill ink wherever I go.
My scribblings have found home with me
(like shadows, like fireflies
inside of a Mason jar).
Even when I was locked inside of a cellar,
threatened with the rust of blood
and the tarnish of my reputation,
I carved poems into my mutilated flesh.
A dragon guarded my door,
false love glimmering in his eyes
(lust poisoning his tongue,
naïveté curling around me
like a lonesome lover).
The taste of gasoline numbed my soul
and left me begging for an exorcism.
(I never knew the Latin word for surrender,
yet I pleaded with the demons for the fruit of knowledge.
Desired for them to vacate
this hollow body,
but they traveled the miles to remind me.)
The more ink I spill,
the softer their wailing becomes
until their keening is their own elegy.
I will never forfeit these words again.
(I will not neglect them
like a surrendered child
because some call them an obsession.)
I might never shatter the walls
of this foreign heart,
but give me a fountain pen
and I’ll wield it like a sledgehammer.
The last poet in my poetry spotlight is Carlene Gist or “T.C.” Not to make Carlene self-conscious, but she is the oldest poet I interviewed in this series and has a broad range of experience. Named after her father, Carlene is the first born of seven children and was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. In her own words, this poet says, “Poetry is a genre of writing that I’ve always admired. While in the first grade, I committed to memory and recited “The Night Before Christmas”, for the Christmas play. I’ve been writing but mostly reading poetry since then. Acting, singing and dancing are a few of my favorite things. I went from beating on tabletops to beating on the djembe, which is something I do to center myself. I hope one day to be a published poet.”
You have witnessed several historical events throughout your years as both a person and a poet. Do you find that current events shape your writing, and if so, how? What kind of events propel you to write poetry?
Being born in the late ’40s, I’ve seen a lot. Current events most definitely influence my sentiments when expressing myself through the written word. Poetry, to me, is one way of expressing one’s feelings and perspectives. I can find poetry in almost anything if I but just be still and observe. I find myself stirred by events that display man’s inhumanity to man on any level.
How has your writing changed over the years?
I used to write only poems that rhymed and a lot of love poems. I now write in free verse and about a variety of subjects. I also like writing haiku.
What influence does being a spoken-word poet play on the way you craft your poems?
I know that poetry, as all forms of art, is subjective. I do give effort in trying to find the most effective words and weave them in a manner that might help the audience receive the sentiment I am aiming to convey.
What poet, living or dead, would you like to meet and have dinner with? What would you serve your special guest?
Edgar A. Poe; Kahlil Gibran; Henry W. Longfellow; Paul L. Dunbar; Langston Hughes; Maya Angelou, to name a few. I would have said my peer, Nikki Giovanni. After hearing Amanda Gorman recite her poem “The Hill We Climb”, I would love to sit, chat, and break bread with her. I’m interested in what the younger generation has to say. I believe pizza might work.
What are your favorite aspects of your own poetry?
I like the way I’ve been able to provoke one to think about what I’m trying to convey.
When do you usually write your poetry?
Usually at the midnight hours-between midnight and three a.m.
What do you do when you experience writer’s block?
It’s really tough for me to start a flow when I’m experiencing writer’s block. Prompts, music, or just write what flows through me and edit later.
Written before the new time of 9 min. and 29 sec.
"It" looks into the camera. I watch
Knee on neck, hands tucked comfortably in pockets
Some might say cavalier, I say eviler
A cold and icy stare.
My eyes feel frostbitten, they hurt. I sense danger.
Like an ostrich who buries their eggs in the sand
Like an ostrich who senses danger and can’t run.
I bury my head in my hands. I feel not better but safer
Can I fear what I can’t see?
Under the covers a child will hide for fear of the boogeyman
Two minutes pass, spread my fingers and peek.
My heart races, as pressure rises. “It” is still there, knee on neck
hands comfortably in pockets. Under my covers I retreat.
Bury my head in my hands a little longer this time.
Hoping this time “it” will surely be gone. Three more minutes pass
and “it’s” not gone yet. Still there, icy stare, knee on neck, hands tucked comfortably in pockets. Hugging my pillow tight, I start sweating and crying.
