Hand reach toward sunlight over water

Job Finds Divinity in the Everyday

Posted Posted in Blog

By Craig Finlay

“Job Finds Divinity in the Everyday” is part of a new series at Multiplicity focusing on writers and their craft. Each blog publication features original work followed by commentary from the writer on its genesis, giving us unusual insight into both the work itself and the process of artistic creation. 


When Job was bent and decrepit,
his back crooked and legs unsteady
he found himself again ruined.

He turned not to the Lord, expecting
the Lord saw and knew, the Lord allowed
suffering. Locusts ate his crops, disease felled
his goats, his servants made off with his gold

And Job calmly made his way a-shuffle
his legs widest at the knee, to the market
where he sat, head down, hand up, fingernails 
growing long. 

He looks like withered olive branch, a woman said
and he did and few there helped him
for they remembered his cruelties, how he beat
his servants, his daughters, starved them and the livestock
for years, exclaiming this was his will, enacting
a trauma none else remembered. 
He had beat them more when, having ceased 
to beat them, their praise was insufficient 

No matter, this time. Job perceived his patience.
And so he scavenged scraps from the rubbish,
nosed alongside the dogs in search of bread crusts.
Gradually he grew filthy, his clothes fell from him,
he crawled more than walked. A following of strays
developed, trotting along after him, yelping for scraps.

He did not beat them, in the heat and shimmer of the holy sun,
not caring that they only loved him for his gifts.
Finally, content to love something for needing him at all. 

Cabinet

Lying on your back, 
you pressed your fingers
into the notch 
right below your ribs.
You thought your bones 
were arranged 
like a cabinet. 
And then that shift
in the night’s spread of leaves 
that you mistook for a cold front.
You held your arm high
and straight 
like reaching out to God 
just to feel the earth 
try to reclaim some part of you.
Gravity—learning what it means 
to be subject to gravity. 
A sense that someday 
it will pull you deeper. 
Not just beneath the bed
or the house beneath that
or into the Earth, even.
Into something else,
something you can’t say
you ever knew you’d miss. 

Writer’s Commentary

“Job Finds Divinity in the Everyday”

I often find myself thinking about what happened to mythological persons later in their lives. Job is one I’ve thought about more than most. The story is one of the more disturbing in its implications. God and Satan get into an argument over why this guy Job is so good, with Satan claiming Job will behave well only because God will punish him if he’s not. So God decides to let Satan just ruin Job’s entire life to prove Satan wrong. Along the way we learn that suffering is a path to God, who should be feared.  

Growing up nonreligious, I always thought it was strange that this story was so celebrated. And I wondered, too, what kind of long-term effects that kind of trauma had on Job, who realized God’s love was shown to him in the form of immense and seemingly pointless suffering. So, in this poem I sought to imagine Job in old age, having lived a life enacting the same cruelties visited upon him by God. Abuse is something we learn. Children who are abused tend to become abusers. Having pain inflicted on us forces us to learn various coping mechanisms, none of them healthy. This poem is a portrait of a man who was tortured at the whim of someone infinitely more powerful than he was, and the aftermath of that experience.

“Cabinet”

One of the things I love about poetry is how everyone can take their own meaning from a poem. I wasn’t sure what this poem was “about” while I was writing it. I was just thinking about how, when I was a child, I would hold my arm straight up in bed. I think a lot of people did this and I was wondering why. I decided to write about it as a way of discovering how we interact with the world. Like how I used to hang upside down off the couch and let the blood rush to my head. Most of us used to do that, probably. And most of us had a moment where we pulled ourselves up off the couch or the bed and that was the last time. We never did it again. And I think that’s what the poem became “about” as I was writing it. 

Then, one of my friends read it and asked if I’d written it about her. I’ve written a few poems to or about her, so it was a fair question. I said I hadn’t and asked why she thought so. She reminded me that she suffers from a chronic pain issue that manifests in her joints. That, and I wrote the poem to an unnamed “you.” And that’s something great about poetry. Poems can be so deeply personal to so many different people, and for such different reasons.


