Artist Series: I promise it's not all sad
On Writing: Three poems by Jill Prendergast
Every month I am publishing a piece from a contemporary artist I admire. This month, I am thrilled to share three poems by Jill Prendergast. Every single one is a gift, but it’s the first one that I keep coming back to. When I first read “Acts of Love,” it pulled all the air from my chest.
I was in bed after a day that felt full and long, reading it from my phone. When I reached the end of the poem, I gasped and threw the phone onto the floor in one fluid motion like it was suddenly too hot to hold. Not a conscious response, but a visceral reaction; maybe if I could put distance between my heart and the words I’d just read then the grief would leave me, or at least lighten, but it didn’t. It stayed heavy in my body and I sat with my hands over my chest and cried.
Jill is a writer based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She has two poetry books, Mercurial and Maybe Even Wonderful, both of which I own and keep on my nightstand. Her work can also be found in Elephant Journal, Folk Rebellion, Sivana East, Snapdragon Journal, Linden Ave. Lit Journal, P.O.M.E., and The Santa Fe Literary Review.
Before we get into Jill’s work, let’s start with three questions.
» What are you reading right now?
-Psalm For the Wild Built, Becky Chambers
A refreshingly hopeful glimpse of a not-so dystopian future. Feels like landing in a warm place after a hard go. Dedication: “For anyone who could use a break”
-A handwritten notebook of wishes from 1985, written by someone I’ve never met, given to me with the heaviest burden to share it and soak it in and understand the marrow. No pressure;)
-Circe, Madeline Miller
Makes me want to braid garlic and hang-dry lavender and wear nothing but silk.
-Hemingway forever. I’m okay with that.
» What do you do when you’re coming up against resistance and you can’t seem to get to the center of the thing—the writing, the living, the task at hand? How do you get to where you want to go?
What do I do when I’m off-balance? I clean my face. I put on a soft shirt. I make myself a meal or a good mug of coffee. Sometimes I put on that playlist of songs from 2007 and drive the back streets with my dog’s head sniffing the air from the backseat. When I’m really indigo blue I turn inside and out and find an old rom-com. Hide out for a night.
What brings me back to the work? Remembering that the only way out is through the muck sometimes. Sleep outside. Call family. Meet new people, find connections. Put in real time with my craft. Most of all I give myself grace. The less I squeeze the easier it flows.
» Tell me about these three poems. Where did they come from?
I’m working on a theme of the past two years. Maybe there doesn’t need to be one, but here I am anyway trying. I lost my dad suddenly and it still feels like I fell off a swing too hard. Quickly after, my baby brother was taken off life support after an overdose. I finally left a long, tough relationship. The thump of having a breath taken away was constant. Whoosh. I didn’t understand how used to that yuck-yuck feeling that trauma inserts into the bones a person can become.
I let myself fall in love and man, it’s pretty. I leaned hard into working hard on the things that matter. One morning I was standing in my kitchen, looking around at my small new life, breathing it all in. This is nice. You’re still here. All of a sudden this foreign joy crept into my throat and I just messy-cried. I’m not sure I’ll ever have enough bittersweet words to understand this season, but hell, thank you world.
My third book of poems will be out this month, and it still feels surreal to write of being happy.
by Jill Prendergast
Acts of Love
Ear drops at midnight from seawater ache, letting momma be a momma.
Washing plastic to-go containers with a hotel bar of soap in the kitchenette, carefully drying the lids, because this is home today, tomorrow. Turning off the clock for a month. It is watching The Office reruns in the room at the end of the quiet hall, sunlight dancing through the window onto the wooden hospice floor.
“He’s so handsome, oh wow”. Nurses wondering about his story in this old building of decay.
Washing our small suitcases of clothes in the quarter laundry machine. Florida colors swirling. “Should we buy something nice to wear for it? When is it?
It is sun-browned shoulders from phone calls by the hospital fountain. Sending updates, worded gently to the grandparent’s waning minds and fragile dementia.
Laughing over 20 year-old inside jokes.
Agonizing in bed over turning off the feeding tube. The breaking decision to let him go.
Reading old texts from the family group chat. Finally watching those music videos he sent. Listening to pop songs because he liked them.
His oldest sister applying lip balm to his cracked mouth.
Picking out deodorant at Walgreens for his 23 year-old body. What smell would he like?
Wearing earrings for him, in case his rolling eyes land upon them for a few seconds.
Prayers that fill the room like confetti.
Are you there? Do you want to go now?
I promise it's not all sad.
Yesterday I laughed and snorted and kissed pink nipples and howled at the moon and I ate homemade salsa and understood how everything happens at once when my dog’s teeth chatter with anxiety and the cat croaks out sweet thank you’s and the drink goes down too smooth and a bath won’t satiate desire
I promise that I will keep trying and that I will appreciate my legs and love my insides with a fervor and never be upset about silver hair.
We danced in and out of the locals at the speakeasy chinese nightclub and were hated with curiosity but a smoke machine and modelo bottles can turn anyone brave and when the tejana stops and the lights come on there is always chicken fried steak at Denny’s to hug yourself with
All I want is to kiss the salty breath of life before it fades and grab everything in my arms the way my mother carries too many grocery bags to the house at once.
I tell her to be careful on that black ice but maybe she understands more than I do yet that the reward is always greater than the risk
You’re Going to Wish You Had More Time
I keep thinking of these words as I move through these new days
I watch the laundry spin and the sun rise and I reach out to old friends and remember
to let love creep over me like a song and learn how to grocery shop for one
The key is in the right butter and not thinking past tomorrow
Giving space to crave both good loaves of bread and a good head of hair to run fingers through in the new nights
I hope that I have the right intentions and I hope that I can be something I would like to be around
Where to find Jill:
If you’d like to recommend someone for Artist Series, please leave a comment with their name and a link to their website or IG.
AFTER/WORDS is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.