A fearful child becomes so scared it will call for their mother.
They trust and believe Mother, the person who witnessed them take their first breath is able, and will save them from taking their last if she can.
Sounds of voices unfamiliar to me, I decide to peek and see.
I’m petrified I can’t breath, “it” won’t leave. Why must “it” torture me so long?
Three minutes seems like three hours I’ve waited for “it” to cease.
Eight minutes now, seems like eight days of holding my breath , suffocating under my covers.
They say fear leads to hate and hate to destruction
Forty-six seconds later “it” is still there but George Floyd is not.
Mother came to get him.
I slowly lift my head out of my hands and start to breathe again.
These love songs wallpaper my heart
and smother my sleep.
(This insomnia takes the best of me
and churns out poetry instead of rest.)
I am stupid with love,
my tongue too thick with desire
to be profound.
I’d give up every dream I ever dreamed
to be with you
(and to see what illuminates your eyes like moon).
I know all the beauty the world has to offer,
yet all I can do is shelter myself
(in a cellar crafted of words).
I have buried myself in this tomb
for too many years,
and when I finally emerge,
my words are bombs.
We are starting afresh,
and only roses & dreamers are allowed
I haven’t dreamed in years.
This restless sleep haunts me
and I wander these courtyards
like a ghost.
(In my memories,
we drove for hours,
your hand on my knee,
humming the songs we loved.)
Tell me the grass is greener.
I’ll gladly hop the fence
to be with you,
but tell me:
will you still hold my hand
on the other side?
Always keep me close
even when I push you the farthest from me
you could ever be.
My heart isn’t cold merely because it is distant.
(The stars are how many miles away,
yet they burn.)
I haven’t dreamed in years.
I need you more than your witnessing eyes can see.
Maybe perhaps once I visualize these things like you do,
I can return to dreaming.
In her own words, the poet LowKey says this: “I go by the name LowKey. I write about anything and everything that stirs me enough to want to pick up the pen. Blessed with an attention span of a goldfish, the brevity of my literary work comes as a given. Simple yet effective is my writing mantra.”
LowKey writes poetry that hearkens back to more traditional poets, yet has a distinct style all its own. Whether it is one of her short pieces or a longer work, she stops to make readers of her poetry think and contemplate the content of her works. They are a reflection of the world we live in, both our interior realms and the external.
When did you first discover that you were a poet? What was that experience like?
When I was around 18. It was more of a “okay, so I think I can write poems” than a “aha! me is a poet!” I remember being pretty nervous when I asked my mum to have a read. She is an amazing writer and poetry is her thing. I saw her eyes welling up as she was reading the piece. I think that was the first time I realized how my words could actually impact people. It was empowering, humbling, liberating, all at once.
What are some of your favorite subjects to write about? What inspires you to write poetry?
I think the darker shades of human emotions is what I like to explore and write about. We as a society present ourselves in a neatly wrapped package with a red bow around it. What goes on underneath that shimmery wrap is something we usually shy away from or deny. So that is what I love to discover through the words I pen. I think pain inspires me to write the most. I know that might sound a bit whack, but some of the best creative pieces I have written have been from when I was in a dark place. Maybe it is because my need to lean on creativity to express myself is the most during those times.
If you could spend the afternoon with another famous author or poet, who would you choose and why?
Has to be Sir Walter de la Mare, although he isn’t amidst us anymore. He is my absolute favorite. The way he built an entire atmosphere around the reader with his words is beyond amazing. From his poems, he seems to have been pretty intense and quiet. It would be fascinating to see what he really was like.
What is your favorite aspect of writing poetry? What is your least favorite?
I think the healing that comes from writing, regardless of the form of writing is my most favorite aspect. The least favorite aspect is someone out there always does it better and you go, “Damn! why didn’t I think of that!!?”
How did you discover your style of poetry? How did you find your voice as a poet?
I feel like every writer has something unique to offer that might be lost if one tries to emulate. I think “inspired” would be the right word for me here. I like subtlety. I always have. So when I began writing, it was something that came naturally to me.
