MISFIT DOC: Beauty=Roughness, Roughness=Love: An Assemblage

Summer before 9th grade. My sister Kristen has returned from New Jersey where she spent a year as a nanny. She’s been to New York City. She’s been to the MOMA and Bloomingdales. She brings home a copy of Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story and Talking Heads’ Little Creatures. I pore over the cassette inset.


Finster, Howard. Little Creatures. 1984

I have never seen a painting by someone grown that preserves the integrity and authenticity of what I think of as the child-mind. I can’t believe any adult paints like this. It’s so inelegant and unembarrassed. I am trying to hold on to my own child-mind but can feel an expanding understanding of how I’m seen and what is expected of me. Out flows the freedom of motion, the straight-spined, long-limbed striding through a world that is for me and me for it. Out flows the singing under my breath, the whistling for birds and trees, the kinetic thrill of moving on to the next thing. The dialogue I’m having only with my own mind. In crowds self-awareness. There are other people sharing this space and they have opinions about everything.

Yet Howard Finster exists in the same world as my increasing self-consciousness. He is somewhere plucking his banjo, in deep communion with the Holy. He doesn’t answer to the public or tradition. He answers only to the unique shape his faith takes. More than this, though: he’s covering everything with words. He is painting language. At this age, I’ve only had access to the most overarching art history anthologies. I do not know about Adolphe Wölfli yet. Nor have I heard of Margaret’s Grocery and Market. I’ve never stood on Salvation Mountain near the Salton Sea. I do know that hand-lettered signs in front of a yard full of detritus fill me with joyful curiosity. Even more so if something is misspelled or poorly spaced. I work at a restaurant for a woman named Rita, a transplant like myself. I ride with her to take slop buckets to a pig farmer out near Concho. His sign is painted in such a way that it reads “pigs all for size sale.” It’s an interesting sentence. A secret, or a mystery. I feel pulled towards the discansos along the highways and back roads. I marvel at the mysterious force that informs a person to wire this tattered silk flower spray here, nail this milagro just so. That knows pairing a small ragged stuffed bunny with a statue of the Virgin, her blue robes and placid face, will imbue a stretch of shoulder with almost unbearable pathos. That intuits how perfectly paint weathers on wood and tinsel tarnishes in this desert and how that wear itself tells the truth about how long loss is. Somebody made this? Something made somebody make this. I encounter these things and life looks at me, talks into my ear. Not just in my native language but in my vernacular dialect as well.

My parents do their best to fill in the gaps of our rural education with access to art books and literature but there are inherent limits in this town. We don’t have a television. Can’t even pick up a radio station. There’s a one room public library here, staffed by a lonesome and beleaguered librarian who must have a million dollars of student loans the government will forgive if he works for a spell in this depressed backwater. At least this is what I imagine. I also imagine he falls a little bit in love with me over the next year while I haunt him with requests for books on Finster. Or any art that uses words all over it, I tell him. Any artist who is just covering everything with language. Or religious art, where you can see the artist is crazy in love with God. Like Hildegard of Bingen was. Or Julian of Norwich. A love of God that makes one a misfit in their community. He points me to books on Joan of Arc and William Blake. Blake scratches an itch. As do the Davinci sketches where he has made notes alongside his drawings. The librarian is sick to death of all of us hillbillies, longs for restaurants and live jazz. He’s sick of this breathy 14-year-old sidekick who talks too much, too fast and never articulates a cohesive thought. He breaks up with me in my mind and moves on to the Gila County library in Globe, AZ. A step down, really. I mean, St. Johns is a backwater but it’s no fucking Globe. I only know where he is because my father and I run into him at the Dairy Queen where we stop for lunch on the long drive home from the valley. Afterwards, my dad summarizes, “He’s a smart man. Heavy drinker, though. Gay as the day is long.” He doesn’t say he’s drinking himself to death because he’s stranded in another podunk religious community where he’ll never find love or even take a lover. That his intellect makes the locals suspicious. That he eats alone. Reads alone. Has a thousand ideas and insights no one will hear to debate or find remarkable. With my dad, there’s often a lot of subtext. It’s all so sad, but I’ve given up questing for Finster and started doing my hair and making out with boys my own age.

