pp. 4-5 “The Rain” (5 September 2019) — for LaDonna Fuchs, my mom, 1953-2018. The last text I received from my mom read “Next time you sit in rain outside, I want to go too.” She sent it 16 May 2018. It rained the night of 19 May 2018, the day she passed. This poem was formed then and existed as scraps and phrases that were eventually collected together and put in some sort of order that makes sense.
p. 6 “Triticum aestivum” (20 September 2019) — for Brent. Triticum aestivum: Common wheat.
p. 7 “Quentin Clingerman Has Died” (21 September 2019) — Quentin Clingerman (1932-2017), Que, is a man I knew through a community of poets online. He was not a fan of my work! He spent a lot of time demanding that I mark my work as “explicit” and trying to get me removed from the site when I refused (because writing about two men kissing is not explicit). I learned from offending Que. I learned that people are going to have negative reactions to what I write, but not because of the writing itself. And I can’t spend time caring about that. I wasted a lot of energy trying to argue with this man I didn’t know and it all ended with the site more or less requiring that I mark my work as explicit… just to appease him I believe. When I heard that he had died, I was really affected. He was a thorn in my side, but otherwise seemed like a genuinely nice guy. I opened and closed this poem in a style consistent with that of Que. It’s an accident that it feels like an instruction for the reader about the contents. Actually, I just wanted to place this poem before the three that upset him the most.
pp. 8-9 “Hymn I: Mulberries” (28 December 2000 / 22 July 2004 / 29 August 2018) — Originally two separate poems titled “Manhattan Cowboy” & “nine.” “Manhattan Cowboy” was split into three poems, and “nine” was brought in to the first. I was attempting to merge nostalgia, sexuality, and faith. I wanted it to be the way I conceived it, as dreamy thoughts when I was barely awake. I later removed pop culture references and tried to make it more honest. I also added more poems to create an arc. Includes lyrics from the hymn Amazing Grace, John Newton, 1779.
pp. 10-11 “Hymn II: Reading Tolstoy Naked” (29 October 2001 / 23 August 2004 / 29 August 2018) — Originally titled “Manhattan Cowboy II.” This was initially written as the present of one’s life, having taken the first poem and expanded it into life stages. I like to think of it now as the middle of the dream, and about acceptance. Includes lyrics from the hymn It Is Well With My Soul, Horatio Spattford, 1873.
pp. 12-13 “Hymn III: Birds & Vapor” (2 November 2001 / 30 May 2005 / 30 August 2018)— Originally titled “Manhattan Cowboy III.” Pensieve: a magical object from the Harry Potter book series, used to store memories that can then be revisited or viewed by others. When the trilogy was formed, I wanted this to express the end of a life, including the speaker dying, but it changed over time. I know think of it more as that part of a dream when things start to slip away and become less cohesive, where things start to morph slightly, and when there is a longing to get back to the original. But dreams don’t allow that. Includes lyrics from the hymn Softly and Tenderly, Will L. Thomson, 1880.
pp. 14-15 “Cercis canadensis“ (19 April 2019 / 5 September 2019) — for Curtis Fuchs, my dad. Cercis canadensis: Eastern Redbud, a common understory tree found throughout the Eastern United States, and the official state tree of Oklahoma. They flower early, along their branches, in a bright fuchsia display. A heavy storm can knock off the flowers, ending the display prematurely.
p. 16 “Meeting with Tlāloc” (22 July 2008) — Tlāloc: Member of the pantheon of Aztec gods. He is the supreme god of rain.
pp. 20-21 “Daniel Naranjo” (25 October 2011) — for Daniel. Originally included the tagline ‘a platonic love poem.’ It is that, but that felt like an apology. I don’t need to apologize for my feelings. I think it’s hard to express feelings about really close friends, and I tried to do that here.
p. 22 “Adding Names to a Dog” (26 March 2008 / 7 September 2018) — for Daniel, and in memory of JoDa.
p. 23 “A Boy from Albuquerque” (12 September 2019) — for Kami. Olivetti: An Italian brand of typewriter. Alice in Chains / Caroline’s Spine: alternative rock bands popular in the 1990s. I was 19 and I thought Kami hung the moon, but we never actually met in person. It was the most intense online relationship I’ve ever had because everything is intense at 19.
pp. 24-26 “Pieces Of Dissected Butterflies” (12 September 2019) — This is the story of moving to Alaska.
p. 27 “12:07 am 4.14.12” (14 April 2012) — for Daniel.
