August 30–September 5, 2021
Zora Satchell is a Black queer poet and editor who writes about mental illness, family and friendship. She believes that poetry creates space to explore and heal from trauma and allows us to imagine new worlds. She is a founding member of the Estuary Collective and holds a degree in ethnic studies from Colorado State University. Currently she serves as managing editor of the poetry journal Kissing Dynamite and writes a column on film shorts for Drunk Monkeys. When she is not writing, she is obsessively consuming pop culture. Look for her forthcoming column “The Cutting Room Floor” in the Poetry Question. You can find her on Twitter @thecasualrevolt where she lets her typos run wild. This past spring, Satchell was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow for study in Cea’s On I Go workshop about poem cycles.
It’s During One of Our Autumn X-Files Marathons
that she tells me she got a tramp stamp of Mulder’s face.
She stands up fast, flipping up her shirt to reveal
what her low-rise jeans can’t hide.
The art is pretty realistic.
I laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh
[this never happened]
Instead, her first tattoo is of a butterfly,
we sit in the library as I inspect it.
She got it during spring break,
it flies just above the waistband of her jeans
the lines are fading like a scab beginning
to fall away, the ink a little patchy.
She moves away for college that summer
I see her a year later,
me in a tank top and jeans
her, still wearing her long sleeves in July heat
passing a blunt back and forth
behind the little hill at the park.
I’d come to visit
after she’d come home
we talked a lot about our dreams,
how they always seemed to be so far beyond our reach.
She’d scoff and say You’re not like me
butterfly earrings swinging, as she says this.
Like her tattoo, the paint is faded and chipped.
I remember her endless phone calls on Halloween
and not picking up because of class, and homework.
The next morning, the Colorado Springs police call me
saying her body was found by this hill
next to the tree right off the main road.
I know this place well
they tell me she was found with
her wrists slit
fire ants crawling out of her wounds
the butterfly tattoo exposed
[this never happened]
Instead, the hospital calls me that night,
just as I’m trying to return her missed calls,
telling me she had cut herself
but called the cops just in time
to be saved.
When they tell me I can speak to her for ten minutes
she apologizes but jokes that the hill is hers now
she’s bled on it after all.
—Originally published in Drunk Monkeys, August 2020.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
This poem emerged as I was completing my undergraduate degree at Colorado State University. I had spent all four years living in Fort Collins and my time there was coming to an end. I had recently ended a longer-term friendship with one of my oldest friends and I came to this poem with the intent of processing how mental illness deeply impacted how I related to and understood her. She was one of my closest friends, whom I had known since middle school and had remained close to through college. She deeply struggled with depression and had attempted suicide multiple times throughout our friendship.
This poem is mainly interested in understanding what it means to grieve for people who are still living and to wrestle with the constant specter of death as a secondary survivor of suicide attempts. We both deeply struggled with depression, but for my friend it was an everyday battle for her life. She was hospitalized a lot and had a very poor support system. I struggled to be there for her in a healthy way because I was way out of my depth. I didn’t know how to deal with the heartbreak of losing her while also doing my very best to keep her alive. I was constantly anxious that one day I would wake up and she wouldn’t be there anymore. A lot of our time together felt like it was spent staying just barely out of the grasp of our demons. I was happy to play distraction but I wondered how could any of it be enough.
I carried a lot of guilt because I felt like I was constantly failing her, especially since we never felt fully safe from another attempt. There had been several over the course of our friendship and I was always terrified that the next one would be successful. I eventually had to walk away due to our lives taking different paths and this poem was about processing what it meant to live in chronic fear of a loved one’s death. In terms of how I crafted the poem, I wanted it to read like a coming-of-age film, so I revisited one of my favorite films that addresses the loss of a friend, My Girl. I also chose to focus on playing with memory to center the grief without minimizing what my friend battled against. If you struggle with suicidal ideation and need support, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on my film-and-poetry column for the Poetry Question, called “The Cutting Room Floor”! In the column, I explore the overlap between the two art forms and their influence on each other.
What’s a good day for you?
I normally wake up and make some coffee while listening to the newest Poem-a-Day on Spotify. I’ll share some affirmations within my Estuary Collective group chat before heading to the gym with my roommate. I’ll do a twenty-minute workout, return home and get ready to go to work. I work as a temp filing clerk in Harlem, so I’ll catch my train, read on the commute or listen to a podcast. After working for a few hours, I’ll head home to hang out with my cat Bilbo or decompress with one of my roommates before making dinner and doing editorial work. A perfect end is eating dinner with my roommates and talking with them about movies or writing.
What brought you to New York?
I moved out to New York because I wanted to pursue more seriously a career in writing and editing! I always wanted to live here when I was a kid but I wasn’t sure how possible it would be once I graduated college, but then a friend was moving out of her apartment and her spot was perfectly within my price range for rent so I hopped on the opportunity! I’ve been here since January and now I really can’t imagine living somewhere else!