There has been a lot of conversation about what qualifies an artist’s oeuvre as “Outsider Art,” ever since Jean Dubuffet started skulking around mental institutions for that next remarkable thing and labeling it Art Brut (So raw! So rudimentary!). Its nebulous parameters seem to maybe include a lack of formal education, visions or voices, creative urges that border on the compulsive or obsessive, a lawlessness, a lack of connection to the machine of gallery/museum/art school/exposure, mental illness, spirituality. Never mind the long history of mental illness and spirituality in the story of formal western art. Never mind the pervasive poverty, the prostitutes as models, the addictions. Never ask yourself if Van Gogh or Caravaggio are technically inside or out. Or Christopher Smart, for that matter. Or François Villon. Because it is not just some of these things. It is a variant of most or all. Though also, not always. Sometimes it is one or two, but in delicate balance.

5th grade. I’m new here. There are no rules. I can walk anywhere as long as I’m home by supper. I climb to the top of the rocket slide at Yavapai Elementary School and pay Victor Bejerano all my pocket- change to look at a Hustler he’s stolen from his uncle. I want

to see all the ways in which my body might be used in the future, so I can be prepared. It’s strange, looking at photos of sex while he is looking at me. It isn’t unpleasant. I imagine I’ll enjoy it at some point. But I doubt I’ll ever look like these women. Instead, I will make myself tall and angular. I hope to be the tallest girl in town. I want every boy to have to look up at me just a little bit.

10th grade. Victor makes the varsity football team even though he’s only a sophomore. At his party just out past the Catholic graveyard, I watch in a frozen stupor while he and his cousins dance around a tire fire, hoisting a coyote head on a long stick. It is half-skinned and still dripping. Coyotes are smart and scrappy. I see them often in the desert outside of town, catching rodents and rolling around in the red clay. They love their pups. They’re excellent providers. And the cattle ranchers hate them, which makes me especially fond of them. They hate them the way I hate these boys, permanently and dispassionately, as if it were my job. I had hoped tonight to be tangled up in a hot and irresponsible kiss with just about anyone, but they ruin everything. A ring of people grows around two young men who are suddenly circling each other, sweating and cussing. Who knows why? Sometimes when people get bored they pick fights.  And since I do not get to have what I want, a mouth on mine or to be teleported away from this dusty brutality, I lean into another yearning. For someone to throw the first punch. For someone to finally do something.

Wölfli, Adolf. Der Oberburg=Skt.Adolf=Ring (Blue Gray Music), 1918. Pencil on paper

Adolf Wölfli is a creature of extreme violence and poverty. He is abused both physically and sexually before he in turn becomes a sexual predator. He’s institutionalized in 1895 and in 1904, with the support and encouragement of a doctor at the Waldau Clinic, he begins to draw. His drawings are luminous and intense like illustrations from a religious manuscript, full of text and musical notes that eventually evolve into compositions, which he plays on a paper trumpet. He is, at times, psychotic. He hallucinates and has violent outbursts. He produces a large body of work, an epic, that includes 25,000 pages of text and over 1,600 illustrations. He fills every inch of available paper and punches two small holes in those places he doesn’t draw. He calls the space around the holes his birds.

What would happen to outsider artists if not for those present-minded people with access and insight to stabilize and preserve these moments? Adolf Wölfli had Dr. Walter Morgenthaler. Henry Darger had decent neighbors. Séraphine Louis had the art collector, Wilhelm Uhde. Emery Blagdon had a pharmacist who sold him mineral salts. Joseph Smith had Brigham Young. Christianity had its Paul. What miracles of thought and creativity are lost to this world because the bright mind in its throes doesn’t have another to tend its vision. How many poems and paintings have we missed out on? How much music and how much science?

Sixth-12th grade. My hometown has two bona fide bogey men. One, Paula Henson’s uncle, sits all day in a gutted jeep in the middle of a field, smoking cigarettes and weed. He came back from Vietnam all wonky and has never recovered. We walk past him on our way home from the junior high school every day and, inevitably, what begins as a knot of girls jostling each other into the tall grasses (even the tall grass perimeter feels transgressive and off-limits) escalates to a double-dog dare to sneak through the grass and knock on the jeep window, yellow and thick from all the tar. I can see him, trapped like bug in amber, as I approach. It takes a month to cross the field in a crouch. It takes a month and a year to get there. Just as I ball my hand into a fist and am about to rap on the glass, the door blows open and he rises from behind it like the devil. He’s hairy and smoky and looks like the loudest, most startling noise I’ve ever heard but he’s dead quiet. Now I am running away faster than I knew I could, arms and heart pumping, tears running down my face. I get to the road and fall into my friends’ arms. They are squealing in a way that sounds like laughter and crying at the same time. I look back at the jeep and Paula’s uncle is already back inside, the cherry of his smoke glowing through murk as thick as pond scum.

