Poet Of The Week

Teresa Dzieglewicz

     April 20–26, 2020

Teresa Dzieglewicz is an educator, Pushcart Prize–winning poet and co-director of the Mní Wičhóni Nakíčižiŋ Owáyawa (Defenders of the Water School) at Standing Rock Reservation. She received her MFA from Southern Illinois University, where she received the Academy of American Poets Prize. She is the winner of the 2018 Auburn Witness Poetry Prize and a recipient of fellowships from the New Harmony Writers Workshop, the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts and the New York Mills Cultural Center. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in the Pushcart Prize XLII and Best New Poets anthologies as well as Beloit Poetry Journal, Prairie Schooner, Ninth Letter, Sixth Finch and elsewhere. This past winter, she was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow for study in Jay Deshpande’s Individual Artist Development manuscript consultation.

In the hospital, I wake, still believing I belong to everything

 

My body is Highway 1806, snakeskin

secreted in river grass, and the pitchy chirp

of the machine beside my ear, making linear

the story of my pulse, and the meadowlark’s

crushed tail feathers, still ruffled in the wind

of the semis, and the nurses who check me,

and the flies fucking loudly in the grass, and the soft breath

of pencils on the chart. My body is the suspended

ceiling, tiles racing in dirty currents above my head,

and the river-smooth acorn and the crinkled

periwinkle curtain, shushing the room in two.

Tonight I can’t remember the drums’

nightly rhythms and my body is the small jeweled

cries my roommate sends up from her sleep

and the dress coat balled beneath Noah’s head

as his shoulders twist against the vinyl chair,

and my body is a four-inch incision, packaged

in gauze, and the path of someone else’s

scalpel through my spine, and a stranger’s hands

on the small of my back. Tell me, faded blue flowers

of the hospital gown, bag of morphine,

bag of saline, do you think it’s snowing

there tonight? I had to give up a piece of me

in order to walk again. My body is a body, healing,

in a neurosurgery ward. The lights that bloom

along my wired arm are only the EKG.

 

—Originally published in BOAAT, February 2020.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

This was one of those rare gift poems! That almost never happens for me! My general process tends to be something along the lines of crying-while-journaling, drafting-on-paper-then-computer, revising-for-one-million-hours, and finally, the crucial step of adding-and-deleting-articles-until-I-have-a-submission-deadline. This is to say, I am generally a VERY slow writer.

This poem is part of my in-progress manuscript about my time teaching and living at the Oceti Sakowin Camp at Standing Rock during the NoDAPL resistance. I came home from camp for the holidays with an intention to go back, but wasn’t able to due to severe back problems and necessary surgery. It was a strange time, in which I often felt alienated from my body as well as the life and community that I was so grateful to be a part of at the camp. I knew there was something I wanted to explore in these dual separations and when I sat down to write, the poem came out in nearly-finished form.

What are you working on right now?

I am still finishing the manuscript, which has been years in progress, but I think it is getting close! I was also just beginning to dip my toes into some writing about motherhood (and maybe mermaids and climate change?), when this (gestures at the world) all happened. It feels hard for me to follow almost any previous train of thought right now, so I am trying to be patient and gentle with myself and let the work unfold as it will.

Also, I know this is a “what are you writing” question, but I also want to mention that a team of folks is working to reopen the very special school that existed at the camp and I’m lucky enough to support those efforts. We’re also deeply engaged in Covid-19 relief work in the community.

I also co-run a reading series called Further Notice with Jessica Suchon every Tuesday night. It has been such a beautiful way to gather with other folks, celebrate writers with recent books, and feel a little bit human again.

What’s a good day for you?

My answer has simplified a lot lately. I move my body in some way. I read or write. I spend meaningful time with my husband and toddler. I organize in some small way toward the better world I believe in. My loved ones are safe (and hopefully staying inside).

What brought you to New York?

It is the worst most boring answer, but my husband’s job.

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?

This is a complicated question for me. I’ve moved a lot in adulthood (seven states and two countries). Home has technically been Morningside Heights for the past few years. However, we sublet our apartment about two months ago, and came to Utah for work-related reasons, and haven’t been able to get back. We’re also planning a move to Chicago (where my family is), when that seems possible again … so the short answer is, I honestly feel a bit without a home right now.