Craig Finlay is a poet and librarian currently living in rural Oklahoma. His poems have appeared or will be appearing in numerous publications, most recently The Ilanot Review, Little Patuxent Review, Levee Magazine, and After Happy Hour Review. His debut collection, The Very Small Mammoths of Wrangel Island, is forthcoming from Urban Farmhouse Press.

Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin

koi fishes on surface of water

Wonder in Austin’s Backyard

Posted Posted in Blog

By Mollie Gordon

“Wonder in Austin’s Backyard” is part of a new series at Multiplicity focusing on writers and their craft. Each blog publication features original work followed by commentary from the writer on its genesis, giving us unusual insight into both the work itself and the process of artistic creation. 


I’ve long thought I had some sort of gift with children, like how others are blessed with a green thumb. Show me any kid, ages 6 – 16, and I can likely find some way to make them smile. I guess that’s why some people become teachers and others become gardeners. But the very etymology of the word “kinder-garten” would suggest that one needs to be both.

With Austin I feel I am neither. Other kids tell me what chaos they want to provoke in the day’s short-lived liberty, but Austin asks me what I want and makes me choose. He is impossible to get out the door because he is a tyrant about his shoelaces. If we leave and he feels I did a poor job of tying them, he’ll send us back home and make me try again. He has a generally sullen disposition, an unusual degree of inferiority for a five-year-old, and an unwillingness to ever say, “I love you.”

I know it’s selfish, but it means a lot to me when the kids I’m working with show me affection. Kids are prodigious judges of character, like dogs or some therapists. Not yet actors on the world’s stage, they generally say what they feel because there is little to gain from lying about it. So a kid liking you has to say something about who you are. Or maybe they like you because of the extra cookie you allowed them that day.

Austin shows me no affection. He treats me as an old person might treat the aide who cleans the toilets at the senior center. A possible commonality: “We both like the color green!” I try. 

“Girls should like pink,” he says.

Austin is already developing very cemented ideas of gender that I try to interrogate as often as I can. I used to call him a budding misogynist in my mind, but more recently I’ve recognized the error in that label. He has merely learned firm expectations of gender from adults that he challenges once in a while in the form of a stuffed rainbow unicorn. Austin tells me the unicorn is a boy. A spark of hope—I have to find some way for us to connect. All olive summer into amber fall, I search for my way in. 

And then, as often happens, I stumble upon it. He is obsessed with nature, and it translates into every aspect of our time together. He draws pictures for class of his deceased pet fish (named “Bluefish” for apparent reasons), drags me along on nature walks for “fresh air,” and insists we watch underwater cameras when he earns five minutes of phone time. These cams show giant squid, eels, spiny lobsters, and other creatures. Austin has plastic replicas of the creatures littered all over the apartment.

Austin’s other obsession is all things spooky, something I don’t share with him but that ties in remarkably well with his devotion to nature. Most kids would find a recording of a diver coming face to face with a moray eel terrifying, but he is no less afraid of this than he is of Slimer from Ghostbusters (his personal favorite). He speaks candidly about the death of Bluefish, whose ghost he believes to inhabit the backyard. Life and death reside in him like old friends.

In this light, Austin’s particular fascination with marine animals makes sense. They are in the depths below us, and many of them lead dangerous lives. The koi fish in his backyard, though, live like scaly kings. He likes to watch them after tiring himself out on the trampoline. He observes them keenly for up to 30 minutes at a time, never bored, and he retains his observations in a mental diary. The other day, he remarked to me that the koi were closer to the surface than usual and asked me why, always playing the detective.

“Well, what do you think?” I’ve found the best thing to do when encountered with “why” is to flip it. It ignites a child’s imagination and also spares me a lot of guesswork. When I asked him to explain the koi’s movements, he “hypothesized”—a word I taught him—that it was a little after lunchtime and they were straining to uncover any last bites of food. His evidence? Fish food gliding along the surface like autumn leaves on a lake. The fish open their mouths and wait for the food to travel by current to them.

As soon as he’s answered one of his own questions, observation prompts him to ask another. There are only two black fish, while all the others are dappled white and orange like neon paint splattered on pure marble. “Why?” Now he wants to touch them, but his mommy told him not to. “Why?” 

