i am not this person in waking / i do not believe myself / to be so sad / someone reminds me / i dress like Missouri / washed up / gray is my only color / a joke about misery / clouds brewing in the fields / often i dream
tedium / so as to not shoot myself in the head /i shower too long / i nap for four hours / i dream of getting lost in other dreams / i keep myself from leaving my apartment / i must never watch the news / i double-check if i dreamt something or already lived
it / i know i am feeling / when i’ve been sitting / on the toilet for over half an hour / i lose track of time / i sit down on the bed at 12:32 but now it is 2:17 / i don’t want anything to go on and on / i google “idea of heaven, scary” / The Atlantic says
i am not alone / it too has a name / i am unoriginal / i am very annoyed with myself / i once tried to date a guy / whose initials were ASS / who just posted about getting into law school / i knew he didn’t love me / but we
looked good together in photos / i don’t look like my mother, or my current boyfriend / my skin turns translucent as the temperature drops / i am dizzy / i am seeing clouds again / i am always a feeling
out of place / the wall stains reveal something / is in the water / like we will be left behind / or there’s only room in space for _____ people / or singularity and neural lace / or i was scrolling through pictures of assholes on tumblr
but stopped on a Palestinian boy shot in the heart / the red puddled his shirt
in a cafeteria / and we are reading the room / and we are cutting jokes / and our hair is one deft combination / interlocking swirls and braids and buzzes / and curls on a page / and i am not sure how we all got here / but also i am /
we are sitting in a square / and here we are connecting / blackness, the four of us / and we each go on talking / about therapy / a naming without naming / the four of us comparing / antiblackness to condiments / that shit goes on everything,T says /
and o, how it’s everywhere / it hides and is visible on overturned buns / if given the choice i refuse / sandwiches with mayonnaise / i will only tolerate / if i’m truly hungry / if i notice the condiment sliming / after a bite or two /
we are sitting in a square / respite in the guise of geometry / and T tells us a story of an old time in an office / that is hers to tell / it isn’t funny / but today it is / so we joke about trashing offices of old therapists / who didn’t know /
what to do with us / we will only tolerate / knocking over bookcases / tearing pillows / slinging marble / splatting bulbs / sandwiches on the walls / screaming out our lungs / so everyone hears / we are having too much fun
A few good words with Steffan
BVS: I, myself, am a huge, huge fan of slashes—I think they create opportunities for sexy/jarring breaks that allow for certain kinds of formatting on the page—but that’s just me. What in “adventures” and “talk therapy” led you to lay out the work on the page? What’s vital to you about the slash?
STT: I agree with you! I often use the slash because it provides a lot of versatility and I think there’s more to the slash than meets the eye. As a writer who gravitates toward essay and non-fiction writing, I see narrative as formed in paragraphs. The slash becomes vital to me because it breaks up the prose within a line but still allows me to let words sit next to or on top of other language. It feels like I can still build a “paragraph” or stanza with a traditional narrative arc, but I can be more playful or “poetic” with it. Even further, both “adventures” and “talk therapy” have line breaks between stanzas in addition to the stanza breaks, and I love the rhythm that creates in a way that is different than a standard blocked prose poem. It’s a form I started doing that just felt very right for me at the time. I think what I like most about the slash is that it indicates a simultaneous proximity and interchangeability between words across the slashes. Which is actually pretty unique for one punctuation mark to do! And I feel this blurring of separation and simultaneity is how emotions often work, in a way that language can’t approximate as easily as a slash.
BVS: “talk therapy” is such an important pome to me because it engages with blackness, mental health, & community—three things integral to my existence. What do you find healing or cathartic in writing about mental health?
STT: Thank you. I’m glad the poem’s importance is felt. The real-life moment that the poem points toward is one I felt I needed to record—Black folks finding and supporting each other through it all, in any space. The concept of “blavity” was one I learned in college—Black people being drawn to one another, finding each other even in the most anti-Black spaces. And I’ve been seeing and seeking it ever since. Most of my friends in college were Black (and my closest group of friends was predominantly Black, predominantly queer). I was lucky to have that then because there are few predominantly white spaces where that can happen. The demographics of “the real world” are not so kind. But this poem is about a moment where a group of acquaintances found each other and found a commonality within one another that was really magical. I’d never been in a group of Black queer friends who all had experiences within therapy (good and not-so-good). It gives me hope that moments like this, where we gravitate towards folks that can provide us some healing, can happen in all types of places.
It’s healing to write about mental health because it’s something that so many people have had to be hush hush about for so long. I still sense that my parents don’t quite know how to feel when I say things like “my therapist said x and y”—there’s some unease there. I had a writing professor note in a meeting that she noticed how I and many of my classmates seemed to be writing explicitly about mental health, specifically about going to therapy, and she asked if it was a political thing that our generation felt tasked with. I’m not sure I have that answer, but I do feel like I’m trying to do something in naming or renaming those feelings. “adventures” is a tough poem, because it is so much about those feelings. It’s meant to feel a bit inescapable/dragging/heavy. A workshop-mate told me the poem made them feel “like it was difficult to catch a breath.” I wanted the poem to mimic the hold that sadness can often have on folks. Thus, I really like these poems in tandem with one another. I like “talk therapy” as a salve to the feelings in “adventures.’
BVS: What book is your “summer anthem” book, and what bop would you play alongside it?
STT: Ah! I often find myself returning to The Fire Next Time during the summer because it’s such a quick read. It’s as smooth and quick as summer. I can read it during a flight or on a bus ride and there’s always a new reading or relevance to be found. I’m not sure there are any *bops* that go along with it (and I wouldn’t want to risk sullying James Baldwin’s name) but I really love Jidenna’s “Classic Man” in the summer heat, and that feels fitting for Baldwin. And maybe the chopped and screwed version a la Moonlight for those late summer nights. [Editor's note: I can't speak for James Baldwin, but the Moonlight version of "Classic Man" is a bop of a lifetime.]
Steffan Triplett is writer and instructor living in Pittsburgh whose recent work been published in DIAGRAM, Electric Literature, Kweli, and Nepantla: An Anthology for Queer Poets of Color. His work has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize and was a winner of the Brutal Nation Prize in Prose. Steffan has been a fellow for Callaloo and Lambda Literary and is a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis where he was a John B. Ervin Scholar. He was raised in Joplin, Missouri.