Poetry: Standing at The Mirror, The Author Writes by Brandon Melendez (with Interview)
This poem, from Brandon Melendez just-released debut from Write Bloody Publishing—Gold that Frames the Mirror—is an affirmation, a confession of acceptance. And while the speaker’s body ripens with a choice: to hate, or to forgive, so much depends on the swing of a single word. After the poem, enjoy our quick interview with Brandon about the process of publishing his first collection!
Standing at The Mirror, The Author Writes A Poem for Himself in Which the Word Hate Is Replaced with The Word Forgive
& while I wait for my eyes to relearn open I [forgive] myself for the slow rise
the deep ache in the crane of my neck from bowing down inside myself
I [forgive] the surrender the swollen knee the bruise on my rib shape & shade
of an August sunrise I [forgive] the fence I could swear was the horizon or at least
a way out I [forgive] myself for imagining a way out is a place I could visit
like a corner café or ex-lover’s thigh I [forgive] myself for loving
those who have harmed me for cooking them dinner & burning the rice forgetting
to add pepper or make myself a plate I [forgive] myself for staying I [forgive]
myself for staying until I left my skin another blanket on the bed until the sound
of a door opening turned each room into a reason to leave I counted each second
alone as a tiny victory until I lost count which is the only victory that matters
please let healing be not a season but the body that still belongs to me & every day
I remember to buy bread to hide the keys beneath the window succulent
or walk along the road dreaming of anything other than traffic is a day I get closer
to a future made better by how I live through it I [forgive] myself for failing
today for falling back into bed & drawing the blinds give me time
I’ll get up I promise I know it doesn’t matter where I go every direction is forward
I just have to get there I take a step & step naked into the shower the water
so cold I forget to breathe my body yearns to follow the pearls falling through
the metal grate to become not quite a ghost but a shadow just out of frame I say no
I [forgive] I [forgive] myself with my body right in front of me
What does this debut collection mean to you as a poet? Does it feel like a turning point, or just another step along the way?
BM: I’ve been sitting with this question all day and debating how honest I wanted to be. I have several thoughts. First, this debut collection truly does mean the world to me. I basically spent the last two years working on these poems every single day, so to finally have them out in the world feels like a long, deep exhale after holding my breath for too long. It’s also exciting because this collection has helped me shy away from pigeon-holing myself as a particular brand of poet. I came up in the spoken word and slam poetry scene, and worried that I might not feel comfortable or welcomed by the literary community of writers, but that has absolutely not been the case and many, many journals and editors helped these poems along the way. So in a sense, I do feel like this collection is a turning point for my writing. While the subjects around identity, heritage, language, mental health, etc continue to prevail in my work, the way I approach these topics from a craft standpoint feels different now than it did when I was only writing poetry for performance.
Something I did not expect that I definitely am still navigating is the exhaustion that comes after writing a whole book. I am in my final year of my MFA and find myself incredibly burned out on writing. I worked so hard getting this collection together that I feel like I need a long break before I consider putting together another project. Of course, the constant pressure to publish and write is real, especially watching peers and mentors on social media seemingly publish constantly. I have definitely stepped away from writing since November (which feels like an eternity but is really just six months), and have learned to be okay with taking a mental break. I have picked up computer programming as a hobby (I know) and still coach / teach poetry and that keeps me feeling engaged with the community I love so much.
Whenever I am ready for my next project, I am excited to dive into it wholeheartedly, and I am okay if it is a while before that happens.
What has been the best reaction from your friends or family?
I was the MOST nervous for my father to read my book. In part, because my folks haven’t read much of my work and so much of the book deals with family and relationships between people in my immediate life. I don’t say anything malevolent or unkind about them, and in fact family is a source of strength and grounding for me in this book. But there are some points that talk about the legacy of mental health and substance abuse issues in the family, and I unpack ways those things have affected me, which I have definitely never talked to my family about.
But of course my father read the book. After he did he sent me a short, but loving email that contained two bits of information. First, he said “this is the best book of poetry I have ever read. Granted, this is the ONLY book of poetry I have ever read”. And next he said that my mom caught him chuckling while reading my book, because he had stumbled upon the poem “American Boy Shares Death Metal With His Abuelo.” He said that he started laughing because I captured his father’s voice perfectly in the poem. That meant the WORLD to me, and is honestly the only feedback I care about. It is so important to me that the characters in my story take the poems where THEY would go, rather than the poem forcing the characters to fit into a particular agenda.
In the process of getting this thing to a press and then to print, what was the most anxious moment and how did you overcome it?
Honestly? I didn’t have a book ready when I found out I won the book contract with Write Bloody. I was new to my MFA and only submitted to the book contest because folks in my cohort were challenging me to start submitting for the first time. I got extremely lucky that I got a book deal on the first try, and I know that. But I can say now that none of the poems I submitted to the original manuscript contest made it into the book. I probably wrote around 100 new poems in the year and a half after getting the contract, 40 of which would make up the book. My biggest fear was just not having something to hand in. Returning to my earlier point about burn-out, I think part of that comes from the non-traditional way this book came together. I knew I had to write every day to get this thing prepared in time. I was pretty disciplined in my schedule, but I would be doing a disservice to a lot of people if I didn’t mention that my friends in my MFA and in the larger Boston poetry community helped me immensely. There are so many people I owe everything to for helping me with these poems.
What do you want readers to take away from / experience with your book?
Brandon Melendez is a Mexican American poet from California. He is a National Poetry Slam finalist, Rustbelt Poetry Slam Finalist, and two-time Berkeley Grand Slam Champion. He was awarded Best Poem and Funniest Poem at the collegiate national poetry competition (CUPSI). His poems have been featured on Tinderbox, Sixth Finch, Button Poetry and elsewhere. He currently lives in Boston & is an MFA candidate at Emerson College. His full-length book of poetry, Gold that Frames the Mirror, is available from Write Bloody Publishing