You are bad at jobs. Sometimes you run because of the green depression blooming new against your springtime neck, your bulging fingertips blackened. The oil sizzles smug. Fryers lick at your apron. Every smile breaks you. So you quit again, the privilege of walking out never lost on you. You reify missed calls, bedsheets christened in your sad stink. Your lips run white. Your lover showers you with understanding and you barely respond.
You are bad at jobs. Your neck is a fountain of failings, a mountain range of ineptitude. Your fingertips are tea you thought had sugar in it. Your lips are a sky starred with bombs. Your hands are a poem composed by one of your undergraduate students, in which their lover is leaving. Your hands are an excuse. Your lover is leaving. Your hands are always an excuse.
You are bad at jobs. Computers are villainous also Computers threaten to expose every hint of non activity as youve spent most of your workday on the internet hiding that you are looking up ways to kill yourself Computers make all your deceit present tense cause for discipline slack silence in your bosss office when she asks why youve called out again You will never be employable in this condition You have still never held any non volunteer position for over a year
You tell yourself you are too young now for that to matter.
Are you okay today?
Natalie has left the conversation.
You are bad at jobs. For instance, you are always outing yourself to a man at a job. For instance, your stepdad, whom you texted while taking a shit at the shit bar where you worked and figured, while I’m in the business of getting shit out.
You are bad at jobs, but every time your folks text you, you’re reminded that you used to be an editor (voluntary—you are an editor, not a liar, though some folks don’t seem to know the difference) and you resist the urge to passive-aggressively correct the grammar, syntax, and diction of their messages then send back the red-marked boxes, usage error, misplaced modifier, vague, remove comma, Is this the word you mean here?
You are bad at jobs. Must every piece be a new opportunity to demonize your family? And here this essay was about work. Will you quote-mine them like a poorly written news article, which is to say, literally anything you’ve read in the Awake! Magazine? So much shade, and here this essay was about work. This time, just once, will you write them into loving you aloud?
No not yet. Your mom is very upset about it. I’m not happy with it either. That goes totally against what the Bible teaches. I am not speaking from a JW point of view. I don’t understand why or how.
Natalie is typing a message…
You having homosexual feelings towards another is not something new for so many people, yet they are able to put them aside to have the best life ever. If/when you decide to truly come home, you know where we are. I love you dearly, but I love Jehovah the most.
Natalie is typing a message…
I think about you, our childhood, and the hopeful future with you in it every single day. My first love and loyalty is to Jehovah 1 Cor. 5:6-13.
Natalie is typing a message…
You are still my baby girl.
Don’t think that my heart doesn’t ache. It does.
I love you Natalie from the bottom of the heart.
This essay is not compelling at all. This essay is not an essay at all. You should stop writing.
You are bad at jobs.
A few good words with Natalie
BVS: Just like you, I think a lot about mouths (lips, tongues, teeth, that palette). I am, perhaps, detrimentally drawn to writing about mouths. In reading “What I mean to say,” I thought that maybe there’s something to the fixation—the way we are measured by (and in) our mouths; the way they become organs of sex or violence, depending; how many of us speak with our mouths, thus building ourselves with ourselves. You have so many delicious uses of the image of the mouth, and so I come to my question which is: out of our whole damn bodies, why this?
NS: I think of my work as intimately concerned with tensions both internal and external to the self, and the mouth strikes me as a primary site of so many tensions—right down to whether we sustain ourselves or allow ourselves to perish. In addition to what you highlight above, the work of constructing the myths of ourselves, the mouth is so often the bridge between us and the world, between what we take in and exclude or even expel. I feel like I’m often fighting against consuming what will harm me or being consumed. And then there are the obvious intonations of desire: to know deeply, to feed our bodies with some flavor of experience. The push and pull between desire and resistance drives so much of my writing.
BVS: The work of work, the work of writing, the work of not loving or loving, not speaking or speaking to your family, as you write, “a mountain range of ineptitude.” I love this poem for its multivalence. What is the work of making poems to you?
NS: I denied it for years, but I’ve come to accept that I’m often strategically forgetful. I realized that I’d stopped making a point of remembering anything—the bad experiences so that I wouldn’t re-experience them, and the good experiences so that I could never miss feeling happy while in the midst of difficulties. So for me, the work of making poems is that of both surviving and of bearing witness, resisting my impulse toward self-erasure and thus the erasure of all those whom I carry with me in my blood and in my memory. I think particularly of Toni Morrison’s “re-memory” as an act of creation, the way that Black folks knowing and re-telling our histories is an act of subversion. Creating poems is my commitment to what precedes me and that which will follow me.
BVS: Who’s making work that’s taking up the page in strange and fiery ways? Who’s playing in the margins really well? [My favs page-fucker-uppers are Doug Kearney and Lillian-Yvonne Bertram.]
NS: I talk about her so often that I feel like a broken record, but I am absolutely enthralled with Sharon Bridgforth’s work. I remember reading love/conjure blues for the first time while sitting in a waiting room and feeling thrilled to see binarism and monovocality broken not only in content but also in form. Experiencing the page as a queer space freed me from many of the arbitrary constraints that choked my writing for a long time.
Natalie Sharp is a Black queer writer, dancer, and activist based in Denver, CO. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing with a concentration in poetry at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where she also teaches undergraduate creative writing. Natalie was a 2016 Pushcart Prize nominee and a 2017 Lambda Literary Emerging LGBTQ Voices Fellow in poetry. She is a finalist for the 2017 Frontier Poetry Award for New Poets.