September 11–17, 2023
DeeSoul Carson (he/they) is a poet and educator from San Diego, CA. His work is featured or forthcoming in Voicemail Poems, Narrative, Hayden’s Ferry Review, the Offing and elsewhere. A Stanford University alum, DeeSoul has received fellowships from the Watering Hole and New York University, where he is an MFA candidate in the creative writing program. On Wednesday, September 20, he will read online as part of the Brooklyn Poets Staff Picks reading series.
On the M Train to Myrtle/Broadway
O, gentle brush of the stranger on the too-full train.
O, heartbroken girl crying on the phone for all of us to hear.
O, teenagers climbing the cars to surf the subway’s steelhot shell.
We are a city of summers running out of places to be.
I am asked if I could make my life here and I’m asking
how you would go about cleaving yourself from your shadow.
It’s true: I wanted to hate this place so much, begged
for a reason to return to my strange coast and its stagnant sunshine,
but I couldn’t unmake myself from this city if I wanted to,
couldn’t unwed myself from its grime and rock doves, and, yes,
even its rats, even if my life depended on it, which, thankfully,
it does not. O, sweet fare evasion, O, emergency doors opening
so some mother can save $2.75 of her overtaxed income.
When I say leave the man sleeping on the train
or singing on the train or tweaking on the train
alone, I do not mean that figuratively. Who of us hasn’t
needed a place to drop the act, to feel the weight of an empire
dissolving beneath us, we with A/C in the summertime
and gentrified neighborhoods to return to? If the price
of easing my discomfort is another’s life, give me a life of buses
filled to their maximum. Give me the M train hitting every local stop.
O, city of cigs and sesame, there are worse crosses to bear.
O, trucks of soft serve forever beckoning to my wallet.
O, land of parks and playgrounds and people to populate them.
When it comes down to it, how truly lucky we are. We are.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
This poem came about because I was on the way home after a long day of work in the summer and the train was just PACKED. Like, entirely too many people, and it felt more chaotic than usual. I looked out the train window and saw some teenagers between the train cars climbing onto the roof as we crossed over the Williamsburg Bridge. There was a woman on the phone distraught over something her boyfriend said. I just thought to myself how charming of a city this place really is, with all its quirks, and just wanted to write something that would attempt to capture my gratitude for this place.
What are you working on right now?
I am currently working on a manuscript/thesis tentatively titled The Laughing Barrel. In my work, I’m trying to think about: 1) the absurdity of racism and all of its cousins, and 2) the utility of laughter for Black folks, whose circumstances, historically, have often been no laughing matter. And yet, we laugh anyway. So trying to consider what we’re laughing at, and what we’re laughing in spite of, and who’s laughing with us, and who’s laughing with us that maybe shouldn’t be. The most recent poem I worked on, however, was a poem after the video game Portal.
What’s a good day for you?
Honestly, any day I don’t have work, and I don’t even hate my job. I just really like to sleep in the middle of the day, and if there’s one thing about me, Imma take a little nap.
What brought you to Brooklyn?
The NYU creative writing program! I entered in 2021, and prior to that I had never been to New York or lived anywhere outside of California (apart from a brief study-abroad trip).
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?
So, I live in Bushwick, which has definitely been interesting, given all the memes around it as a place. I’ve lived here since August 2021, and luckily have stayed in the same apartment the entire time. I really love that it isn’t too loud, but on the weekends, the community here gathers to play volleyball and soccer, with mothers and kids watching on the sidelines and selling/sharing various snacks, and it’s so nice to see people interacting communally. I grew up in a San Diego suburb where the suburban sprawl prevents meet-ups like that without some active effort. The last time I remember feeling like I was in a community like that, outside of college, was when I was really young and we lived in a cul-de-sac with other military families. All the kids on the block knew and played with each other, and it was a really great time.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.
I don’t know if I can pick a single one, but I think the amount of times I’ve been to parks here feels defining to me. I didn’t go to the park often back home—it’s just not something we do—but I went back pretty recently and almost felt like I was having withdrawal. It was so strange to see how empty a lot of our parks were.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
A poetry community is a group of folks who champion you and your work, and you do the same for them. I definitely have found that here—some of the best poets I know live in this city. Poetry, to me, is such a collective act, so much of my poetic meaning-making here has come from seeing how much my friends enjoy a text and why. And I think I found it because I love seeing my friends do well. I think, if you want a community, you have to put your ego aside and realize that when any of us win, all of us win.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
Imma be honest, I don’t know who lives or has lived anywhere, lol. So definitely shout out to Victoria Mbabazi and Tariq Thompson, who are, truly and unironically, two of my favorite Brooklyn poets and poets in general. Also Nicole Sealey and John Murillo.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
Follow-up to that last question, Nicole Sealey was a teacher of mine, and I learned so much from her about the process of revision. Besides her, Terrance Hayes, Sharon Olds and Ocean Vuong have all been wonderful instructors. Sharon taught me to observe, Ocean taught me to interrogate language, and Terrance taught me to be more comfortable experimenting with language.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
Kaveh Akbar’s Calling a Wolf a Wolf. I was suuuuper late to the party, but oof. What he does with words is really something special. Like, I truly want to think of language the way Kaveh makes it feel.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
I have a reading list that is 126 books long, and that’s just books I own but haven’t read. I’m currently reading Darius Simpson’s Never Catch Me, but I’m excited to get to Aurielle Marie’s Gumbo Ya Ya soon.
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?
One book at a time, planned out in advance because I have so many to read. There’s a schedule, too: I figure about two to three days for every fifty pages of text. I prefer physical books because I can see how far I’ve gotten, and I like to mark books up.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
Really trying to do a crown of sonnets. I’m a fan of the form and especially love that kind of recursion. Patterns really get me going.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
I really love to read and write at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. It’s nice to be in all that green and feel separated from the city.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
Peaches Prime (great brunch, plus the waitress there is my homie), train tracks near my house, Brooklyn Bridge Park, the Brooklyn Museum. Really anywhere I can go and sit a while or be for a while.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate the day that put our stars in orbit,
And what I am you surely had a hand in making,
For every sacred thing that keeps me as good as my mother’s prayers,
I know I can look behind and find 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.
I’ll be real with you, I saw all these words and my brain stopped. Imma let Jay have this one.
Because it makes me the least sad when I pay my rent.