My careful evasion of Austin’s inquiries was put to the test three days ago when we built a snail habitat out of the acorns, twigs, and leaves we gathered on our daily nature walk. After construction was complete, we crept out into his backyard to search for snails to occupy this new residence. The backyard is a pulsing paradise, a little Forest of Arden. Bees and mosquitoes and cicadas produce a collective hum. No snails though: we only come upon abandoned snail shells, hollow with absence. Austin collects these in a gap in the stone wall, saving them for something he doesn’t know yet.

I find a snail that is definitely alive. It’s holding on firmly to the wall with its sticky secreted mucus; Austin urges me to remove it gently. I pull too hard and something cracks a little. When I turn the snail over in my hand its tentacles and eyes are missing. I feel something akin to shock or shame, or both. He sees only that it’s not moving.

“Is it alive or not?”

How do I answer? Telling him the truth would soil me in his eyes forever. I say I think so, but it might just be a little shy. We should give it some space and, um, check in on it later. 

I feel similarly inept when Austin spies something foreign and says: “What is that?” 

“A leaf?” I suggest feebly. 

He bends over it like a restless storm cloud. “It’s a bug,” he declares. 

“Sure, it’s a bug.” 

“What kind of bug?” he says.

“What do you think?”

“I don’t know!” 

Realizing I’m not getting out of it this time, I say it might be a cicada. My thumb isn’t green, neither are my eyes. I wasn’t raised to be cognizant of the natural world—this five-year-old probably knows more of it than I do.

Whatever this insect is, Austin is scared of it. Vampires and zombies are no issue, but this nameless creature, probably dead, possibly living, makes him cover his eyes. I say we should go back inside. I butchered a snail; he found something that actually scared him. We’ve had enough of nature for one day.

On our way back upstairs we run into Anna, the unit owner, who is carrying a torn sheet of printer paper with a bee balancing on it. This bee, she says, just stung her, and now is dying. She explains to Austin why she is dying and why the bee is a “she.” The women do all the hard work tending and protecting their hives, and for this they must die. Anna hurries past us out into the yard, so her bee can pass away under the October sky.

Even after we have washed our hands and sat down on the rug amidst the plastic sea creatures, Austin, who has forgotten the dying bee entirely, can’t stop thinking about the cicada. “I keep seeing it in my mind! It won’t go away!” 

All too familiar with intrusive thoughts, I promise him that the image will fade eventually. To distract him I begin to talk about my misadventures in nature when I was his age, the grubs I used to dig up and the spiders I nurtured and the humongous rock outside my elementary school, which also happens to be his school. I used to climb that rock just like he does now. These stories surprise him, I can tell. Gears are turning behind his caramel eyes. He asks me what’s next. I say lunch. He urges a dance party. Lunch, I say again. He suggests a “compromise,” another word I taught him.

“Okay,” I say. “That I can do.”

Writer’s Commentary

“Wonder in Austin’s Backyard” began as one of four short nature essays I wrote, collectively labeled “Moments in Nature Chronicled by a Convalescing Brooklynite.” This was a semester-long project for my After Nature writing workshop at Sarah Lawrence College, taught by Kate Zambreno. My initial material came from a journal I had been keeping during quarantine. When I shared this with Kate, she observed that I was circling around specific figures—one being the boy, Austin, in this essay—and their relationships with the natural world. I combed through my entries for my notes on Austin; I was also still working with him during the writing process, which was incredibly helpful.

I knew that I wanted to center this essay around a specific image. While I was writing I observed that I kept coming back to the snail shell that was such a rich object: a place of life and destruction, home and hard truths. I also thought of Austin himself as somewhat lost in his shell, which posed challenges initially to shaping him as a character, as I was still struggling to grasp his essence myself. In earlier drafts I went so far as to label Austin a misogynist for his preconceived notions about gender that irritated me; it was only through discussing this with Kate that I recognized the harm in slapping such a label on him, and the need for more compassion towards this influenceable little boy. The frustration in an educator/student relationship can be sizable, but I do believe that compassion is the only way through that, and this is what I tried to lead with in this piece.


