At this moment in time, which of your own poems is your personal favorite, and why?
after Kara Candito
I am looking down into the fishbowl
of the unknown. The filter is whirring away,
blackening the sponge through which it pushes
the water of dreams and television, collecting
static. The fish that dwell here I call
Melancholy and Antiquark—Antitruth
or Antibeauty, I can’t get close enough to tell.
Dear Forgiveness, every time I ask a question,
my doctor smiles and I can’t be sure
if he’s sympathetic or appeasing me. Should I ask
more to increase my sample size or just
touch his wrist and inform him gently
that his watch has stopped? I take
the pill he prescribes, shaped like a bone, overcoming
the reflex to gag and spit and I’ve stopped
feeding the fish their regular food. Instead, I sprinkle
flakes of old paper that bubble and spread
like soap. I only have control of this one stupid mouth, and
I know better than to let the reflection of the sky
pour in from the window. But it doesn’t make
much difference to the fish. They can swim as far down
as the universe goes, and to be on top
of the world or under it is the same thing from space. So, too,
it must be, with reality. The known world has
its own gravity pulling everything to its gnarled, tangible center:
things that appear the correct size in any light—
An iron, an iron. A rocking chair, a rocking chair.
Dear Forgiveness, go ahead. Keep sending me
these photographs of poisonous berries, their
red glister like the blink of satellites. I still want
to kiss you, eyes open, hands
fumbling at the lip of your pocket.
Previously published in Southern Indiana Review, Fall 2016
Why I chose this:
I wrote this poem at a time where I was first confronting a chronic autoimmune diagnosis and beginning to process that in poetry, and indeed, this poem is very honest about that. Right on the bottle, my pills were described as “bone-shaped.” But more than collecting these strange details, I wanted to explore the unreality of attempting to accept and forgive my body despite what felt like a betrayal. I was in pain but blaming myself and my body never lessened that pain. I love how the ending here captures the asymptotic nature of this—I get so close to forgiveness but its forever incomplete.
I also love this poem because it took a long time to get that ending right. When it made its way to Marcus Wicker at Southern Indiana Review with its original ending, he let me know he was interested but asked me to reach out directly if I changed the ending. It felt good to be on the same page about what needed to happen, to be motivated to work on it, and to finally feel as though I managed to capture this unique feeling.
Purchase Unlikely Designs here.
Katie Willingham is the author of Unlikely Designs (University of Chicago Press). Her poems have also appeared in Iowa Review, Kenyon Review, Bennington Review, Diagram, and Grist, among others, and is forthcoming in the anthology The Mind Has Cliffs of Fall: Poems at the Extremes of Feeling, edited by Robert Pinsky. Her work has been supported by Vermont Studio Center, the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, and the Helen Zell Writers Program where she earned her MFA. She is the poetry editor for Michigan Quarterly Review and lives in Brooklyn, NY. You can find her online at www.katiewillingham.com.