July 25–31, 2022
Ashley Bardhan writes about art, sex and other things that people like. She thinks about video games full-time as a journalist at Kotaku, but you can find her criticism and entertainment reporting in Pitchfork, Vulture, Gawker and elsewhere. She also has a degree in creative writing from the University of Rochester—evidence of this can be found in Terse, Homology Lit, Preachy and in a journal next to her bed.
Author photo by Cody Zhewei Cao
The Fruit Fly Knows What Went Wrong
Here I am, on the body.
Here I am, so little and orange,
so yellow and hairy,
so supple and ready to
sink in. Here I am on the
banana peel. The orange peel,
the parking lot lettuce head,
brown-green and decaying. Here
are the little black spots of forgetfulness,
the white moss of time gone by.
Here, I watch you, swatting blindly
into the air, never managing to land
a hit. Here, you cry out with frustration.
You stuff the brown banana into the black
bag, chuck the white-orange peel into the garbage
chute. I fly lazy hearts around your room
while you sleep. I hover over your sweet tea and take
one long sip, seeing your eyes close. You see me too.
You know what I’ve done. When you wake up,
I’ll be here.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
Last year, I decided to move to Texas. I lasted five months and was very lonely for most of it, but one day in those five months, I came back from a trip (to New York) and discovered that my roommate left some dirty dishes in the sink.
An entire nation of enterprising fruit flies had taken residence in my apartment. I couldn’t open my mouth without a fruit fly checking if it could come inside it. I remember drinking from a cup of water and watching multiple fruit flies descend on the spot I had sipped from. I couldn’t eat dinner because it turns out fruit flies also like eating your dinner.
I put out a bunch of apple cider vinegar traps and killed them all overnight, but while they were still alive, I wrote this poem from the perspective of a fruit fly taunting me. I was thinking about how dumb I must have seemed to the fly, getting frustrated by its small orange body and guarding all my things and food like a baby. I wrote the poem quickly and out of desperation. I wanted to understand the flies and make fun of how seriously I was taking them. It was a fruit fly exorcism.
What are you working on right now?
I have a collection of poems vaguely about the climate crisis that I’m submitting all over the place right now. I took a break from writing and submitting poetry for a year because the whole process really depresses me (it’s subjective! it’s hard! I hate “submission”!) but I really missed writing creatively and got bored of being sensitive about it.
What’s a good day for you?
Sun, cake with whipped cream, a walk through the park, a new movie, then a disco ball or purple bar light, whiskey with ice. Probably a Saturday, but maybe a Monday off.
What brought you to Brooklyn?
I was born in Queens and raised on Long Island, and Brooklyn is the natural end-goal for kids from the suburbs who think they’re different from everyone else. Then you come to Brooklyn and realize you are everyone else. It’s tradition.
Tell us about your neighborhood. How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?
I love Bed-Stuy, but I haven’t lived in this neighborhood long at all. I moved to my current apartment in April, and before that I was in Bushwick. I like that there are a lot of trees and brownstones, and I know it’s changed and changed back again and back again throughout its history, but in its current iteration, I love the sense of community and togetherness. I like saying hi to my neighbors and giving people money.
Bushwick is turning into the neighborhood for, like, artsy young people who can’t afford Manhattan, and though I’m one of them, it feels like more of a revolving door than Bed-Stuy. Brownstones make you want to settle down and sleep all weekend. It’s quiet here, and out of most places in the city, it satisfies my yearning for upstate New York, where I went to college.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.
There’s a man who stands outside of the City Fresh grocery store in Bushwick, near Maria Hernandez Park, who says hi to people and occasionally asks for money. When I lived near that City Fresh, I used to regularly give him money. Once, I gave him $20, and he became very emotional and apologetic and told me how the police had changed his life, but that he wasn’t a bad person. I also became very emotional and told him it was okay.
