Falling in Love with Garamond

“I’ve changed my font time and time again. And now it’s Ariel.”    –Eileen Myles

You used to be newspaper. Linear and predictable. A few verb tense issues but barely any spelling errors.

When you were living near the mountains, you grew fond of a poet with windy hair and red, red lipstick. Her voice was smoky and intellectual. You started carrying around a dictionary to look up the words decorating her sentences. It’s like she spoke a different version of English, one with linen napkins and foie gras. You both shared a love for Bukowski and chai tea. She always had scrapes on her knees and her fingernails were chewed.

When you shared one of your poems with her, she said, “It’d be better in Garamond.”

When she left, you looked up this word because you’d never heard it before and you weren’t sure if it was a color or perhaps a type of sonnet.

Once, she let you kiss her because it was a Tuesday, or because it was raining and you let her use your umbrella or maybe because she like you. But probably because of the rain.

Her lips tasted of Henry Miller and peppermint.

You never told her that you started writing everything in Garamond, which you learned was not a color but a font. A shape of lines and curves. You never told her that you started to forget all about her red, red lips and instead, daydreamed about Garamond, named after a Frenchman. Spent your paychecks on ink for your printer to pronounce Garamond’s figure. You became monogamous with this font, unable to notice beauty outside of its letters and punctuation.

She started to notice. She started to notice that you stopped noticing her. She started to notice that your eyes no longer cared about the various shades of red bled into her lips and instead, just stared down. At your paper. And Garamond.

She had never been jealous of a font before; she wished she had never introduced you two.

You used to be newspaper. Black-and-white monotonous.

Now you are 16th century, Parisian engraved.

in defense of.

“What needs to be defended in writing is what’s offensive.”   –Charles BernsteinI travel with a poet through six states toward a place where there are five banks within five blocks and when I ask where the best place to get a cup of coffee, I am answered with: “7-11.”

We are here for a poetry festival and I feel as far from NYC as one can.

At the University where everything is happening, we go to a Q&A with three editors and hear what not to do as writers. They end it early, so they can catch the art reception happening upstairs in the library where there will be free cookies and crackers. The artist speaks only briefly because she needs to catch a plane and is waiting for her driver to pick her up.

I start to wonder why we are here.

Suddenly,  it is suppertime and the only happening place to eat is a Mexican restaurant, but they serve hotdogsso we head to the cafeteria with three other poets.

Seven dollars to get in and it’s ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT.

As we eat, one poet asks about censorship. How do you know when to hold back what you say? Like, not say something because it could offend someone?

I think about all the rooms I’ve listened to others and all the rooms I’ve shared with others. We could go around and ask about trigger warnings and words to stay away from and gestures that are offensive, but that may leave us in silence.

I told him that if you make someone angry or make someone ecstatic, it’s all the same. You’ve made someone feel with your words. Isn’t that what you want? I asked.

Another poet added that if you feel compelled to read something, then go ahead. If there is urgency, give it space to roam.

Today, I take the stage and suck up my allotted twenty minutes. I think about what stirs me and these infamous trigger warnings.

I just want to feel something. I want you to cause me to write. I want you to give me more words to expand my vocabulary. I want you to cause me to question what I know.

day 20: alphabet

The Greeks called trees alphabets. Each one was a step closer toward a meaning. They scraped and dug toward the many layers of flesh behind the wood and sap.

A  is for axis. How the tree is identified.

T  is for the thickness of each trunk, which alerts the one who views it how long it has been around.

S  is for sunburn; trees are sensitive too.

“Of all the tree letters, the palm is loveliest. And of writing, profuse and distinct as the burst of its fronds, it possesses the major effect: falling down.”    –Roland Barthes (“Barthes by Barthes”)

Even in its massive sturdiness. Even when a tree is accompanied by hundreds just like it in a place called forest or preserved park. Even when the strongest of humans tries to chop it down, the tree remains….even when it falls.


Listen to the alphabet of the trees; they are the best teachers out there. They are the ones who remain even when hunted or burnt.

