About prepositions and freedom
(Now that I've finally dug myself out of a depression hole enough to read and write about poetry again, I regrettably must begin this email newsletter with the disclaimer that it is absolutely not a work product and my views do not represent my employer. Duh dot com slash obviously, as a beloved friend once put it, but also please don't get me fired for being Chicago's most googleable poetry Erin Watson at this time when many poets are loudly and, in my opinion, very justifiably, big mad at my workplace on the internet. And so onward, to a brief anecdote about language and some opinions about poems, place, and life.)
Early in November I traveled to Mexico City with two friends, one a native Spanish speaker, the other an avid acquirer of second languages who began her Spanish studies in the recommended language learning window of her youth. I was telling Lisa, the latter friend, that the hardest part of my Babbel app Spanish lessons so far had been prepositions. How is my weird little monolingual brain to remember the difference in distance between allí and ahí, or what's para and what's por? Lisa says this is hard for everyone and I'm grateful for her grammar insights even as I fear I'll never keep up with more than the most basic scraps of a language I wasn't raised with.
Being in a place more visibly ancient than the city I live in, a city that famously burned down in 1861, makes me think about what it is to be from a place. To hold a mother tongue, to carry a violent history around everywhere I go. The tension between colonial and indigenous history is more constantly visible in Mexico than here: words in Nahuatl abound alongside Spanish.
I remember learning English prepositions from an elementary school teacher's lengthy list and finding them profound and powerful. I am here, thinking about the difference in being with and being for. I'm thinking about the great disability justice rallying cry "nothing about us without us." I'm thinking about the wonderful poet KB Brookins and seeing them read from their new book Freedom House recently, months after my dad texted me a link to the playlist they made for it.
And I'm thinking about the difference between freedom to (act/live/be), and freedom from (terror/oppression/fear).
Even being pretty depresso-self-protectively tapped out of news cycles and online discourse of course I am also thinking about genocides in my lifetime, because how can you be alive in the sea of information and not have massive grief constantly at the edge of your awareness? And so I'm aware of the genocide of Palestinians in Gaza now, and the one Putin keeps pushing in Ukraine, the ongoing one of Uyghurs in China and the one in Myanmar (which was the final tipping point of why I quit Facebook as the tiniest protest against the nefarious ways that market-driven "connection" always fails the most vulnerable people on/in the web). And Rwanda and Bosnia and too many others. I am not in these circles and still I am human and we are all here, alive in human time.
I'm thinking of how the Holocaust occasioned the rallying cry of "never again" and yet history excruciatingly, visibly repeats. I am thinking of what it means to be from a place but vehemently not for the place, of the sticker on my laptop that says Of The South (because I'll always hold the light accent of the region that shaped me) and of KB and all the Southern queer and trans artists and weirdos and children whose gerrymandered-ass representatives are uprooting them in the service of ancient twisted hateful ideas.
KB says we all build the freedom house and there's no cops there (and no labradoodles, because they say designer dogs ain't valid, which made me howl with laughter). That poetry is the tool, to riff on Audre Lorde, to dismantle the master's house, and use the boards to build a home that is for us. (Solange voice, from KB's playlist but a different album/song.) I believe in this. I believe words mean things and do things; I believe in verbs and active voice. I'm heartbroken all the time and I am here. An affirming preposition, a frequent one in mindfulness meditation. Start where you are and breathe towards being more free.
I guess I didn't give y'all a poem to read yet so here's one from Freedom House, "It's 6 am & the Sun is Out," with a lot of very intentional prepositions beginning lines. This made me catch my breath and exhale my grief steeply:
& I am tired / of making peace with small / progress being a precursor / for my death
We deserve so much more than small progress and compromise with death cults that demand we become less human, that enforce borders and dollars over people and sense. And so that is the shape of my heartbreak, today. I am not here to resolve it, just to form it on a screen and send it out into your inbox, in the hopes that it might hold some resonant shape for you.
Yours in all the words that build the freedom house,