I met Jason through The Watering Hole retreat (shout out to the tribe), and was moved by his graduation speech. He spoke of finding his path in ecopoetics, so when I saw him on the editorial staff for Gordon Square Review, I jumped at the chance to work with him. The process was a joyful one. Using Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process, we went back and forth building a space for my writing to shift. Jason had great suggestions and the kind of clear eyed engagement that I love about lovers of poetry.
I’ve been working on this particular poem for years and in its previous iterations it never felt right. The subjects are personal to me and knotted up around my own sense of responsibility; responsibility towards various cultures, towards mental health, towards family. Even my responsibility towards work is implicated in this poem—what it means to be a part of the American legal system. Jason helped me to clarify that, and to look at it gently and continue to turn it over. When we initially met, I talked about employing a haibun form to house the physical and emotional journey of the poem, and that change got the whole work to “click” into place. Contouring further drafts with aware suddenly felt more purposeful and more honest (See Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s essay on haibun, where she discusses aware as “the quality of certain objects to evoke longing, sadness, or immediate sympathy.”). Additionally in redrafting, it felt important to hold myself accountable as the speaker of the poem. That is to say, I wanted to specifically ask myself within the writing what I think I am doing by making judgments on what I observe. As a result, I saw how significant responsibility was; how it emerged alongside sadness as tent poles for this poem. Which makes justice the tent, to extend the metaphor. Justice, and cruelty. I am so grateful to Jason for helping me to objectively look at the structure of this poem, and continue to learn about its nature. The final puzzle piece was the haiku, and as Nezhukumatathil says, if the prose is the bouillon cube, then the haiku is tasting the soup. Animal cruelty is the legal charge someone would face after hanging a dog, and it struck me that the myriad other cruelties within the legal system are features that enhance its efficacy, not mistakes. As a final note, Paloma is not the name of a real client, or any person I’ve interacted with through these events; the name is instead something to hold on to, something much more delicate than the surrounding environment. Many thanks to Gordon Square Review, and to Jason for his time, dedication, and kindness.
Teri Vela Teri Vela (she/her) is a latinx queer poet, bruja, mother, and former lawyer, born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada (Southern Paiute traditional lands). Her publications include poetry in Witch Craft Magazine, The Seventh Wave Magazine (TSW), and others. She is a reader for Stillhouse Press, a contributing editor with TSW, a 2021 summer retreat fellow with the Brooklyn Poets, and a 2021 Tin House summer workshop participant. In 2020, she was a fellow with The Watering Hole and an editorial resident with TSW. Her poetry explores justice, personhood, motherhood, mental health, grief, and leaving an unleavable place.