A letter on grief to my dead brother

I had to call our mother

To tell her you died.

She wasn’t responding to my texts or calls

So I had to call the nursing home where she worked

And have the nurse’s desk page her.

What’s going on, she asked immediately.

I told her to sit down.

She said Just tell me.

I said are you sitting down.

She said no, just tell me

As if the refusal to sit

Was some sort of protection

From what was coming.

Read the full piece, “A Letter on Grief,” up now at Fanzine

“A Letter on Grief” is, in fact, a letter to my brother. Or rather, a hybrid poem/letter/nonfiction piece I wrote in response to his death. 
 
He died in 2016 from a heroin-fentanyl overdose at the age of 27. I publicly performed this piece in June 2017 at an event I hosted called “Never Sent,” which focused on art/writing/letters never sent. My work has been focused on the experience and performance of grief, lately. It is a trying yet interesting and illuminating place to be. People are afraid of it, but everyone experiences it. I got tired of feeling like I needed to hide it.

Recently published: “I Am Not the Girl You’re in Love With”

“Awake, I think how nice it would be to fall asleep in your bed, to sink in to your cool, grey sheets. The music surrounds me, brings me up. It brings me out of shelter, it breaks something. I open my ribcage like a cabinet, I offer you my heart. Kiss me hard before you go it sings, dripping, as I hand it over.

I hear love where it should be hard and there we are again, another case of crossed wires.”

My lyric nonfiction essay has been published in the 2017 edition of Flights.

I’m thrilled to have my lyric nonfiction piece published in the 2017 edition of Flights literary magazine. See the PDF here, or order a hard copy here (it’s just $8!).

Cosmos, a variation: part i

maybe it was just one last story,

the greatest:

life.

welcome.

nobody knows

evidence was destroyed —

no fear,

no shame.

volcanic vents

and unbroken thread

nearly 4 billion years old

discern day from night.

oh, the things molecules do.


NOTE: The “COSMOS” poems are a true experiment. They’re iterations of previous “found text” poems I wrote, using Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” as source material. They appear in their original form on my Medium page

fixed points in the universe: the homestead

There are few places where the past seems alive and well, where I am confronted with the characteristics of age, items attesting to the inevitability of decay everywhere I turn. But age isn’t a bad thing. It didn’t only mean death, though some days it does. It meant a history. That’s what we heard, my brother and I, as we walked through the backyard, ruling over our tiny kingdom. We passed rusted meter maids with missing doors that had somehow mutated, becoming a mind-boggling hybrid with the earth, all of it dust and rust and malleable material, a handful of silt sliding through our fingers. We passed stacks of hardened rubber tires that had turned shiny, cracked with sun and snow. The pickup truck that came with the property surrounded by voracious summertime weeds that threatened to swallow it. We passed the knotted swinging rope dangling from the tree, so thick it was nearly twice the width of my wrist, and it all sounded the same: a chorus of enticing whispers that beckoned — story, story, story.

Photo taken July 16, 2017 at my family’s farm, Collins, Ohio.

Words and photo by Ashley Bethard.

Some essays take 4 years to write.

I mean, this one did. I turned it over and over again, like stones in water, finding things that glimmered and caught the sun. But there never felt like a real sense of cohesion.

I’d also add that it’s one of the more experimental essays I’ve done. So experimental and feeling/sensory-oriented that I considered categorizing it as something else. But the truth is, it’s the truth. It’s real life. So regardless of how uncomfortable I was putting something that was abstract out there, it is what it is.

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Here’s an excerpt, and you can read the whole thing on Medium.

I think we were supposed to run away with each other long before this. There was that night on the motorcycle, the loud buzzing engine that cracked through the air heavy with rain threat, as we took the backroads and their curves too fast in a rush to get to the lake, my white fingers pressed into your ribs.

You write to tell me you have not stopped listening since I left and your faith startles me. I cannot handle the music right now. There is too much noise, or too much feeling, or too many words. After the song’s opening seconds I am already switching to the next. There is no irony here, only direct correlation. I am, have become, noncommittal. “I am not the girl you feel in love with,” I hear myself say. I am almost telling the truth.

Read the full essay.

How to write about blood

“Basic laws of physics: how to lodge a hook in your head. Treble means three. Simple motions. Hold, run, cast. You tell the story for show now, choosing words carefully, measuring impact, showing ownership of memory. I can tell it too, that is the subtext of what you’re saying. But you’re not trying to compete. You are sharing. This is our memory. You should have some say in its resurrection.”

This essay is about blood, literally: brother and sister and other. It is the hardest thing I’ve ever written. I’m grateful to Rappahannock Review for giving it a home, especially among so much fantastic talent (Brian Oliu and BJ Hollars, to name a mere few).

Read “Of Blood” in Rappahannock Review here.

 

What it’s like to learn you’re semi-deaf

fanzine

“It’s like being underwater: the loudest thing you hear are your thoughts. Voices are garbled syllables with distorted time signals, they are far off and distant. It is easy to ignore, easy to give in to the indulgence of living in one’s own head. This is what it’s like to be semi-deaf, to be increasingly deaf.”

— You can read my essay on FANZINE, as part of their incredible Body Maps series.