The other bogeyman, Brother Brigham, is a Jekyll and Hyde affair. He ranches, has a church calling and a wife. All of his children are grown with children. He’s a vertebrae in the backbone of our community. And every day between the hours of 4 and 6, he drinks heavily while he drives around the fields north of town. It is known and has been since I can remember. The story is part of our driver’s education. Once the keys are handed over, so too the “stay out of the north fields” lecture is delivered. If I ever ask to borrow the car, my dad checks his watch first. 4-6? “Steer clear of the north fields.” My friend Steph gets a VW beetle for Christmas our junior year. It isn’t insured or registered yet and she doesn’t even really know how to drive stick, so we take it out to the north fields where we hope we won’t get caught, because it’s late afternoon and everyone knows better. Joshua Tree is playing in the cassette deck as we watch Brother Brigham rolling down the dirt road directly towards us, kicking up dust and gravel. She asks me “what do I do?” just as he hits us dead on. Her face smashes into her steering wheel. My cheekbone cracks the dash. He backs up, skirts around us and drives on, his eyes wide like he’s seeing clearly for the first time.

Nobody ever calls the deputies on either of them. We shift our lives around their eccentricities. Where else would these men go if they couldn’t be here? Where else would they be safe to wrangle their bent natures in their strange ritualistic ways without family to hang on to the threads coming loose in their warp and weft? Without community to lend their wreckage a wide berth?

7th grade. I cover my hair with a dish rag to keep it off my face while I clean the kitchen. Afterwards, I walk out into the grove of elms across from the Jessup’s field. It’s autumn and even at this age I recognize how thin the veil is when everything around me is in the process of dying back. The air feels like static between dry skin and a chintzy slip. With my hair covered, I pretend I’m the Mother of God. I don’t know it yet, but there is never going to be enough Mary in Mormonism to hold me. I have no sense of social self-preservation and I walk through the grove pining for something Holy to enter me, my eyes heavenward, my lashes low, my hands clasped and folded before my sternum. Nothing enters me. Maybe Mormon God is cross with me for acting like a Catholic again. Johnny Salazar watches from his dirt bike. The next morning, he tells everyone what he has seen, and they laugh. The day after that he asks me in a note to be his girlfriend, yes or no.

Outsider art is often the expression of an awe which can neither be contained by form nor limited by lack of access. Consider the large body of work by Séraphine Louis, created in the early 1900s. She works as a domestic servant and paints in her spare time by candlelight. She is inspired by stained glass windows and the natural world. She hears and heeds the voice of the Virgin Mary and with a sense of urgency and obedience, she creates large vivid still lifes full of repeating patterns. She is ecstatic, says she paints to create gifts for God. Like licks of flame or sperm under a microscope, her art wiggles and vibrates with the energy of creation.

Louis, Seraphine. The Tree of Life. 1928, Oil on Canvas

Louis figures this visual vocabulary out in solitude, through trial and error. Figures out, too, how to create pigments that have retained their vibrancy, their sense of urgency, over time. Most people refer to her descent into madness when they discuss her work. But if her work remains every bit as emergent and energetic as when she first painted it, can’t she, too, be held in her moment of potency and splendor? Must we always discuss the way we are ruined by what we desire most? Or contextualize creation as arriving from the same well-spring as our undoing? Can’t it be enough to say that the best love is pretty rough?

(I can never not wonder at various outsider artists’ relationship with the divine voices. I name it “compulsion” when I’m feeling around the emptiness where my family religion had its hold. There’s a desire to be called or chosen. Meanwhile, I am neither called nor chosen.)

• Wadi El-Hol
• The Codex Gigas
• Urim and Thumim
• The Rosetta Stone
• The Voynich Manuscript
• The Golden Plates
• A divining rod for dousing
• Yad, for the reading of the Torah
• Dandelion pollen on my throat, so you know that I am in love

A Saturday morning, beginning of 8th grade. After staying out all night with my friends, walking stretches of unpaved roads and watching the stars from the merry-go-round in the park spin above us, lazily stirring up dust and motion with sneakered toes. I walk through the mudroom into the house where my parents wait, bloated with ache and completely stupefied. My brother Kevin is dead. While my girlfriends and I were plotting our eventual escape from this place for good, his pickup went off the road and over a cliff where it rolled and rolled forever across the changed and foreign landscape of my family. Where it rolls still. Unpeopled. Crumpled like a ball of tin foil, a lovely shade of robin’s egg blue. My brother, thrown clear, has smashed his head, his comely, newly-shorn, perfectly shaped, full-of-potential head, on the stones and died. Instantly. The “instantly” always tacked on as an independent, emphatic sentence to spare us the agony of imagining him lingering in his brokenness on the stony incline beneath those spinning stars, with no one there to pet him or to coo to him reassuringly while the lights go out.