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?
I live in Ridgewood/Bushwick and I really love it here. I’m just a short walk away from the L and M trains and I have roof access. I’m a thirteen-minute walk from the library and there’s a lot of good food places all around my neighborhood, so I’m quite content. I haven’t lived here long but I can say the neighborhood is rapidly gentrifying.
I lived in rural Missouri before this and rural Florida before, so living in New York has changed a lot for me in terms of accessibility.
Spent any time in Brooklyn? If so, when and where? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.
Because I just moved here less than six months ago, before the city started to reopen, Brooklyn is still fairly new to me. I mostly hang out in my apartment, and when I do go out it’s either to Crown Heights or further into Bushwick to visit friends. Both of my roommates have worked as comedians, so whenever I’m going out it’s mainly to support them. We frequent bars like Happyfun Hideaway but I’m still looking for different places to hang out, as well as community!
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
For the last year, my poetry community has been primarily online. I am really embedded in poetry on Twitter and at the start of the pandemic some mutuals whom I had become very close friends with decided to start a collective that centers on providing a community for Black and brown poets. We call ourselves the Estuary Collective and are in our first year of free to low-cost online programming. We’ve hosted generative workshops, published a zine and hosted readings as well as book launches! Brooklyn Poets has also been a huge part of my own community experience. I was chosen as a fellow at the beginning of the year, so being able to participate in the online workshop was crucial and when y’all hosted the first in-person reading a month ago that was another big event! I’m still trying to find my bearings in terms of finding more in-person community!
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
I met Tina Chang, the current Poet Laureate of Brooklyn, at the 2018 Dodge Poetry Festival, where I was blessed with the gift of hearing her read from her collection Hybrida before it had been released. Hearing her talk about what it meant to raise her biracial Black children in such a tender and non-exploitative way really touched me. It made me strive to find the tenderness and vulnerability within to write about my own multiracial experience. I also really admire Chiwan Choi, whom I met at the San Antonio AWP. I was also incredibly moved by his reflections on family in his Daughter Trilogy.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
My poetry mentor was Camille Dungy, who was my professor during my time as an undergrad at Colorado State University. She encouraged me to take my work as a poet seriously as well as to find my own sincere authentic voice. When we were first connected, I primarily wrote about social justice issues in my work (and still do) and I was quite consumed with doing organizing work on my campus. Most days I would come to her office exhausted, scatterbrained and quite frankly running on fumes. I was constantly exhausted by the racial violence happening on my campus and one day I came to her on the verge of a breakdown about it. She told me the work I was doing was important but expressed concern that I wasn’t taking proper care. She then reminded me of the Toni Morrison quote:
The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing.
It was after that moment that I realized I had to approach poetry in a more intentional way. Before that moment I saw poetry as a means of processing the trauma of systemic racism and I still do to a certain extent, but after that moment I realized I needed to build a relationship more centered on intentional care. I became more focused on building community and my poems became more nurturing and intimate in nature.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
The last book of poetry that stood out to me was Plunder by Dorsey Craft. In that book, Craft spends a lot of time exploring the persona of the pirate Anne Bonny. It stood out to me because I love pirate adventure stories and I thought it was really awesome! More pirate poetry!
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith and American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin by Terrance Hayes. Mainly because my list of poetry books to read is never-ending! Every year people come out with dope collections and there’s never enough time to read them all!
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 normally reading five or more books at a time and how I finish books is based on multiple factors like whether I borrowed the book from a friend and how quickly they want it back! I get distracted easily so it normally takes me a while unless I’m reading with a group. Especially since I’m primarily reading fiction over poetry right now (I’m trying to get back into writing fiction), I don’t take notes but I do highlight the book if I own it! I do want to develop a more note-based system since I mainly read as a form of study right now. I’ll ask myself questions about plot and characterization and I’ll jot them down in a notebook. I don’t plan out what I’m reading. I either go by recommendation from friends or BookTok, and if I’m not reading something recommended I’m working through a mental list I’ve built up over the years. I prefer physical copies because spending too much time on the screen has a brain-melting effect. Which seriously impacts my ability to finish a book (as I mentioned earlier I get distracted easily and I blame my Twitter goblin tendencies). But also physical copies are expensive, so if I can’t find it at the library then I’ll get the digital copy.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
I normally write free verse so I’d love to write a collection of sonnets or a double golden shovel!
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
I like writing on the train on the way to work or coming home. I also like to write at Maria Hernandez Park!
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
I’m still in search of my favorite spots, but over the summer it’s been Maria Hernandez Park because that’s a place I can just be!
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate our golden-hour memories,
And what I dreamed of sharing with you in our stolen pockets of time,
For every braided grass of hope in me as good seeking out the smoke made mysteries in you.
I actually live on the Queens side of the Ridgewood/Bushwick border, but my home is where my friends are and they’re all Brooklyn babies!