May 1–7, 2023
Britny Cordera is a published poet, nonfiction writer and emerging journalist who investigates the intersections of environment, climate change and (pop) culture. Currently, she is an intern at St. Louis Public Radio. Cordera’s work can be found in Grist Fix, the New Territory, Atmos, Next City and Nexus Media News. She received her MFA from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. When she is not reporting or writing poetry, Cordera teaches for the Saint Louis Poetry Center and roller skates in her free time. She was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow last year for study in Bernard Ferguson’s workshop on the poetics of climate change.
Author photo by Brian Munoz
This is where our wealth haunts the earth—
bulldozers leveling back to dirt, frayed
comforters, pieces of faces ripped
from family photos, mancala marbles
clanging at the bottom of a black bag
with dull spoons & a steel urn
sanctifying mounds of past hope.
Metal corrodes quick in this acidic
environment, leaves behind bauxite
turning the land into venom.
it disenchants the wind,
ashes yoked in an alloy vase.
Even when we drove past this graveyard
ice-capped on I-40, I smelled
our bygones begging me to wonder
will I become that slurry
if my bones are scrapped this way?
I worried about the lost chicks
a farmer ordered during
the pandemic, the opossums
harvesting on fertile
& half-hatched eggs. & the Juul
carts or boba straws that sneak
off into the ocean.
I used to have hermit crabs
with Poké balls painted
on their shells, prayed
they made their way back
to the sea when they were lost,
found them petrified under the kitchen sink
after seven months. Which is to say
we threw them away too with all the Witness
propaganda, the red leather bible
you gave me that shed its spine.
If no one can create matter
nor destroy it, will waste come back to us
in one form or another over time
as a quilt of satin scraps, cracked
MJ CDs, unraveled buttons,
can a grandmother return
as my sister, my father, my cat
if given a second chance?
—Originally published in PANK’s Environmental Futures Folio, April 2021.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
I began writing this poem after learning about a family secret. The image of a grandmother’s ashes sitting in a landfill filled my dreams for a while. I spent days doing research on landfills. I wondered where they get placed in a city, what kinds of things get thrown away and what happens when waste management workers find a loved one’s ashes in the trash. After jumping down this rabbit hole, I was ready to write the poem.
What are you working on right now?
Right now, I am working on getting my MFA thesis in publishing shape. I am also working on a series of collage poems on climate change. After taking Bernard Ferguson’s workshop on the poetics of climate change, I felt inspired to work on this project. Besides poetry, I am working on building a journalism career from scratch.
What’s a good day for you?
A good day for me is my day off. I just need a day once a week to refresh, do chores, cuddle with my cat, watch anime, read a manga, go skating. That being said, I also love days where I am very productive. A productive day for me is when I get my tasks checked off my to-do list.
Where’s home for you? How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other places you’ve lived?
My sense of home is complicated. Home for me is where my family is, where my lover is and where I connect with community. The pandemic has taught me that home doesn’t have to be one place, and sometimes that home space will be virtual.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that where you live? Why or why not?
Like my sense of home, a poetry community can be anywhere. But I would say I have found that in St. Louis. The literary and writing communities are diverse and amazing. The poets here have been good literary citizens. And I especially love that we know each other for the most part. I love that I am able to contribute to the writing community in St. Louis. I do this by being a teaching artist and introducing young people to poetry while helping them create a literary magazine.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
My Brooklyn Poets workshop leader Bernard Ferguson has been very important to me since going into journalism. Their workshop really helped me understand how to communicate climate change in poetry and in journalism. I also really love Audre Lorde, June Jordan and others.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
My MFA thesis advisor Allison Joseph has been my biggest poetry mentor. She has helped me cultivate my poetic voice. She has been so supportive and encouraging as well. She inspired me to apply for the Brooklyn Poets workshop as well as the Cave Canem fellowship program I got into this year.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
I can’t stop thinking about Honorée Jeffers’s The Age of Phillis. That collection was instrumental for me in finishing my MFA. I still go back to that book when I get stuck in drafting a poem or stuck with how to order my collection in progress. Every poem in that collection has a purpose and place. I can feel how intentional each word is. Not one poem or word is misplaced in that book.
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 have ADHD, so you will often find me reading multiple books at the same time. I used to prefer physical copies of books, but now I only prefer my poetry books to be physical, while everything else can be digital. I have reduced my collection by more than half through getting the books I want to read on my Kindle. I read a lot faster on Kindle and focus better, so that is a very helpful tool.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
I love reading outside at a park or at a coffeeshop. At home, my favorite place to read is in bed.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate despite a changing world
And what I love about you is everything no matter how it changes
For every new cell within me as good as the reflection of you.