My brother isn’t the one driving his truck when it goes off the cliff. His friend is driving because my brother’s on probation for possession. My brother’s head is shorn because he has a court date and my father insisted he cut off his beautiful wild curls. Curls the color of dark honey poured over golden wheat. Curls that tendril out and move in waves as he makes his electric guitar scream and moan. I can never consider this story, his shearing and his death, without thinking of Aslan the Lion. “Snip-snip-snip went the shears and masses of curling gold began to fall to the ground.” Everyone is so meager compared to Aslan when he is in his power. My brother, too, is large with his wild writings, his dyslexia, his gift of music, his dangerous appetites. He emerges with a mohawk, stiffened with glue. My father is furious, and my brother reassures him that he will cut it all, only calm down, it’s just a joke.

Kevin. 1984

I also can’t consider the story of Kevin’s shearing without thinking of Samson. “If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.” And I can’t think of Aslan or Samson without considering Jesus Christ, who I am breathlessly waiting on to rush into this nightmare like a plot twist, full of exposition. But Christ is not anywhere. In fact, if there were a wall built around this moment there would be an almost comedic Christ-shaped hole in it, the dust and rubble of his hasty departure settling over my diminishing hope.

At the age of 14, Augustin Lesage, a French pit face miner, has a severe headache and hears a voice that tells him he will be a painter one day. Before he finally creates his first piece at the age of 38, his exposure to formal art is confined to a single visit to the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Lille when he is still serving in the military. The voices he begins to hear regularly tell him which supplies to buy and what to paint. His pieces are vast and complicated and precise in a way that indicates extreme focus and flow. He is deeply spiritual and driven. He listens, and he paints. He covers every square inch of his canvas with symmetry and detail.

Lesage, Augustin. Untitled. Oil on canvas. 1929

(I can’t abide the condescending notion that one of the more surprising aspects of outsider art is that it comes from people who are unschooled or underemployed. As if ardor were a luxury for the monied. As if class determines the desire to create something remarkable. As if God only makes time for people who already have time in abundance.)

(And yet, clearly, I, too, am guilty of romanticizing poverty and madness, rural living and religious zeal. Art theorists ain’t got nothing on me.)

For people outside of the Mormon faith it often comes down to this question: was Joseph Smith crazy or was he a fraud? This is a too-tidy duality that begins with the supposition that there is no truth to the religion and ends in the conclusion that only one of these buckets can, therefore, contain its origin story. It is always within the dialectic between these two conclusions that I experience the ebb and flow of my own connection to my faith and my culture. Leave aside the notion of an ultimate truth and the complications of faith (a big ask) for the time being, and begin at the non-believer’s resting place, that the Mormon church is rooted in invention and fabrication. Maybe, even, that it is historically and ethically highly problematic. Is Joseph Smith’s creativity still not a wonder? In 1820, at just 14 years old, he receives his first vision regarding the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ. He’s only 17 when he conceives of the angel Moroni and the existence of a record of people who traveled from Israel to create a promised land on the American continent. By 23 he has “translated” the book of Mormon and established the foundations of an entirely new religion. When he is shot to death in Nauvoo in 1844, he has already created an entire body of scripture and doctrine that encompassed a complex and unique cosmology, a polytheistic mythology with the promise of the godhood over new planets, an alternative historical account of the peopling of the American continent and a hierarchical structure of leadership and governance. All of this must be weighed within the context of his limited education: an assemblage of scriptural texts, local lore, and folk magic. He is only 38 when they get at him.

Jospeh and Hyrum Smith’s death masks

The answer to the crazy vs. fraud debate can never matter as much to me as the seer stones or the young man, face buried deep in a hat, wrestling scripture out of the infinite. The speculative-fiction feel of discourse around an infinite cosmos with countless peopled and godded planets explored in a 19th century vernacular. The weirdness of Adam as god of earth and humanity as Adam and Eve’s spirit babies (even you, even me). The wild, lawlessness of polygamy. The tragic, above-the-law-ness of money minting and militia forming, which will get a people persecuted and a prophet murdered, for sure. What matters most to me is that his faith pushed ever westward with a singularity of purpose and vision. Pushed towards spaciousness and privacy and autonomy. What matters is that it found purchase in the high deserts of the southwest. What matters is that it deposited my ancestors there, those tattered magical thinkers.

