November 14–20, 2022
Joshua Garcia’s debut collection, Pentimento, is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press. His poetry has appeared in the Cincinnati Review, the Georgia Review, Ninth Letter, North American Review and elsewhere. He holds an MFA from the College of Charleston and was a 2021–22 Stadler Fellow at Bucknell University. He lives and writes in Brooklyn. On Thursday, November 17, Garcia will read online as part of the Brooklyn Poets Staff Picks reading series.
Poem with Starbucks and Kissing and Trees
My therapist asks me why I always return to lack,
and it may or may not be related, but it’s been on my mind,
so I finally tell him I might have been assaulted by a doctor.
I say might because I still don’t understand what happened
and because it took me eight years, one hour, and ten minutes
to build up to this, which is to say, We are over time.
I tell my therapist thank you, and we schedule an appointment for next week,
and as I wait for my order at Starbucks, I think of how shame
was handed to me like a decaf americano and how I accepted it
like a warmed slice of coffee cake. Thank you, I say to the barista.
Thank you, I say to the doctor, to the pastor, to my father.
Or maybe I say, I’m sorry, for being a door someone else forgot
to shut. Yet I say nothing when I pass a cute guy at a crosswalk,
thankful as I am for choosing this outfit today, which makes me think
maybe someday nothing will happen to me because I will be a happening.
And on that day, I won’t be afraid to kiss whichever guy I met online.
I’ll just do it because I want to, if I want to, and I won’t be afraid of where it might lead
or what he may want from me because my body will be too busy peeling back
the petals of his mouth. None of that he loves me, he loves me not business.
Only he kisses me, he kisses me, he kisses me, and suddenly,
like a memory returned or returning from a memory,
I lift my head in the breeze of a passing truck, and across the street
a line of trees holds to their last leaves like a red mist
released from an exit wound, and I think maybe someday
I will disrobe without counting all the rooms I have left open,
I will not wonder what will grow in that absence or what flora
will burst forth in some new color.
—Originally published in the Massachusetts Review, Summer 2021.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
This was one of those poems that kind of happened all at once. I was en route from therapy to the library, where I intended to get some writing done, and this poem emerged out of the different things I was processing in that commute. The inspiration came quickly, and I gathered the images along the way. Time and revision followed to help refine that initial burst of inspiration.
What are you working on right now?
I’m currently experimenting with lyric, ekphrastic nonfiction exploring the photography of Wolfgang Tillmans. It’s kind of messy at the moment and a little outside of my comfort zone, but it’s what feels fun to write right now, and I try to chase that feeling.
What’s a good day for you?
A good day starts with unrestricted writing time in the morning, followed by some reading. Time spent moving my body outdoors and then dinner with friends. A glass of wine. An early bedtime. It’s simple, but I’m beaming thinking about days like this.
What brought you to Brooklyn?
I’m new to Brooklyn and NYC. I relocated to New York this summer to work with Teachers & Writers Collaborative, a nonprofit that offers creative writing and arts programming for youth and lifelong learners. We also publish Teachers & Writers Magazine as well as books to support teachers of creative writing.
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 live in Bed-Stuy and am loving it. I’ve only been here for about five months now, so it’s too soon for me to say how it’s changing, but Bed-Stuy feels more lived-in to me than some of the other areas I’ve explored so far. The historic brownstones give it a real sense of place in time, and there’s not a lot of tourist traffic, so there is a sense of rhythm as the people around you go about their daily routines.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.
I’m not sure what qualifies as a defining Brooklyn experience (as opposed to any other borough), but I once saw a man masturbating to a large portrait of the crucifixion on my street. I was completely stunned and then I immediately moved on and went about the rest of my day. I forgot about it until a couple of days later, and the fact that I forgot made me feel like, “OK, maybe I really live in New York now.” I’m still trying to figure out how to turn this into a poem …
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
Community is the only reason I can call myself a poet. I fell in love with poetry because of friends who shared poems with me. I continued to write because of friends who read my poems and encouraged me along the way. The relationships I’ve accumulated through school, social media and other writing opportunities have only driven me closer to the page. The work of all these poets inspires me, directs me toward beauty and connection, and gives me permission to believe that what I write, however good it may or may not be, matters. Most of my writing community is elsewhere, but I’m beginning to meet other poets in the area and am trying to deepen those connections. If you’re a poet, let’s grab coffee!
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
Though she isn’t in Brooklyn anymore, I believe Donika Kelly lived here, and her writing has been a big influence to me in the last year or so. I was blown away by Tyler Mills’s Hawk Parable, and I love every poem Jim Whiteside writes. It would be a shame not to mention Whitman. And, of course, poets on the Brooklyn Poets team—I.S. Jones and Noel Yu-Jen!
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
This feels like a tricky question because I want to extend the title of “mentor” to so many—those whose books I’ve read, the friends who exchange poems with me, as well as those professors and writers who have taught and guided me in a more formal role. In interpersonal relationships, I’ve realized I’m most challenged and perhaps grow the most when questions are posed about my work, rather than suggestions or subjective feedback (though these have helped me plenty and are always welcome). I think by posing thoughtful questions, a mentor shows engagement with my work (which is a gift) and also allows me to explore new perspectives / approaches to my writing in a way that is more liberating than leading.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
I recently read Barthes’s Mourning Diary and was moved by its sparseness and fragmented nature. I also read A Lover’s Discourse earlier this year, and I’m amazed at his ability to catalog with such richness the nuances of an emotion. I’ve been reading through everything Édouard Louis has written, partially because his writing resonates with my own experience but also because of his beautiful prose. I recently read Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red, and I kept texting friends, “Why didn’t I know Anne Carson is a gay man???” Her depiction of Geryon was mythic in the greatest sense—a tool to make sense of my own messy pieces. Lastly, though I could keep going, I’m currently reading Carl Phillips’s selected poems Quiver of Arrows, and each poem feels like a gift. I don’t know how he does it.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
I don’t know about years, but Derek Jarman’s Dancing Ledge and David Wojnarowicz’s Close to the Knives have been unopened on my nightstand for far too long. I love Sharon Olds and have been meaning to pick up her Odes. I’ve also wanted to read the collected poems of Sylvia Plath and Frank O’Hara chronologically as I read through their biographies, but I’ve yet to embark on those reading projects.
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 tend to have one prose book and one book of poems going simultaneously, and I read them cover-to-cover. Physical books always, with an occasional exception for an audiobook. I don’t plan my readings usually, though I tend to read what might be most beneficial to my creative practice, which is often a matter of chance. I stumbled on Barthes’s Mourning Diary in a bookstore, which led me to Camera Lucida, and then I came across Hervé Guibert’s Ghost Image in a Bed-Stuy bookstore called The Word Is Change—all of which are proving influential to my current project. I don’t often take notes, though I’m terrible about marking the page. It feels like sacrilege to mark my books, but I’ve been trying to leave smaller marks that feel respectful of the text as an art object (I feel so silly actually sharing this!).
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
I’ve always wanted to write a crown of sonnets but haven’t attempted to yet.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
When I lived in Charleston, SC, I loved to read on the beach. Now I really enjoy reading at the park or a quiet coffee shop.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
I really enjoy spending time in Prospect Park, especially as the leaves are changing. Dear Friend Books is a great place to grab a coffee or tea and peruse some well-curated books. I love any waterfront park. Otherwise, I still consider myself new to the area and am taking suggestions!
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate my limitations,
And what I release, you may also release,
For every quiet that shines on me as good as shines on you.
My move to Brooklyn was a surprise to me, but it happened in a way that felt like, “Of course, where else?” Time will reveal the why.