At work I teach English and French. I don’t think about being a poet. My students don’t know that I’m a poet.
I make coffee. I dress. I make sure my kids are up. I drive out of the city into farmland. I unlock my classroom door. And this is why my poems are so spare. I have writing hours, not a writing day. I imagine that when I no longer have to work, my lines will lengthen. They will get prose-like. I will expand.
I married at age 23. My husband and I bought a run-down house in San Antonio that we couldn’t afford to fix up. Nor did we have any skills to fix it up - we were too caught up in our own problems to own or take care of anything. Most of the rooms remained unfurnished the entire time we lived there. When we moved in I declared the back room as my writing room. It had a wall of windows. One night, I opened the door and four feral cats were sprawled across my desk and books. They stared at me insolently. They had come in through a broken window. Later, the entire room filled with moths. The moths nested in all the books. I wrote in that room for 8 years, but never sent a poem out. I never published. I was too cut-off, too internal. The cats and the moths knew it. I don’t remember when I wrote in there.
Some mornings I listen to poetry on my commute. Certain poets from commonplace podcast are associated with specific images from my route. Alice Notley is the apartment complex next to the bare field. Shane McCrae is the steep hill with the 1812 war cemetery elevated above the road and its circle of stones. I want to crane my neck to see them, but I will crash into the ditch. Here I heard him talk about lynchings. Olena Kalytiak Davis is Arctic Island, the ice cream place open at 7:00 A.M., even when it snows. Her voice surprised me as the most incongruous with her printed words.
I’ve listened to hundreds of songs on my route, but none of the songs are deeply associated with the landscape like the words of these poets.
The poets I love while I work on a manuscript are part of the writing day.
This past decade I wrote in bed each night. Proust wrote in bed too and so I am not ashamed of this.
Every time I finish a book, I feel that all the poems have left me. I feel that I am empty and free. When I am ready to write again, I will become aware of the poetry in the space around me. I cannot associate writing with time; I can only associate my writing with space. There is no writing day.
Jessica Cuello is the author of Hunt (The Word Works, 2017) and Pricking (Tiger Bark Press, 2016). She has been awarded The 2017 CNY Book Award (for Pricking), The 2016 Washington Prize (for Hunt), The New Letters Poetry Prize, a Saltonstall Fellowship, and most recently, The New Ohio Review Poetry Prize. Her newest poems are forthcoming in Crab Orchard Review, Copper Nickel, Cave Wall, Pleiades, Crab Creek Review, and Barrow Street.