Mollie Gordon (she/her/hers) is a queer writer, educator, and theatre-maker. Her plays have been produced by The Bechdel Group and Sarah Lawrence College, and more of her work is slated to be published in the coming months. She will graduate next year with a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence. Read more about Mollie on her website or follow her on Instagram @molliecgordon.

Photo by Rebecca Campbell

boulder

Being Brown with Breasts

Posted Posted in Blog

By Rishita Acharya

“Being Brown with Breasts” is part of a new series at Multiplicity focusing on writers and their craft. Each blog publication features original work followed by commentary from the writer on its genesis, giving us unusual insight into both the work itself and the process of artistic creation. 

Poet

A poet is Sisyphus with a boulder
Words are nothing but bullets made of plastic

Words are something more than just plastic
Ginsberg, Manto, Chugtai were put on trial

A poem can carry the seed of an idea 
A poem is a spine I write into my tongue

I write to save my soul. Save my tongue
I write for you and me to spin some sun

One day the poet will sell all the sun
To keep picking up the pen in defiance

The peak is the moment of victory in defiance
A poet is Sisyphus with a boulder

Foetal Anatomy Survey

Does my chest count as a witness to
my mother’s sob buried in it on the nights
her heart was a sky scratched red
with the sun burning down into the ground
With its memory lost like milk teeth
this country I am a daughter in
will curdle into white chunks
if the scream of the pink oceans
of every mother’s womb is let out
If the gates of the dams,
of every household are left open
Where our questions are drowned 
in a bowl of milk like they would have
drowned us if our mother’s mother
didn’t fly across the milky way to 
Save

Il est interdit d’interdire

You snap the bones 
of our slogans
bury them
in Saffron soil.
Wash our wall graffitis
with tear gas and
Paint propaganda, Paint
them bright yellow with achhe din.

Why does an artist scare you? 

You break into our libraries, 
send our tongues to jail.
You make our nibs stand
with guns pointed at their temples,
watch them break but 
they will not bend.

Why does a student scare you? 

This poem is a plastic gun it wants to believe
Our slogans are seeds
they sprout from the grave you make for them
We have enough blood in our veins to repaint
every graffiti and our nibs may break but 
the splattered ink will land like an echo
Until we have a world where 
forbidding is forbidden.

Why does love scare you? 

Writer’s Commentary:

Each poem is a deep dive within myself as much as it is an attempt to digest this strange, ugly-beautiful world. The language of poetry allows me to examine that which is forbidden to me. When I think of us, those who strive to glimmer on the peripheries of a power-laden center—we womxn, queer, people of colour (and so on), and those who live on the dangerous intersectionality of such peripheries—I think there are caves in our hearts, but boulders guard their mouths. These caves are spaces of unexamined, prohibited power and possibilities. These caves are dangerous because they are us: deep-throated, unknown, and always threatening to swallow their surroundings. And poetry is my attempt at cracking, pushing these boulders, letting in some light into these cavernous depths.

I imagine that my poems are formed like fold mountains. The tectonic plate of what is happening in my life, beyond the borders of myself, collides with the plate of what I am reading at that point of time. This is true for the poems “Poet” and “Il est interdit d’interdire.” I wrote these in early 2020, deeply disturbed by the nationwide protests in my country against the infamous Citizen Amendment Act and the government’s attempts at curbing them. 

Coincidentally, I was also studying the rise of literary theory and the student protests of 1984 in France that raised the slogan Il est interdit d’interdire, which translates to “it is forbidden to forbid.” This is what inspired the title and content of my poem of the same name. The crackdowns on students and artists by authoritarian governments is their attempt to spread fear, to set an example, and show that tear gas and batons subdue tongues, hands, and spines. There is a forgetting, too, that the body remembers. And in India, intolerance is on rise. I dread reading and watching the news because of the hate speech that is constantly spouted. 

Around this time, I also came across a phenomenal collection of poetry, The Tradition, by Jericho Brown. His poems are stories of survival and grit, and this is how “Poet” was born.