If you lose your speech, go follow the trail of roots. They will guide you toward remaining.

which way is *here

“All art is a kind of confession, more or less oblique. All artists, if they are to survive, are forced, at last, to tell the whole story; to vomit the anguish up.”–James Baldwin

The reason this all feels like sick exiting body is how it feels when it comes out. Feeling is such pain. Feeling is realness. I forgot I was alive until I carved out all the salt preserving my letters. These words became my lunch and its leftovers, supper. These stories are meals. These stories keep me awake, alive and remaining.

what sits inside your question may sound like an exclamation.

At an Andrew Bird concert in Prospect Park, Brooklyn two summers ago…..the crowd of hipsters and mustachioed beer drinkers congregated around the instrumentation of whistling and suddenly I could not take my eyes off the shoulder blades of a human drenched in sun-tanned skin. At the bottom of her shoulder lay the most romantic and sexiest of exclamation marks. Titled: semi-colon and this is the one which separates two complete sentences or independent clauses. I later learned that it is also used as a symbol for those survivors of suicide. It reminds those who wanted to punctuate their end, by creating more of a continuation. It represents something on the other end…. I like that.

I think of my grammar as semi-colon. It separates two independent selves (probably more than that). It feels far more clear than woman or man.

I’ve got semi-colons sewed into all of my scars and perhaps one day I will make one of these period/comma combos more visible with ink, but for now, I grow deeply enamored when I see them. They are a reminder that sentences — like life — can continue even in the moments you thought you were done speaking or writing or breathing.

Recently, my pen pal gave me insight into a punctuation mark I was not familiar with. It is titled: interrobang.

Imagine surprise stuffed into a question wrapped in disbelief. What??!!  ‽

I like the idea of emotion being birthed out of two shapes living inside each other. We interrobang all the time, though we often don’t speak with thoughts of punctuation at each sentence’s end. We also don’t announce it either.

“I cannot believe you never told me that, interrobang

You love me, interrobang

To me, grammar is dirty talk. It turns me on to know others think about  the construction of language as much as I or that they contemplate words as buildings. Scaffolded syllables. Welcome-mat’d words which desire feet to be rubbed into them before entering. It’s amazing to know the impact of these symbols, collaborating with our letters. Even in the moments I channel Gertrude Stein and let go of the question mark, the sound of it still exists……as does the exclamation


getting louder now.

We compare bodies and languages to learn all the ways we can create hybrid forms of thought. I count the words growing out of your chest. Some are longer and more difficult to pronounce. You practice pronunciation of each syllable into my ear and remind me that I have vocabulary on my skin as well. You encourage me to stretch out my roots and unlatch my silence(s). You welcome my umms. You tell me that this earth is round like our vision. Like our ability to run away but return. When we speak, we not only remind others but ourselves the power and meaning of all these contemplations.

the voice behind the one you’ve been speaking with all this time.

You are going to curve your body into as many alphabets as your lips can fit around. Your tongue loses its ability to bend when you reach four thousand and forty-nine, but you still have two thousand, four-hundred and fifty-one to go and you’ve run out of spit. So you borrow some from your lover in order to complete the sentences you started two decades prior. There may be a collapse during this time. Here is why:

1. There will be a significant moment when you decide that the keratin climbing over the flesh at the tip of your fingers is like a cage. You are deeply uncomfortable by the imprisonment of your nail bed, so you peel each one off slowly because sometimes pain is a necessary part of reminding the body that it still works. After the removal of each nail, you find that the skin held captive all this time is limp and wavy. It may be angry. It may not have wanted this freedom; some things are not always ready to come out when you want them to.                      
2. The ground is not as sturdy as you’ve been led to believe.
3. No one ever told you in science class—grades seven through twelve—that there are actual bones located in the ecosystem of your voice and if you don’t drink enough milk or whiskey, they will not grow properly.
4. Someone may tap you on the shoulder while you are underground, waiting for the 4 train and ask you the sexual orientation of your belt buckle. 
5. What about the letters that are silent.
6. What it means to rummage for a better more accurate sound to let them know that you are not exactly what you’ve led others and yourself to believe.
7. Impermanence.
8. Your knuckles in a bar on the lower east side on a Monday in a bathroom, dark because someone else’s exposed vertebrae turned it that way and you locate the tunnel of a mouth you’ve only just begun to get the name of.
9. This version isn’t exactly deeper, rather like an ironed out Coltrane.
10. Don’t forget to breathe. Hidden in every exhale is a love letter to your former and future. Untwist the question marks into multiple exclamation marks to recognize the static in knowing.

