The Operating System

6th ANNUAL NAPOMO 30/30/30 :: DAY 4 :: MGB on BHANU KAPIL


For this, the 6th Annual iteration of our beloved Poetry Month 30/30/30 series/tradition, I asked four poets (and previous participants) to guest-curate a week of entries, highlighting folks from their communities and the poets who’ve influenced their work.

I’m happy to introduce Janice Sapigao, Johnny Damm, Phillip Ammonds, and Stephen Ross, who have done an amazing job gathering people for this years series! We’re so excited to share this new crop of tributes with you. Hear more from our four guest editors in the introduction to this year’s series.

Hungry for more? there’s 150 previous entries from past years here! You should also check out Janice’s piece on Nayyirah Waheed, Johnny’s piece on Raymond Roussel, Phillip’s piece on Essex Hemphill, and Stephen’s piece on Ronald Johnson’s Ark, while you’re at it.

This is a peer-to-peer system of collective inspiration! No matriculation required.
Enjoy, and share widely.

– Lynne DeSilva-Johnson, Managing Editor/Series Curator

MOMENTS with BHANU by mgb

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1. Who are you and whom do you love?

A month from now. A week from now. Tomorrow. When he goes.
The going. I’ll make crepes, walk by the river with the dog, float can-
dles in a pudding basin; the usual. He’s gone. Between our bodies:
the sun at 5 a.m.; fifty-seven Herefords, and a Brahma bull that
broke the river fence; four and a half thousand hummingbirds; a
dying man; a man who is about to knock on the door of a woman
with black eyes, to tell her that he loves her; the woman herself, who
is drawing a bath. She can’t hear the door above the water. And her
eyes aren’t really black. They’re brown. She lights a match.

Floating candles. The incommensurable distance. I forgot to mem-
orize his face.

I first heard Bhanu Kapil’s voice at an award ceremony for a prize which she was the judge for. I was an undergrad on the verge of double majoring in Creative Writing & Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University. She was reading field notes about monkey shit. I fell in love.

Her work, much like her, is beautifully elusive. There are moments that I am locked in. I understand/ think I understand (want to understand) the worlds in her words. I get lost in her syntax & arrive. There are other times that I need to read the words out loud to make sense. Then I search for her.

2. Where did you come from/How did you arrive?

I didn’t want to go home. This is a boring sentence. Perhaps for you Oregon is a calming word, evoking images of blackberry pie, ocean vistas, and the capture of suspected felons. I had never heard the word Oregon before. Like the distance of Scotland from London, it seemed impossibly far. A beautiful hazard: to go and keep going. How can I put this? In England, nobody ever, ever, ever did this. I, who once drove straight to Glasgow with a thermos of instant coffee mixed with milk and sugar, in a dinged-up Datsun Cherry, was considered an anomaly.

I was there, in the very top room of a five story building, for extra credit. The recipient of the award was an assigned author in my poetry course. I was to attend, write a one page reflection about the event, & receive ten points to boost my non-satisfactory grade. I do not remember anything about that author’s time at the mic. I never turned in the one pager.

There are questions in her work, about her work, interrupting her work. There are questions surrounding her process. Did she really lock women in a dark room, so they can answer a set of 12 questions without fear? Did she really pull a library book at random & happen upon the feral children Kamala & Amala? What is autobiography?

8. What are the consequences of silence?

Shame is fatal.

With the last hamiltons of my high interest student loan, I purchased The Vertical Interrogations of Strangers at the event & lingered about in the corners trying to work up the courage for her to sign my book. I lingered longer than was comfortable for me & in the end, I was too shy. I thought to myself “there will be other readings, other opportunities. Next time.” Little did I know that she was to become the unicorn that I chased for the next 8 years of my life.

There are boundaries in her work, set up, torn down, & set up again. Edges that separate reader & content, narrator & content, reader & author, reader with self. Edges that cleave the reading. The reader is cleaved. The reader is cleaving. These boundaries appear as breath, as bodies of water, as bodies, as geography, as food, as colour, as illness, as you, as me, as us.

9. Tell me what you know about dismemberment.

I keep going back to what we ate, what we were fed. It is my way of communicating with you, the other children in your houses. Orbit the house as an adult but right now the spaces at the back of it and to the side are dense with neighbors. There are perhaps eleven faces pressed to the blood-specked window, banging on the glass with their foreheads. Being white, with the delicate skin that accompanies race, they bruise easily.

It was simple, really, to miss these opportunities with Bhanu. I was young & refused to join the technology infused world. I wasn’t part of mailing groups & I didn’t kept up with the literary world. I saw evidence of Bhanu sightings after the fact. The Sutro Baths with Dodie Bellamy. Lunch in Haight with Troung Tran. A missed performance in Oakland my classmates told me about the next day. I desperately wanted to work with her. When I applied for an MFA at Naropa, I opted instead for a small school close to home. I signed up for online workshops (which always ran out of room) I signed up for the summer program (which always ran out of room.) In 2015 I finally got into her summer course, but Bhanu wasn’t able to teach after all. I went to Colorado full of defeat. In 2016, after a series of literary rejections, I threw caution to the wind & googled her name to see if she was reading anywhere I could drive to. I came across a writing retreat in Hawai’i that she was co-facilitating. I applied immediately, two months past the deadline.

To fall into a Bhanu book is to fall into a series of notes that are working themselves out as you sort them out. There are questions. There are answers. They are not related. They are deeply connected. Red strings threaded with words. How is this red tied to you? Your hearts? See threads stretch across oceans. Cross & intertwine. Who are you when you ball the twine? Have you eaten yet?

10. Describe a morning you woke without fear.

I arrived in Hilo, abandoning everything I was across the Pacific, while unceremoniously being abandoned in the city. When I saw her sitting on the floor, I gathered 8 years of courage, walked over & immediately blurted out “I’ve been trying to work with you for so long!” like the socially awkward poet that I am. I wanted to retreat to my dark corners of 8 years ago & turn into furniture. Her eyes grew wide, she drew a breath, & with that calming voice that once read field notes on monkey shit, said “And you’re here now” & promptly gave me a kiss on the check. I died. She had always been my mythic creature; a unicorn you catch a glimpse of on a side of a mountain- a faerie, feral & untouchable. Now she was to take me by the hand & lead me to translate the dark.

walk until you reach writing
lie down next to the colour red
what is the verge you created?
breach it
what do you return with?
turquoise is missing from your life
your healing work is not done
we have not begun

12. And what would you say if you could?

My copy of The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers is still unsigned.

mgb has been a poet since she first learned how to write her name, an educator since 2006, & a wannabe dramaturg since spring 2016. Born on one of the seven thousand islands of the Philippine Arkipelago, she was raised in the dusty town of Porterville CA & now lives in San Francisco, less than a mile away from the beach. Her publications include Tayo Literary Magazine, Kilusan for Kids, & can be seen on stage at Bindlestiff Studios. She holds degrees in Asian American Studies and Creative Writing from San Francisco State University & Mills College. She is an alumna of the Voices of Our Nation (VONA) Conference, Naropa University’s Summer Writing Program, Pele’s Fire, & VORTEXT Hedgebrook. She divides her time writing in the margins of various spaces, searching for used copies of her favorite books, teaching Language Arts to Bay Area college students & walking excursions with her Stegosaurus & Unicorn companions: Dean O & Queenie. She was a mermaid in a past life, a werewolf in this one, & hopes to be a faerie in the next one. Follow her on twitter (only if you want) @aswangmgb.

Want more Poetry Month? Go back to Day 3 : Rachelle Cruz on Dionne Brand

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