What advice do you have for poets who are just beginning their careers as poets?
Be honest and unfiltered. Creativity is where you can just let go. So, make th most of it. Most importantly, don’t be swayed by the negativity that your readers might hurl at you. As long as you keep your “writer conscience” clear, it’s all good.
Do you think shorter poetry is easier for readers to digest? What influence has social media had on your writing style, if any?
Oh yes! I am not sure about the digest part, but people nowadays definitely prefer brevity. Social media fortunately has not affected the way I choose to express myself through my writing. The reason I said fortunately is because it is so easy to be engulfed and affected by social media in this day and age. From creating pressure to making you doubt yourself to making you lose your originality because you have fallen prey to trends, social media can take away the voice that it so freely provides as well.
Who are your favorite poets to read?
Beside Sir Walter de la Mare and your pieces, I really like reading Edgar Allan Poe and J. Andrew Schrecker.
Where can readers find more of your writing?
Little Tommy, five years old
Sat with Grandpa and learnt to fold
Colored papers, ribbons, and casks
Into little party masks.
Birthday masks and ballroom faces
Held together with glue and laces
Funny, scary, bold and rude
Different masks for different mood.
"Why do people hide their skin
Behind a veil, so weak and thin?
Tell me, Grandpa, if you can,"
Tommy asked his grand old man.
Grandpa smiled, a smile of lime.
"People do it all the time,
Scared to come out in the bright
They keep their true self out of sight."
"They coat all bitterness with sugar and honey-
They cover their sins with grey black money;
The colorful masks cover their lives,
But their real self reflects in their eyes."
"No mask ever made can cover the mirrors
That show perfectness and all errors;
The greatest gift of God, no lies,
All truth surfaces in one's eyes."
"So, be true to your own self,
You'll need no mask, you'll need no help-
Let your face reflect the love
That He showers down from Heaven above."
"Be honest, and love mankind-
These things these days are hard to find;
One by one, these steps will grace
And make the world a happier place."
Like collaging layers of parchment on top of one another,
I have buried myself underneath the rubble of trauma.
Like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon
or a phoenix rising from its ashes,
I am discovering my autobiography
written in between lines of poetry
Every word I scribble in a frantic attempt
to name a feeling that is beyond words
is my way of sketching the rocket ship
that will guide me back to my galaxy.
The sanitized version of reality
is a bitter pill to swallow,
but I see myself in the paint splatters
and little messes
she was so anxious to take a damp rag to.
(This is an imperfect work of art,
lines crooked and acrylics splashing out of bounds.
This is not something that will catch the eye
of an art dealer.
This is my little mistake on canvas,
but, you see, that inked-in star
is home for me.)
I have spent years skirting underneath
piles of paper, hiding from who I could be
but the truth is
I could be amazing
if you listen to this autobiography.
Who am I?
I’m in media res,
still in the progress of discovery,
but I swear, even in the shattered mosaic bits,
I, too, can shimmer.
I too can shine.
(It is because of your belief in mirrors and me
that I can see the vestiges of beauty
through the broken.)
This poem, written years ago, is about my personal relationship with depression.
Inspired to post by Nicole Lee.
This monster reigns as king
as heavy as an anvil
(as visible as air).
It begs a fight
when all I have wanted is peace.
The bruises it leaves
from the inside out.
The pain sears, yet
the monster hides
(cloaked in shadows).
It may lie dormant for years.
When it wakes,
blood drips from its teeth,
it searches for a captive.
It takes and holds me hostage.
It is as toxic as fumes and
as haunting as nightmares.
Poet Brandan T.C. McCarty lives in Washington and in addition to writing poetry, he is interested in music and art. As a member of the Makah tribe, he has been a dancer, singer, and artist in that culture.
Brandan, you have said before music influences your writing. How exactly does music play a role on the poetry you create?
Yes, music is an influence. I listen to a large base of music because of family and friends introducing me to new music. It depends on the music sound being played, and it could just be a lyric(s). Metallica is a huge influence.
Writing is a form of art, but I know you also paint. What does the intersection of art and writing mean to you?
