Susan B.A. Somers-Willett
Self-Portrait as Interstate 10
Still, the sky is the great equalizer.
Still, I yawn into the visible: yellow sun,
shack, mountains of uncertain
range. What gives life
are two directions: to and away like a decisive
heart. The saguaros wave
in the way of surrendering bankers.
What is it to be a sign, a coffee cup,
the grave of a doll's discarded leg?
I end, I begin, I have known death
and have doubled back. I am the last
gas station on its three stilts rising
out of the sea, or the child born there.
To hear the ocotillo burst
into white laughter after rain.
To be the keeper of distances,
defined by landscape and trash.
To the foal of cows in spring
and the crossing corpses of Texas,
I say, Come unto me. Leave.
Here a cross marks the earth
where three sisters have buried
their animal. Here the dung of a beast
grows sweet to dry in the sun.
To know not night,
but the fading of a lamp. To live
the constant grey of a bayou.
And here, in L.A., here, in Florida,
here in Lake Charles,
towers of sulphur flicker and that hell
singes its lit I's against the good
white clouds. Here swamp, bay,
monument, tin can with a mouth
ragged as a Southern woman and I
am her spine pressed to the bedsheet.
There is no home, only postcards.
No relationship not marked by distance.
Of all things, I am the same
photograph taken at different
times of day: me, the lyric
of truck tires in a deluge or
me, those years of dark
water in a plant's heart or
me, that small animal
blooming in a hawk's fist
not drowning, not waving,
but falling out of the sky.
BIO: Susan B. Anthony Somers-Willett was born in Ohio and raised in New Orleans. After earning a B.A. from Duke University, she worked briefly in the New York City publishing industry as a production manager, editor, and designer. Susan went on to receive an M.A. in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in American Literature at The University of Texas at Austin. She has taught at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she was an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities. She is the author of a manuscript of criticism, The Cultural Politics of Slam Poetry: Race and the Rise of Popular Verse in America.
Susan is also the author of a book of poetry, Roam, published as part of the Crab Orchard Award Series Open Competition in 2006 and featured in the November/December 2006 issue of Poets & Writers magazine. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in a number of periodicals including the Virginia Quarterly Review, The Iowa Review, Indiana Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Verse Daily, and Hayden’s Ferry Review, and she is a former Co-Editor of Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review. She is also the contributing editor for RATTLE magazine's Summer 2007 issue celebrating the 21st anniversary of the poetry slam. Susan has received fellowships from the Millay Colony for the Arts and the Dow Center for Creativity, and her honors include the Ann Stanford Poetry Prize, the Robert Frost Poetry Award, VQR's Emily Clark Balch Poetry Prize, and a Pushcart nomination.
Both a writer and a scholar of verse, Susan teaches college courses in creative writing, contemporary poetry and poetics, African American literature and culture, and gender and performance studies. From 2001-2003, she served as the Assistant Director of the Graduate Creative Writing Program at the University of Texas at Austin. While there, Susan also developed the Poetry and Poetics graduate concentration in English. Her scholarship has appeared in a number of peer-reviewed journals including The American Voice; Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association; Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies; Teachers College Record; and Text, Practice, Performance Journal of Cultural Studies.