No. 53: Christopher Citro
Q. It was great seeing those tentacles and carapaces in “We’re Actually Fabulous.” What draws you to writing about bizarre anatomies?
Thanks! Raised on the lyrics of Robyn Hitchcock, such nouns arrive unbidden. Plus, writing in my Corolla that morning before work—with my Mary Ruefle books stacked on the dashboard—I peered down from the parking garage at my fellow office workers in the rain, and their brightly colored backpacks just looked like carapaces. Simple as that. Whether it was the nautical image of a turtle’s shell, or the unstressed central schwa in those dactyls, I couldn’t say—but tentacles slinked in before the poem closed. Often what may appear bizarre is to me simply the result of describing something as straightforwardly as possible. In Craig Raine’s “A Martian Sends a Postcard Home” he writes: “At night, when all the colours die,/ they hide in pairs// and read about themselves—/ in colour, with their eyelids shut.” And I know exactly what he means. I’m a stranger here myself, too.
Q. Speaking of interesting pairs, your other poem, “Saving Myself (For Something),” features a milk bar and The Brothers Karamazov. High- or lowbrow world building, which do you enjoy more?
As an intelligent person, I understand that distinction. As a poet, it all comes out together in the wash of language. As long as the river’s flowing, I’m glad. I admit to never being in an actual milk bar. I got that from A Clockwork Orange, and though no Dostoyevsky—who is?—the great Anthony Burgess surely counts as highbrow. Have you ever read his verse novel Byrne? I first devoured it while camping alone for a week on a reservoir in Kansas, trying to escape a sort of slow-motion nervous breakdown I was having while in graduate school for Philosophy. I’d also brought with me the first four LPs of James Taylor on cassette. We are more complicated than the marketers and compartmentalizers would have us believe. At least I hope so. Apparently Pringles go incredibly well paired with a high-end dry champagne. It’s all just grapes and potatoes.
Q. The possibility of aliens makes for a good read. What poem would you share with them to best illustrate the human condition?
I’d hand them T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and Ross Gay’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude and let them work it out for themselves. Then I’d ask for a ride on their spaceship, but only if I could bring my girlfriend and my cat. Also my P.G. Wodehouse audiobooks. Then I’d remember that if there really is alien life, it’s likely in the form of extremophiles living deep within a stone, and though I’m no claustrophobe, I’m not sure I’d like a joyride to Alpha Centauri inside an asteroid. Earth scientists discovered gravitational waves a few months ago. I wonder if you can surf on those? That’s another on the long list of questions I’d have for our space sisters and brothers. With “Why this?” at the top, followed closely by “How come we die?” “What is it that cats are really thinking?” and “How can we make love last?”
“We’re Actually Fabulous”
Everyone’s turned into these colorful beetles
with bright carapaces of soft material
inside of which is their lunch. If trundling
is still a word, they’re trundling off into
the wet morning on their way to wherever beetles go.
Some employ hoods to keep the damp from
the tiny strings of themselves clumped
at the top of their head. Some wear knee-high
leather boots to keep the parts of themselves
folded over for direct contact with the planet
dry. If a stranger arrived here from an unknown
land and saw a project manager walking down
the street holding an umbrella in one hand
and a hot cup of coffee in the other, his head
would explode. If he had a head. If he only
had tentacles, those would explode.
“We’re Actually Fabulous” was originally published in The Ochre Issue.