But I think about that all the time, what $20 can mean to someone, and I encourage everyone living in or moving to Brooklyn to consider the way their presence in the neighborhood affects the people already in it. I don’t know how to say this without sounding whiny or annoying, but if you have the means, I’d really encourage you to give people money when they ask and you feel safe. You should ask them their names out of respect for their humanity and for their presence in the neighborhood. Please don’t call the police; doing so never leads to long-term, deep or impactful change. But anyway, that experience reminds me to treat my neighbors well and money as just a tool. By definition, I’m a gentrifier. I can at least try to make that into something vaguely useful.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
For me, a poetry community is a group of people that will indulge my wacky ideas and guide me into making them better. I don’t feel like I’ve been a part of a poetry community for a while, and I definitely haven’t found one in New York. I think I’m too judgmental and bad at meeting new people, but I would like to change that.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
Obviously, I love Walt Whitman. He, Rumi and Shakespeare are like the pop stars of the poetry world, so he’s a predictable answer, but I love a fellow Long Islander like him.
I read Leaves of Grass for the first time when I was twenty, and it felt like pushing a stuck door open. I didn’t know how much could be inside poetry. My favorite poem of his is “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking.” Near the end, he says the sea:
Lisp’d to me the low and delicious word death,
And again death, death, death, death
These lines often pop into my head. I’m a little bit obsessed with death maybe. Death and Long Island. He’s so incredible to me because his poetry is so stacked and strange and totally New York.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
I took two classes with the poet and critic James Longenbach in college and I learned a lot from him. I think he thought I was sort of annoying, but I also thought he was kind of annoying, so it cancels out. I’m still deciding whether or not I agree with everything I learned about poetry in college, but Longenbach’s classes pushed me to think more critically about words and form.
Before Longenbach, I used to think art was a kind of magic that either touches you or doesn’t, and I used to put a lot of stock into meaning. I wanted everything to be my diary. I still want that, honestly, but I’m more excited by poetry that’s strange and feels difficult. I like working hard for poems—I used to want them to be easy.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
I’ve been really taking my time reading The Dream of the Unified Field by Jorie Graham because I enjoy it so much and it really scratches an itch. I read Erosion when I was eighteen and hated it, so maybe I’m getting smarter. I’m really amazed by her unexpected word choices and use of em dashes. I’d like to use more em dashes.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
I’ve always wanted to be the kind of person who’s able to quote theologians, philosophers or literary critics, but my attention span never lasts beyond an essay or a bombastic quote. One day I’ll read St. Augustine’s Confessions. One day!
Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital texts? Are you a note-taker?
I’m a dipper, for sure. I’m always half-reading thirty percent of three different books that I think will teach me something, but I read mom-core books like marriage mysteries that involve pools and murder in a sitting or two. Those types of books teach me that I love chips and bad movies. But in general, because I’m a dipper, I read things based on my mood. Most recently I finished Either/Or by Elif Batuman and skimmed (generous term) Hegel’s The Phenomenology of Spirit. I would say that mood was “confused.”
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
There are a lot of things I want to try, but most immediately, I’d like to figure out a way to write a poem that doesn’t end in death or an extremely dramatic final line. I want to be normal and write a really nice and short poem that’s exactly what it sounds like.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
La Cantine in Bushwick, which has good olive oil cakes, and recently I’ve been trying to write on the subway.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
The Clinton Hill Historic District is really pretty and I like looking at the boarded-up windows there. I like walking toward the North 5th Street Pier and Forma Pasta Factory in Greenpoint. I love any place in Brooklyn that has trees or cobblestones, or that makes me feel special and unseen. I like lurking and feeling like part of the old furniture—I feel very in tune with the world in a quiet way on streets that let me do that. Greene Ave, Wyckoff Ave, 9th St in Park Slope, Himrod St, to name a few.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate the skipping song,
And what I sang to you in that dark room,
For every body stuck to me as good as glass sees you.
If you have time, write a nine-line poem using these end-words (in whatever order) from Jay Z’s “Brooklyn Go Hard”: father, Dodger, jack, rob, sin, pen, love, Brooklyn, Biggie.
in the sugar valley of brooklyn,
i let out my love.
i step out of the father,
the son, the sin,
the robber with his arms on my arms. he’ll rob
the corner store with his pen
on a string. choked on hot dogs. sausage in the street. biggie
watches on the wall, someone’s l.a. dodger
hat on the hook. you don’t go back, you spend all your cards and draw a jack