Back to Morningside Heights though! I love the very kind, very old man who stops me every time I’m out with my child to tell me how beautiful babies are! I love those ridiculously perfect croissants at the Hungarian Pastry Shop and how the generous and lovely staff there used to hold my baby when I went to the bathroom! I love how Absolute Bagels is both the best place to get a bagel AND a Thai iced tea. I love how the playgrounds are filled with four-year-olds who speak every language and want to tell you about their upcoming playdates. I love the poetry book club at Book Culture. I love the turtles bathing in Morningside Park and the peacocks that live at St. John the Divine. I miss NYC, and mourn for what’s being lost where I still call home, and I grieve the life I didn’t know was ending when I left it.

Spent any time in Brooklyn? If so, when and where? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.

Yes! I feel like the majority of my Brooklyn time has been poetry-related, so for me, Brooklyn is vibrant and nighttime and filled with words! The Brooklyn of my heart is the closeness of a room where everyone is awestruck and breathless and deep in the spell of poetry.

Also, once, a long long time ago, I saw an outdoor performance of Macbeth in Bed-Stuy and the audience was filled with kids cheering and jumping around at the fight scenes and it was my favorite theater-going experience of my life.

What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?

I just want to love people! And I want to know that the people in my community care enough about me to support me but also enough to be critical and let me know when I’ve misstepped, in either the work of poetry or being a person. I moved to NYC with a newborn, which, you know, didn’t exactly make me the life of the party and so I was slow in developing a literary community in NYC. I was lucky enough, though, recently to be in a beautiful workshop led by Lynn Melnick. She created such a warm and thoughtful space filled with incredibly special people. Many of us have kept in touch and continue to workshop and those friends have become my NYC poetry community.

Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.

I’m sure there are many poets I love who are Brooklynites, but a few folks who come to mind are Aracelis Girmay, John Murillo, Angel Nafis, Martín Espada.

Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?

I have worked with so many wonderful folks! First off, I would be very remiss if I didn’t mention that my high school English department was beyond phenomenal and deeply engaged in the work of contemporary poetry (hi Brewner and Sampson and Romano and Anderson and Devaud and Mungai!) and I don’t know if I would have considered “being a poet” a real thing if it were not for them. I’ve taken fantastic classes with Jay Deshpande, Lynn Melnick, Ross Gay, Ada Limón and Joshua Edwards.

I was lucky enough in my MFA to work with Allison Joseph, who approaches poems with playfulness and a gift for form, and the late and brilliant Jon Tribble, who read my poems with the utmost care and had the ability to see things others didn’t.

And most of all, I am grateful from the bottom of my heart for my mentor Judy Jordan, who gave me the (found) skulls of small rodents when she liked my poems and drove me to workshop when I had migraines and who has the best dogs and who believed in me even when my poems were soooo boring and who taught me what it means to write a poem with a heart in it.

Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.

I’m in the midst of Natalie Diaz’s Postcolonial Love Poem, and it is taking my brain apart and rearranging it in the best, most exciting way. A handful of the many amazing books I’ve read recently are Refusal by Jenny Molberg, Come the Slumberless to the Land of Nod by Traci Brimhall, Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers by Jake Skeets and turn around, BRXGHT XYXS by Rosebud Ben-Oni. (Also, this list leaves out a lot! And the so many books in my to-read pile that I know are going to be amazing!)

What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?

I’m ashamed to say this and don’t want anyone to know, but I have had Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s Song on my nightstand for many years and in many apartments. I think I maybe love the title poem so much that I am afraid to read the whole book? I might be afraid of its magic?

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?

In an ideal world, I read physical books one at a time (or at least one in each genre at a time). However, what is an ideal world? In actuality, I have books strewn all over my home and because I am often sneaking in a poem here and there while I take care of my toddler, I tend to read whatever is closest and very slowly move through many books at a time this way. I also have an e-reader that was previously reserved for traveling that I am increasingly reliant on with the current closure of libraries.

What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?

I’m currently trying something very new in collaborating with a few people I love, who don’t generally write poetry but who have beautiful voices and stories, and it has been extremely challenging and rewarding and interesting.

Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

Mostly the bathtub. If I could live 80% of my life from the bathtub and just greet people like I was a fancy Victorian lady and the bathtub was my sitting room, that would be perfect.

Also, coffeeshops. I love (and dearly miss) the ambient noise of people living their lives and the sweet and small relationships you can build in a coffeeshop community. Plus, cookies.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

Again, the bookstores. Greenlight. Books Are Magic.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate the iPhone photos you all posted on Twitter;

the quarantine-wrecked apartments, the dogwood blossoms

somehow still shoving their faces into the sun.

And what I scroll as we shelter, you gave to me,

For every moment that breaks me, there is another as good as your face; still here, still you.

Why Brooklyn?

Because Brooklyn Poets! <3