I dragged volumes
of a body I didn’t create,
but was responsible for, house
to winterized house. Each renovated
frame bore pencil marks
of a sharp, darling growth.
& in each I heard upstairs, dachshunds
yip in their dreams, your parents creak
bathroom to bed as you
curled closer & I sunk deeper
into your ribs. Each time I knew
when it was time to go
by a new name, it’d be like ripping
off a band-aid, you’d said.
So many hands it took
but from a hangnail it came
right off. A layered mesh
of fabric & flesh, a palimpsest
of posture & habit, till what word was
first, became meaningless.
Each new moon filled
my opened insides, with future light,
the grammarless text of my body
By that promise, I read
& ate of them.
Welcome to the first Artist Highlight! This week, we're talking poetry.
I interviewed Ella Flores, the author of Moonbather for an expanded understanding of her work. Enjoy!
Q: Hey, Ella! I want to start easy for all the people like me who struggle with poetry. It took lots of rereading, but after sitting with your work for some time I found Moonbather to be a little light of hope that sat in my chest. It signifies the possibility of change. For us poetry newbies, please quickly share the themes explored in Moonbather.
Hi, Rachel! Moonbather juggles quite a few images, many of which fill out a theme of metamorphosis. Like you mentioned, this process is imbued with the possibility of change, a process which is nonetheless emotionally complicated for those who undergo life altering events. Moonbather explores the bittersweetness of drastic change, and despite the saving grace such change can be, it also poses the inevitable question: was it all worth it? And while it doesn’t aim to provide an answer, Moonbather is an exercise in comfort.
Q: In Moonbather, you give us a journey of shedding layers but also of recreation. I’ve often seen these concepts presented in a dichotomy. Either the “peeling off layers of extras to get to an authentic self”, or the “make yourself what you want to be”. What is the relationship between these two ideas for you?
In Moonbather, the shedding of layers to reach an “authentic self” is a precursor, and a necessary process, to reach a “recreated self”. I always liked the way Alexander Leon (an LGBTQ+ activits) framed it, speaking to growing up queer, and how for us “the massive task of our adult lives is to unpick which parts of ourselves are truly us & which parts we’ve created to protect us”. Under a queer lens, the poem reinforces how bound these two ideas are. But I wrote Moonbather on a vaguer scale, talking to the massive upheavals of the self that are rarely discrete, be it loss, be it trauma, etc. Thinking about it now, it strikes me that the poem functions in and of itself as a layer of protection.
Q: I think that a lot of people struggle with finding their core self, and further, in authentically standing in that core self. I’m still rooting around to figure out what’s authentic to me versus what is years of cultural conditioning. How do change and growth inform authenticity?
Authenticity is funny. It’s often a compromise between nature and nurture, and for so many, the pain of those two being at odds with each other. Childhood is often culturally seen as a primordial phase, innocence and what have you, but as a child you know so little of the possibilities of the world and of life. I think seeing a past self as ideal, is an illusion. Authenticity has always felt more like a horizon you reach without knowing, as long as you keep going.
Q: There is a sense of deep knowing, of instinct in your poetry; “Each time I knew/ when it was time to go / by a new name”. What does it mean to trust your inner voice?
In many ways, trusting that inner voice is the crux of Moonbather. This is where I’ll get a little behind the scenes-y with the poem. One of the joys of poetry is the line break (quite literally where one chooses to break the line). Being intentional with line breaks can augment the meaning of a sentence. The line you mentioned “when it was time to go / by a new name” breaks on “time to go” and leaves the reader hanging on that meaning before continuing. It’s like having smaller sentences or images within larger ones. Many lines in Moonbather break in the middle of a sentence, quite literally revealing an inner voice. “Each time I knew / when it was time to go” shows the speaker knowing their internal change would also mean leaving that home and place of comfort, shown earlier in the poem.
Q: I was drawn to the connection with nature in the line “Each new moon filled/ my opened insides, with future light,” There is a sense of renewal linked to the cycles in the natural world, such as the phases of the moon. What’s your connection to the moon, and how are you fed by it?
What made the moon such a central image to the poem is its contrasting ability to exist on the periphery while also effecting on the world so heavily. I wanted to undermine the romantic trope of the moon by emphasizing its absence, or technically in its new moon phase, it’s dark presence. I wanted to tie that undermined image to the romantic trope of leaving a hometown, moving across the country, having revelations with a loved one, or undergoing internal growth. The poem points to the pain of being within those changes, of not yet being on the other side. The absence of a visible moon, but faith in that it will appear tomorrow is representative of how the speaker sees their transformation, the promise of “future light”, of an “other side“, helps them get through, whether it’s true or not.
Q: As a photographer who communicates through visual images, poetry seems to be the inverse to me. As a poet, you lead readers to mental images and feelings through your words. Why are words your chosen form of art?
I would like to say I fell into it, but goodness knows I wanted to be a poet since I wrote my first poem in 5th grade. It was terrible. But because of it, I began to write privately, sharing things amongst friends later in high school. It wasn’t until college that my creative writing professor exposed me to contemporary poetry, and it gave me a sense of purpose. It’s little things that are huge barriers between pursuing art or not. As a poet, simply being shown what journals there were, how to submit to them, how to find contests, and that careers were possible with creative writing, was life changing. I could say it’s my art form because a part of me didn’t want those years of writing poems in composition books to go to waste, or that it was the only dream I felt I could feasibly achieve, but truly, it’s simply been the way I helped myself: making art out of experiences, terrible and beautiful, having an excuse to research all my curiosities to incorporate them into my art. It’s the closest I’ve found to potentially helping others with what I do to help myself. And I know I’ll never tire of it.
Many thanks to Ella for sharing her work and thoughtful answers with me for this interview!
Follow what she's up to on Instagram- @theworstflores