(Each life is an illuminated manuscript. Every person their own text. Now multiply that by eight. Now multiply that by roughly three thousand four hundred. Now multiply that by 7.4 billion.)

10th-12th Grade. Loretta is the town drunk and the mother of my best friend. Sometimes I run across her along a back road, stumbling privately towards or away from her home. Each time, I talk her into getting in my car. On occasion, it gets physical. She is small and scrappy like a coyote. Bright and clever. Cagey. She is desperate for drink and she is also desperate for something else. Escape velocity. Another storyline. Sometimes I tell her she’s ruining her daughter’s life while we drive along the bumps and bruises of those winding roads. Saying so feels good and terrible at the same time. Good, because it’s true. Terrible, because Loretta is a grown up and I’m a child who should have better manners. When I get her into her house, into her bed, my best friend and I take off her sneakers, undo the buttons on her jeans and shimmy them down her thighs. We each take a leg and pull, jostling and bouncing her more than we ought to. We swing her hips above the bed and I sing “See-saw, Margery Daw” which makes us all tired-laugh. My friend is wounded and embarrassed. She’s sick of being the daughter of the town drunk. Loretta’s panties slip, and I see her pubic hair, her pelvis, her haunch, I realize I’ve seen my friend’s mother naked 100 percent more times than I’ve seen my own mother naked. My mother who is terribly private, who never has to be fetched home. Who is not haunted or wild or restless. Who never fucks up, not even kind of.  I don’t realize until much later that other townsfolk are also finding Loretta along the back roads, are also getting her home safely. Every time she drops her giant shipwreck into the sea of our little town, the sea settles and closes over the mess. Silent. Seamless. Because no one ever speaks of it, my friend never hears how unfair it is that her childhood is being used up safeguarding the secrets that come along with her mother’s mental illness. It’s a rip off, but nobody says so. Later, when I hear my own four-year-old daughter justifying my husband’s interminable sleepiness and anger in small words with all the r’s lazily lying in the front of her mouth, I will think of the code my friend used when she needed me to stay away from her house, “My mom has the flu (for months on end).”  “My dad is pretty tired (for months on end).” I’ll think of the cuts that started showing up on my friend’s forearms, executed with precision. And when my daughter shows me how she pushes the chair to the counter and balances the footstool on the chair to reach cereal and bowls while I’m at work because her father no longer wakes up to feed her, I will think of my friend and her mother, the long arc of their narrative filled with necessary lies and hard loyalty and I will finally understand it’s time for us to go.

Junior year in college. Still, it’s Loretta that I go to when my father starts chemotherapy and I learn I have, at most, a year to get things sorted. She is hollowed out from grief and trouble. She has endured countless humiliations and abandonments. She’s been institutionalized and rehabilitated. She is perfect space, empty of judgment. Full of patience and a love that is not muscling to fix brokenness. Love that is not an action verb. Love that is a noun, like “house.” Love that is an adjective like “quiet.” I explode in her direction and she takes all of it as fast as it comes. She accepts it exactly how I say it. And she holds it for me.

Mid 1960s. In the Sand Hills of Nebraska, Emery Blagdon builds two sheds behind his parents’ farm house and begins his life work, constructing what he calls “healing machines” from sculpted wire and strung beads, painted lightbulbs, paint tin lids, painted floor tiles, creating obsessively until the space is packed dense with his creations. Until the space itself becomes a healing machine. He scavenges materials at hand, purchases mineral salts from the drugstore, runs electrical cords under the wooden floor. There is no foundation to interfere with the earth’s energy pulled into the healing machine. He does not even consider himself an artist. He’s simply interested in how electricity might be used to make people well, likely inspired by watching both of his parents die of cancer. He is tender and caring, according to one grandniece. He loves to work with his hands. In his essay called “Religious Authority and Mysticism,” Gershom Scholem emphasizes that when a religious mystic attempts to convey their mystical experience, they have to do so using the images, concepts, language and symbols that come before them. They will have to borrow existing tools in order to best explore the nature of their mystical experience. Blagdon’s grand-niece says “I think growing up during the depression, you used what you had. You recycled and repurposed all of those things. Whether it be plastic, or beads my grandma used to make necklaces, or paints that my brother had from a paint-by-numbers set, or a model car. All of those things he incorporated into his own work.” Like many outside artists, Blagdon does not conceive of his creation as art. He also can’t entirely explain to anyone what it does and how it is supposed to work.