I was inspired by the form of his poem “Duplex” because it allowed me to create so many layers of meaning within my poem. As a poet, I often swing between moments of hope and moments of despair. This is reflected throughout my poetry, but the form of “Duplex” allowed me to capture that ambiguity very well. I was reminded of the uselessness of our words against the charges of sedition and obscenity, tear gas sprays, bullets, and water cannons. Helpless, I wrote, “Words are nothing but bullets made of plastic.” The poem “Il est interdit; interdire” also has a line “This poem is a plastic gun it wants to believe.” And yet, I think we always undermine the power of words that contain truth. No wonder that, historically, authoritarian regimes have always been terrified of free speech and writers. Similarly, access to education and books has been denied to women or minority castes. 

I feel I can never share my work with my extended family or relatives steeped in patriarchal mindset because feminist, pro-LGBTQ, and liberal content is seen as moral degradation and deviation from traditional values. I have felt that my content is on trial too. The irony is, at moments, I have been the biggest censor of my own work. The sexism and homophobia I internalized growing up led me to call my work unworthy, disrespectful, immoral. So, each poem is an attempt to “save my soul,” to write what I feel honestly about myself and the society.

I use the symbol of Sisyphus in “Poet” to write about poets who write to expose the weaknesses, problems of society. This is not a one-time task. You can’t write once and consider your job done. As poets, we have to pick up the pen again and again. It is not that the world has suddenly metamorphosed into a horrible place. With every generation, new challenges arrive. One generation of writers passes on the baton of resistance to the next. I have been inspired by the grit of authors like Allen Ginsberg, Sadat Hasan Manto, and Ismat Chugtai. Chugtai was so radical that her story “Lihaaf,” which talked about lesbianism and female desires as early as 1942, caused her to face the obscenity trial like her fellow and contemporary writer Manto. I also wanted to give the myth of Sisyphus a spin. A poet carrying this boulder doesn’t have to be seen as a curse. There are moments of victory; at the summit of the mountain, Sisyphus is victorious, he defeats fate, if only momentarily (I was also influenced by Camus at that point). These thoughts are reflected at the end of the poem, “The peak is the moment of victory in defiance.”

I believe poetry and protest go hand in hand. But while I am writing, I am not conscious that “oh, I am going to protest! This is my resistance against what tries to kill me.” I write these poems because I don’t know how else to survive.

Some poems are too personal, like “Foetal Anatomy Survey,” but I still share them because I believe that they may help someone out there feel less alone. Somewhere, a girl will read this and find strength – if someone else has made it, I will, too. I strongly agree with Audre Lorde’s words that “poetry is not luxury.” Black womxn poet-artists inspire me. I am a huge fan of Toni Morrison, Nikki Giovanni, June Jordan, Maya Angelou, Sonia Sanchez, Lucille Clifton, and Amanda Gorman. Adrienne Rich is another poet who has soothed my soul on many hard days. The poem “Foetal Anatomy Survey” comes from a place of agony and anger. When I think of the trauma and oppression that my mother and her mother have survived, it makes my blood boil. I think this is reflected in the imagery of the poem. But both have taught me that despair and bitterness is never an option. It is sickening to realise that in many states of India, like Rajasthan (the one I come from), Haryana, and Punjab, female foetuses are aborted because there is a preference for male children. Dowry practices further add to the belief that girls are a burden. Even after the ban on sex selection, many clinics continue to illegally conduct foetal anatomy surveys and female foeticides. I am aware of my privilege of being alive, pursuing academics and my passion. And this privilege of voice, this stage I am speaking from, so you can hear our stories, is built from the blood and bones of my sisters and mothers.


Rishita Acharya (she/her) is a student and spoken word artist pursuing a Master’s in English Literature. Her poetry is like her small hometown in Rajasthan, India—simple, growing, but always connected to its roots. You can write to her to rave about poets and poetry at risharockstar@gmail.com.

Photo by Simon Hurry

fuzzy bee on purple flower

When Bees Used to Do This

Posted Posted in Blog

By K. James D’Agostino

“When Bees Used to Do This” is part of a new series at Multiplicity focusing on writers and their craft. Each blog publication features original work followed by commentary from the writer on its genesis, giving us unusual insight into both the work itself and the process of artistic creation. 