p. 28 “Jalapeño Mustard” (20 September 2019) — for Jerry. I was moving into the first place where I lived alone. Jerry and I would hang out in the empty place and listen to Bathhouse Betty by Bette Midler and drink lime Jarritos. Every song from that album transports me back to that moment.
pp. 32-33 “Duncan, Oklahoma” (1 October 2018) — for Jon, who was probably just thinking about the music.
p. 34 “To a Lovely Man” (2 April 2008 / 7 September 2018) — I know who this is about and I am not saying, but it is not one of the typical subjects in my poetry.
p. 35 “Oil Man” (19 May 2008) — for Jon.
pp. 36-38 “Daucus carota” (17 September 2019) — for Angela. Daucus carota: Wild carrot (or Queen Anne’s lace). This is the wild parent of the domesticated carrot. This is about working at Title Wave Books in Anchorage, Alaska. It contains references to coworkers Scott, Melinda, Angela, and Angela’s friend Faydra.
p. 39 “The Ravens Became Crows” (22 August 2008 / 7 September 2019) — For Lisa. Originally part of the poem “Holes: Four Memories Of Loss.” This is pretty straightforward, but I took a little license with the sequence/speed of events.
pp. 40-41 “Unpolished” (17 September 2019) — for Skylar. When I met Skylar, I thought she was perfect. She wasn’t ready to be open about everything, but I’m so honored to be her friend. This has references to Anchorage, to my grandma Josie Daugherty, and to a vacation I took to Red River, NM with my mom’s parents.
p. 42 “Gleditsia triacanthos” (18 September 2019) — Gleditsia triacanthos: Honey Locust, a common tree in the Ozark’s and the areas around the Ozark’s. It’s known for it’s large thorns, which are often branched and make it look like the thorns have thorns. While this wasn’t written for my friend Justin, he was instrumental in the formation of it. I asked him what plant I should write about. I didn’t take me seriously, but did say locust and then babbled silly nonsense about turning it upside down and finding something underneath. I rolled my eyes, but then took the challenge. It’s about another friend of mine who would prefer anonymity.
pp. 43-45 “Okie Dokie” (17 September 2019) — This is largely for the people I most admired when I was in my early 20s. There are direct references to Jennie Lloyd, Jeff Martin, Molly Martin, & Adam McBride-Smith, but more generally it includes everyone I looked up to at that time.
pp. 46-48 “Meeting Skylar & Wesleyan at the Grey Gardens Disco” (2 December 2012) — for Skylar & Wesleyan. Grey Gardens: an estate in East Hampton, New York which was the home of Jacqueline Kennedy’s aunt Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter ‘Little Edie’ Bouvier Beale. The house and the Beales were the subject of the 1975 documentary film Grey Gardens, which highlighted the squalor they lived in and reclusiveness of their lives. When I wrote this, I was feeling particularly unhappy with what often feels like an inability to join in when others are having a good time. I find myself always on the periphery, watching my friends, but disconnected. I fight that, but I was feeling it pretty strongly at this point in my life. This was written as a variation on an acrostic, with the first line of each stanza spelling out STAUNCH.
pp. 52-53 “10th & Cordova” (14 June 2008 / 1 October 2018) — Originally titled “Reflections on My Alaskan Family.” I wrote this at a time when I was spending most of my time with my friends David, Daniel, and Denis. They were my family in Alaska, and I will always think of them that way. As is normal for me, I felt slightly on the outside, and I tried to convey this here.
p. 54 “Trampled“ (31 March 2008 / 1 October 2018) — for Daniel.
p. 55 “Thirty“ (14 August 2008) — Originally titled “This Journey Seems Long.” Written about turning 30.
p. 56 “Novels” (1 December 2012 / 22 April 2013) — for Wesleyan Foraker, Skylar Arend, & Chris Bailey. This was written as NANOWRIMO 2012 was ending and everyone was celebrating their success. I was feeling really off at the time and I had trouble celebrating with them, which still bothers me.
p. 57 “Leaf Litter” (30 December 2000 / 5 September 2019) — Originally titled “Bittersweet Leaves.”
pp. 58-59 “Before Kennicott” (13 June 2008 / 1 October 2018) — Kennicott: a glacier located in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Eastern Alaska. The ghost town of Kennecott and its abandoned mines are nearby and are a tourist attraction.
pp. 60-62 “Quercus shumardii” (7 June 2014) — for Billy Tucker, my grandpa (Papa), 1928-2014. Originally titled “The Tree,” and later “Humus” and then “The Oak Tree,” I eventually settled on a title that made the most sense to me. Quercus shumardii: Shumard’s Oak, a tall oak species found throughout the Eastern United States. Ultisols, entisols, crider and port silt loam: soil terms. My grandpa was a soil scientist.