what you were before you were ‘this’


Basked in the sun,
listened to birds,
licked off raindrops,
and only in flight
the leaf saw the tree
and grasped
what it had been.
…………………………..Vera Pavlova

That time a room full of words gathered on a Thursday or Sunday. They spun a bottle, stained glass. Listened to strings and that song. One of them recalled a moment. Another talked about that time. There was an engagement. There was an affair of limited lust on a Tuesday between an immigrant and a poet. Between errands and work calls they shared a kiss over wireless connection. A stranger called the day good. There was coffee and a complete raspberry hidden inside a partially stale muffin. Before yesterday, one of them was still sober. Before tomorrow, one of them will be recounting a moment of trauma in order to get surgically healed of it by a muse further west of here. Before last year, there was so much love, it overflowed into bedsheets. Before the end of February, there will be death. What is left but to notice the trees and that protected patch of graffiti in the Bronx by that artist who died of AIDS. What is left but to forget his name even though it is the same as the others. What is left but starvation of throat and bank account. Can you explain away the envelopes and sores. Leave the sheep alone and start counting swallows. This is what you are now.

how many words are in your lexicon.

for  s.

She told me lovely. I mentioned exist. Another reminded me human. That one deep into Brooklyn said collarbones. He said sad, but clarified more of an exude than a vocalization.

How many words exist (see?) in my throat or lay dormant on my tongue (another one!) until another sits beside me to hear my sounds.

What decides the cut? Is it the music that occurs when each syllable or accent is accentuated? My least favorite word is wound. Is this because of the “oo” sound? As though something tragic is occurring?

She writes that maybe we can find our way back to each other through language. That when we lose one another, we can travel the roads that lead us back through vocabulary instilled on others. These parts of speech are contagious. And like most communicable diseases, it happens without even realizing when or how or where.

One human (there it is) I fell in love with added a “u” into my words and she gave me an accent, which I still enforce into some of my sentences. Another human introduced wicked, an adjective that made another cringe, so I did my best to drop it.

When I teach writing, I ask my students what makes up their glossary. I write all the accumulated (there goes another) words onto the chalkboard to see if there are any similarities. How many are nouns and are there any verbs? Mostly adjectives. I encourage them to purchase a thesaurus and practice replacing their “go to” words with their similarly defined counterparts.

If we stripped our tongues–like we strip our bodies–of words which weigh us down or define us, what is left. What words are we forgetting when we get lost inside the repetition of vocabulary.

this is why I teach.


I can name each one. Mrs. Herkus. Ms. Runquist (now Soback). Ken DiMaggio. Fred Cooksey. Maureen Owen. Bhanu Kapil.

Seventh grade. Junior year of high school. Capitol Community College (Hartford, CT). Smith College Summer Writing Program (Northampton, MA). Naropa University (Boulder, CO).

Each teacher inspired me. One drove me home one afternoon when I was forgotten and waiting. She kindled my love of words. She got me on stage. One told me I could poem. Like…be a poetOne slipped books into my hands that others would have banned. One showed me the importance of threading needles into words to create a new lineage of skin.

When I entered their classrooms, I was no longer invisible. Or the sad one. Or failing. Or falling. They called on me. They challenged me. They never let me get away with “I can’t…”

I ran from classrooms and never would have dreamed I’d be in one again. Especially as a teacher. But here I am, waking at 5am three days a week to travel underground to the Bronx to be inspired. All of my students are writers and I remind them of this everyday because I wonder if maybe no one ever told them this. Sometimes humans are left behind due to language barriers or communicative restrictions. Sometimes trauma takes away our voice. Sometimes it is the one who stands in front of us with chalk marks on their cheap pants and bags beneath their eyes from late nights grading papers who reminds us the importance of not giving up.