A pink-flowering tree concealed a beehive, given away by the swarm’s constant drone. Along the way home from school, I’d duck into the muddy creek bed to stay clear. This was the creek where my cousin caught a snake in a lunchbox and brought it home; I opened it to peek, and Dad hauled me away. After rain, the creek would be a roaring violence, a brown crash washing out old mud for new. Afterward, the creek bed would not resemble itself, though I could never say how. 

I’ll feel this again decades later, walking that same way home I once walked, when I might stop at a familiar mound of grass and ask my brother beside me, Did there used to be a tree here? and he might just shrug. Like I might ask him when was the last time he saw a beehive and he may answer, I’m not sure I ever have. But we have, I know. Like I might now ask my cousin if he remembers that one time with the snake in the lunchbox, and he might answer, Did that happen? in his basement where he has hand-built two-meter glass squares to house the six reticulated pythons he adores. He can forget how things began, but life remembers: from that moment, the boxes got bigger and more expensive, the snakes more dangerous, but it follows a steady course. He might say, That sounds like me. The snakes of now have pushed out of his memory the snakes of then.

These days I grow milkweed and count monarch caterpillars in the garden. They ask me, Do you remember how many butterflies there used to be? God, they used to be everywhere! And I don’t. Not at first. But they point at the bark on nearby trees and remind me: Yellow, furry caterpillars all over the trees near your childhood home, hundreds and thousands of them, so many cocoons they lined the house’s wood paneling with silk. I recall enough to say, I tried to raise them in a bottle every year. They always died. And I, using cotton swabs to pollinate flowers by hand, ask, Do you remember when bees used to do this? They say, No. We did see a bee today. Just one bee, so peaceful in its patient murmur, so yellow and heavy, that we can’t seem to remember. We have lost that world. We have lost even the memory of that world.

Writer’s Commentary

The second issue of Reckoning, a literary journal, begins with an essay by Michael J. DeLuca: “On Having a Kid in the Climate Apocalypse.” It’s powerful. Among his many thoughts, DeLuca notes declining animal populations, and laments that his newborn child might never see salamanders or living coral. I was thinking about that notion a lot at the time, asking myself: what did I know when I was young that our children never will?

A farming co-op nearby was offering beekeeping classes and my wife and I were talking very seriously about bees. It came up that she’d never seen a beehive before and didn’t know what they sound like. I realized it had been a long time since I’d come across one myself. How long had it been? When was the last time I just, simply, passed by a beehive in a tree somewhere?

This question unlocked memories that I… had not exactly forgotten, but had just never taken the time to remember. Once I remembered the beehive, the tree, the creek, all kinds of memories came back, the associations, the people, like scenes added on the front of stories that I knew very well. This all collided with the environmental question I’d been belaboring. I realized that it’s not only the next generation losing these things, but us ourselves, who are already failing to remember them. I tried to discuss it with my wife, but it was too abstract for me to really verbalize, so I ended up writing it instead.

The structure of my essay wasn’t accidental. In my first draft I tried to relate my memories and associations in a way that captured how fast they’d returned to me. It was messy and incoherent, but I liked its indirect abstraction; it was, after all, about my memories more than my thoughts. That first draft was overly long, so lost the sharp pang I’d hoped to achieve. To revise, I set myself a limit of 400 words, which is a much stricter limit than I usually impose. I had to chop off roughly half of that first draft and minimize sentences down to only their most essential concepts, but I did achieve a satisfactory draft of exactly 400 words. To finish, I gave myself back a few extra words so that I could linger in the final sentence longer, wanting to dwell in the solastalgia.

Environmental themes slip into my writing a lot, but with this essay I wanted to strike it deliberately. This essay carries a different feeling than other environmental writing I’ve done, besides just melancholy or even bitterness. This essay, I think, might be my attempt to tell a reader to engage mindfully in remembering, similar to the way that I accidentally managed to remember. It may be an attempt to say: you have lost something, and you don’t remember what you have lost, and you should care about that.


K. James D’Agostino (they/them) is an author and poet, and an editorial assistant for the Ninth Letter literary journal. They have a BA from the University of Houston and are currently an MFA candidate at the University of Illinois. Their most recent work has been published in The Gravity of The Thing and the KAIROS Literary Magazine. Follow them on Twitter @KJRussell_write.

Photo by Jenna Lee