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Poetry Notes for "Aboard the Transport Tesoro"

In November, my poem "Aboard the Transport Tesoro" appeared in Issue 7 of Uncanny Magazine. Now it's available to read for free online or listen to in a podcast.

The idea for the poem came to me on one of the many nights I lay awake in bed, in pain. I'd tried ignoring it, then meditating through it. I'd taken various medicines. I had my heating pad. I'd tried stretching out, scrunching up, lying on my back, belly, side. Nothing helped. To think of something other than hurting, I racked my brain trying to figure out what I could've done that day to trigger the pain. Nothing stood out. Eventually, I started to wonder what I had done, ever, in my life, to bring on this pain. Had emotion metastasized into physical ailment? Had I committed some sin or transgression? Was I being punished?

Pain makes me weird and illogical. (Or maybe that's my Catholic upbringing?)

These addled thoughts intersected with a conversation I'd seen on Twitter, about the difficulty of venerating elders (or ancestor worship) when your family is problematic. How do you overcome (or maybe just put aside) a history of conflict, or even abuse, for a continued relationship with the deceased? Can you ever trust them, let alone honor or respect them?

I wondered which of my ancestors might be inducing my suffering, and what they were trying to convey through the punishment. Only my grandmother seemed vindictive enough, but what had I done to piss her off this time? She held a grudge like a tick with lockjaw, so I supposed it could've been something I'd done in the past. But surely she knew my heart had changed over the years. I actually felt closer and more sympathetic to her than ever before. Maybe she was only acting out? Maybe she was hurting too?

And if I was so adrift, I wondered, how much more complicated could ancestor worship get in the future? With life-extending medicines and procedures, we might know our great-greats much more intimately, for better or worse. I imagined what it'd be like to have a wonderful, nurturing relationship with a great-great, and what I'd be willing to do for her when she finally passed.

Though I was still in excruciating pain, the poem came together very quickly after that. I got out of bed and wrote it down. I don't know how long it was before the pain subsided enough that I could sleep. When I woke up the next morning, I moved a couple of lines and typed it up, and it was done.

I don't see anything romantic about pain or suffering. If it were up to me, I'd have slept pain-free and never written the poem. But I do feel a grudging awe for the alchemy of poetry, which can take something as stupid and pointless as my pain and transfigure a bit of it. From lead to gold seems too self-congratulatory. So...shit to Shinola, maybe.
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