p. 66 “Sweetwater, Oklahoma” (1 September 1998 / 3 April 1999 / 5 June 1999 / 21 September 2001 / 5 September 2019) — I’ve rewritten this one many times. It was originally titled “Blue-Green” and later “Visiting a Farm” and then “Blue-Green Summers.”
p. 67 “Daisy” (1 October 2018) — for Daisy Duncan, 1911-2000. She was an extreme penny pincher. In my youth, that frustrated me. As an adult, I can understand it… mostly.
p. 68 “Geneva” (3 January 2010) — for Geneva Fuchs, my grandma (G), 1930-2000. Originally titled “G,” which was my name for my grandma. This is one of my favorite things I’ve ever written.
p. 69 “1975” (21 September 2019) — for Doyle Fuchs, my grandpa, 1930-1975.
pp. 70-71 “Ham” (26 April 2008 / 11 September 2019) — for Christine Tucker, my grandma (Mimi), 1930-2002.
p. 72 “Bea” (26 April 2009) — for Bea Arthur, 1922-2009.
p. 73 “The Jesus Collector“ (22 August 2008 / 5 September 2019) — for John Haynes, 1965-2004. Originally part of the poem “Holes: Four Memories Of Loss.” John was a friend & coworker of mine who died in 2004. He was 38. We were a close group and his loss started the process of tearing us all apart. John was raised Catholic, but was not religious. He collected Jesus figurines ironically. His boyfriend gave much of his collection to John’s friends after his death. I miss him.
pp. 74-75 “Mambo Italiano” (22 August 2008 / 8 September 2019) for Jobeth Johnston, 1945-2005. Originally part of the poem “Holes: Four Memories Of Loss.” Jobeth was a friend & coworker of mine who died in 2005, almost exactly one year after John. She was 60. Jobeth had been the opposite of John, a constant ray of sunshine. She just felt like everyone’s Italian aunt. I think about her all the time; she really was an fantastic woman. Includes several inside references to Jobeth. Sider-man’s ambassador: Jobeth’s brother worked for Marvel, making appearances as Spider-man at events around the country. He was the first person hired for the job. And given the family’s penchant for tall tales, it might be fictional.
pp. 76-79 “Dale” (25 July 2015) — for Dale Combs, 1937-2015. I knew Dale was dying, and I was feeling very pensive on that final day. I went outside to get away from people and just think. The Combs family were family to my mom, and I was named for Dale. It was a rocky relationship, and for a while my mom wanted to change my middle name to remove his. But I’m honored to carry his name, even if things weren’t always perfect. I do think he always meant well.
p. 80 “All Growed Up” (13 September 2008) — Sue, Mike, & D’Jiela: three of my grandma’s friends who I looked up to.
p. 84 “The Poet” (29 January 2000) — for Frank O’Hara, 1926-1966. Like many gay men, Frank O’Hara has inspired so much of how I write and how I see the world around me.
p. 85 “Sleeping At Lunch” (25 July 2004) — for Frank O’Hara, 1926-1966.
pp. 86-87 “David Eugene, look at me when I’m thinking about you!” (17 March 2008 / 7 September 2018) — for David. This was much more about who I turn into around David than about David himself.
p. 88 “Michael” (11 July 2009) — for Michael Jackson, 1958-2009. Originally part of a poem titled “New Vacancies in Music.” The loss of Michael Jackson was a tragedy for a lot of reasons, and it did not begin with his death. This poem is an elegy for what we had collectively lost, and how tainted my youth seems now.
p. 89 “Literary Debris” (16 February 2009) — Originally titled “Literary War Zone.”
pp. 90-91 “Seahorses” (1 July 2009 / 5 September 2019) — for the LGBT community, that can so often be the most interesting part of those who are not a part of it. I don’t always feel this way, but the feeling does creep up from time to time.
p. 92 “They Own Me” (2 April 2008) — I’ve known other writers have expressed similar experiences with writing. For me, it is often transcendent, and the words sort of pour out of my head into my fingertips. I don’t really think them much before they make their way into existence. It’s not a logical or thoughtful process, and is why a lot of my poetry sounds like an unfinished thought. The editing process is much more technical and analytical, involving deleting large swaths of things that made their way out and should have stayed in. I’ve written about that many times; this is just one example.
All photos are from the personal collection of the author.