What We Learn From Their Bones

by Sybil Baker

Who will I be like when the air runs out? Perhaps I’ll be a garden fugitive from Pompeii, flash baked before the fumes can kill me.

Or maybe I’ll be like my father, body choked with cancer, and suffocate in my sleep. Or if I’m lucky, I’ll die like my Italian friend Silvia, whose last words to those who tried to save her were: Testa di cazzo. You assholes. Perhaps that was what they were thinking, those who did not heed the warnings, the ones who hid in the basement storeroom full of pomegranates, the merchant unwilling to part from his wares, the pregnant woman whose bones were green from the gold she wore, sisters twinned by syphilitic disease. They must have blamed the Gods for raining ash on their city, the one they refused to abandon.

Or maybe I will be my horrible self, running at the first sign of danger, leaving you, hand extended, to curse, not the ancient Gods, but instead, me and my kin.

Sybil Baker’s latest novel Into This World was recently published by Engine Books. She is also the author of The Life Plan, a comic novel, and a linked short story collection, Talismans. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous publications including The Writer’s Chronicle, Prairie Schooner, and Glimmer Train, and The Nervous Breakdown. She spent twelve years teaching in South Korea before returning to the States in 2007. She is an Assistant Professor of English (Creative Writing) at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where she serves as the Assistant Director of the Meacham Writers’ Workshop. She teaches in first international MFA program at City University of Hong Kong and at the Yale Writers’ Conference. She is Fiction Editor at Drunken Boat.

You mentioned in an email that the prose poem is relatively new to you. What are you discovering about it and yourself as you explore this form?

    Last spring, I sat in on Richard Jackson’s prose poem class at UTC because I was interested in mostly learning how to read prose poems, and by extension lined poetry, which I’ve never felt as comfortable with as prose, but have admired. I figured that playing with a form that did not require line breaks would be less stressful and intimidating as trying to write lined poetry. Because I don’t consider myself a poet, I felt very free to write crappy drafts of prose poems and show them to students who were more serious about the form. I discovered that my first drafts were usually narrative-driven, more like stories than poems. In exploring the form, I’m learning to write by associative leaps and spaces rather than by following a narrative. Like all writing for me, playing with prose poems is an act of discovery, of my own inclinations as well where the poem will take me.
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