In ’01, I was hurt emotionally by a teacher in art college. I would destroy any art I created, so I switched to writing to deal with traumatic past events. In ’11, I started to work with acrylic paints. By ’18, I became a visual artist as well as a New Age Coastal Artist for my Native art. The past two and half years, I have been using many mediums and platforms to create art pieces. I still wrote, but not as much. I figured why not do both and maybe blend them together in some pieces. ‘The Wanderer’ is close to a visual concept of what I am evolving into as an artist.
Your Makah roots are very important to you, as is family and knowing your history. This is evident in the poetry you write. What would you advise the young poet who is not as well-versed in their past as you?
My roots are important. My dad has said to me all that I do reflects back on your teachers and persons involved with you. My mom said the same thing in her way of communicating to me. I read. I read just about anything. I was told to figure out the style you want to write, and then go find published work similar so your skill can be honest. As for past of culture, read and spend time with families and friends. Listen, take time to actually listen. Even if it is a day spent sitting in a kitchen drinking coffee and watching grandpa carve, or dad paint a mask. Open yourself to learn, to fall and get back up.
How would you describe your being a father as an influence on your poetry?
I used to have some selfish habits, and those habits almost claimed my life. I came to realize, I don’t want this for my eldest son. Nor any other child that looks up to me. So I turned from booze, I went back to arts. Poetry is art, to me just about anything could be considered an art. Now, with my baby I have been relearning to sing my Native Family songs and dancing the dances. I have been away too long from it. I guess I can say, being a father has enriched my poetry with more care and love than I had before.
Who are some of your favorite poets? What aspects of their poetry appeal to you as a reader? As a writer?
Charles Bukowski, as a reader, good comic. Biography spoken in poetry verse. As a writer, someone once said my work reminds him of Bukowski. Raymond Carver, as a reader, his work involving water or daily life. As a writer, I met Tess Gallagher and she said I reminded her of her late Husband Raymond. J. A. Janice has one book of poetry. Read a little a bit of it. A strong woman, and a gentle soul. She writes crime novels. Met her a couple times in person. My mom got me into her works. My late Mama Valerie, because she had a talent of words and wish I recorded some of her work better.
Where can readers find more of your writing?
My son's feet, at birth his right foot was clubbed.
After NICU we had early mornings in the kitchen sink.
Cast removal, a bath, and singing to soothe my baby.
As we grew together, I remember my great grandma teaching me to dance.
Flour on the kitchen floor, after dance practice we would practice oral history and storytelling.
We would also split cedar bark near wood stove.
Now as I stretch and massage my son's feet, I remember the joy I had as a dancer.
For years I wouldn't dance or sing.
I was still, I was silent.
Best as my spent feet can, I dance with baby in my arms.
Later I will massage my aching feet.
Ease the bone spurs to be calm.
As I work my pain out, I think back to his laughter and sparkling brown eyes.
Embracing baby close to my chest. I take a deep breath and sing the first note in years.
I sing deep, and low rumbling voice. Soothe his tears, balm my own hurt and begin healing my spirit.
-Brandan T.C. McCarty
I have calligraphied crib notes
adorning my arm
like a scripted tattoo.
Ink has always found a way
through my bloodstream,
inching its way through my veins.
I used to scribble unvarnished truths.
(“A girl like me is God’s reject-
she deserves Hell.
Wings smoldering in the flames.)
Language that became the dialect
(The patois of pain.)
A flood of anger.
A deluge of emotion.
Words razored into memory.
I learned to speak the language of poets.
Every feeling was a cipher
(translated into code).
The code was similes and metaphors.
(“My stained glass heart shatters
when he takes what is mine
and violates it.
Like filling voids-
the empty even I didn’t know I had.”)
How do you articulate words that have been carved into you
longer than you have been alive?
How do you say what has been emblazoned in your eyes
since you stopped resisting what you could be?
(I want to stop looking at the smudged lettering
tattooed on my skin
and speak my mind.
Shout my sins from the window sills.)
How do I tell you the profanities
that have proven themselves to be a weapon
are the very tools I need in which to survive?