Emery Blagdon inside The Healing Machine, 1979

7th grade. It’s early fall and still very warm. My mom is about to kill all of us because we’re bickering and swiping at each other. My father loads us into the pickup, Jason and Beth up front because they’re so little. I am on the flatbed with Kevin and Matt and Kristen. We bounce around, crowded against the cab under a quilt to protect us from sunburn and dust. My father drives for an hour or so like a wild man, fishtailing and taking each turn at the last moment. Terrified, full of bliss, we lose track of where we are when he pulls into a gas station and buys a packet of hot dogs and white bread and a can of baked beans. The cashier tells him there’s a pretty creek up the way and we go there. He builds a small fire out of sticks he has us gather, pops a hubcap off a tire wheel with a screwdriver and has me scrub it out in the freezing cold water. He uses this to cook up the beans while we twirl hot dogs on sticks in the licks of flame. He takes long pulls off a Winston cigarette. Those cigarettes, along with all the irradiated water of a childhood spent downwind, will eventually kill him. Even now, by this creek, he is lit from within. My awe for him so great he can’t contain it all. And though I wished death upon them only hours before, it spills over onto my brothers and my sisters, too, and redeems the lot of them.

(in fact, this could easily be an homage to my sister, Kristen, who once spent the better part of a year constructing a six-foot column of red flame by melting the tiny bases of thousands of plastic toy firemen to each other. I want to pay my respects to her. Like me, she has a stopper in her gullet that she has to talk around when she speaks about why she makes what she makes.)

(in fact, this could easily be an ode to our father, Ivan, who began building sandstone retaining walls one summer. When he ran out of slope, he brought in hills of dirt. When he ran out of sandstone, he cut the barbed wire fencing around other people’s land and sent us in to steal more.)

Finally, why “art”? More specifically, why “outsider art”? Why “love”? Why “I,” for that matter?  Because it answers a pressing question, the one I’ve asked myself off and on all my life: Does something have intrinsic value even if it is never witnessed or held or experienced or understood? Does art? Does a person? Does a family? A town? Created out there among the creosote and clay hills as a testament. If somebody happens upon the unlikely event of it, can they recognize in it an illuminated beauty, an inarguable truth? Outsider art answers this question in the affirmative. Outsider art is always telling me yes.

1977, maybe, or ‘78. My father purchases a Tioga camper and we drive from Arizona to Yellowstone National Park. Along the way, we memorize whole 8-track albums like atlases, study the geography of each song. We learn to anticipate crescendos and key changes and percussive crashes, any of which might provoke my father’s splayed palm to fall hard on our bare thighs with a sharp crack followed by a hot sting. Divine and warranted, he will hoot and holler. He will say, “boy, that’s gonna leave a mark!” as our tender flesh reddens and rises in what we hope will be a perfectly hand-shaped welt we can show one another. Like a badge or a medal earned through impossible patience and the extreme discipline of letting our guard down, though we know full well what is coming. We scuttle back to the recesses of the cabin where the brutality is more predictable and fairer. And just like that, for just a moment in time, the quiet notion that we might be anonymous is dispelled. We are singular, this moment of joyful violence tells us. My family is full of rough lovers and rough love is the thing we pass along. Until our own children can’t sit near us without running the risk of being spanked or wrangled, pinched, pink-bellied or having a claw raked through their tangled hair. Until our own children can no better control their own desire to torture what they love a little bit. I consider my siblings, rugged, feral, smart, and tender, tucked into our cubbies and cots in the Tioga, tucked under ponderosa pine. The only things saving us from drifting apart and losing one another in the wilderness: my father’s heavy breathing and a slender neon bulb above a hand sink that stutters on reluctantly and can’t even work without humming.

Matthew, Ivan, Bethany, Kristen, Kevin, Allisa. 1976
Allisa Cherry originally hails from a religious community in rural Arizona, where her enduring quarrel with whatever passes for the divine was originally set into motion. She currently lives in Portland, OR as a poet, a small-scale urban farmer, and a writing tutor while she completes her MFA at Pacific University. She has been published most recently in PoetsArtists Magazine.

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