The Geology of a Moment

the stylus entered the system at the instance of trauma
Roy Miki

I left something inside a scream,
returned to the scene of the fire
now petrified in slow muteness,

a seeping cave that crept down
the wallows of my throat
A cave painting, like a potboiler

villain, tracked me with its
eyes. Someone got the bright
idea of taking animals down

from the walls and placing them
carefully below the skin
in needlework wonderments.

Undeterred, I tried to blend in
on the forearm of the horseman
who galloped around our house

waving a torch that bore
his countenance of curls and cries.
It was a lot to take in and

someone was bound to explode
in semantics, overdose
on recalcitrant symbols. Mayhem

eschewed, I crawled into
the deepest of basements,
pressed in by imagination’s

limits. All I wanted was
to see the inner sanctuary of
my scream, so that I could go

in a clear understanding
of others, how quiet it was
here, outside the spears

from history’s
burning skies.
Oh, yes, there you are.

Questions and Answers

Is there a specific moment that inspired you to pursue poetry?

At the start of my MFA at UBC back in 2009, I thought I was going to focus on prose, but in a creative non-fiction class a new genre opened up. We had just workshopped a piece I’d written about my father and I was left feeling like it was a creative flop. Afterwards, in the hallway, one of my classmates suggested I tackle the same material in poetry. What I appreciated about the UBC program was that we were expected to take classes in different genres outside our speciality, so while I’d gone into the MFA to specialize in short fiction, it was in that creative non-fiction class that I was nudged in the direction of poetry. After Liz Howard suggested that I explore through poetry my earliest memories of my dad’s mental illness, I found myself head over heels in love with the potentialities of poetry again, discovering it anew with all the spectral lustre as I had long ago seen it through adolescent eyes. Fortunately, that same semester, I was taking a poetry class with Liz and it was instructive to be able to read her work alongside the poetry of so many other fantastic poets: Emily Davidson, andrea bennett, Ben Rawluk, and Kim Fu being some of them. The moment that inspired me to write poetry was surrounded by many other moments that solidified the place of poetry in my writing practice.

What inspired or motivated you to write this poem?

I was at the Joy Kogawa House at the beginning of 2019 to write about my mom’s family and their experiences as refugees in Canada. I was also reading through sixty BC books of poetry as one of the judges of the BC Book Prizes. Kim Trainor’s Ledi captured my imagination in a very particular way. The book is set partially in Siberia, a region of Russia that my grandmother was from. My grandfather was from a village that had been under assault through World War I and then destroyed during the Russian Civil War. Both of my mom’s parents survived traumatic experiences and I used some of that historic backdrop of suffering in “Geology of a Moment,” but I stretched it back to much more ancient times. How are the earliest memories of our individual lives much like prehistory, the time before written records? What gave me linguistic liberty to play through all this was Roy Miki’s line “the stylus entered the system at the instance of trauma.” This poem has me once again trying to understand the impact of unremembered trauma and my insistence on writing into and around it.

I’ll sneak in some advice here: Be open to revising your writing plans. Also, follow your obsessions and learn from the obsessions of other poets. Additionally, pace yourself and prepare for projects that might take a lifetime: I have yet to write about my mother’s life growing up in Vancouver as the daughter of refugees who lived, at times, at a distance from the main Mennonite settlements and communities in the Lower Mainland, but I know that someday I will. For now, I hope to start writing a creative history of Riverview. That will probably take at least five years. I went from writing flash fiction in 2003 to get to a place where I’m taking on much larger projects that will combine prose and poetry.

My final bit of advice: Don’t be afraid to follow tangents. That’s probably where most poems and stories start.

This poem “The Geology of a Moment” originally appeared in Emerging Scholars, Redux Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 242 (2020): 12-13.

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