In celebration of National Poetry Month, The Writer’s Center is spotlighting the work of Poet Lore contributors. This installment includes a brief Q & A with author Matt Terhune about his poem, “We Grew Up” (Poet Lore 110 3/4).
WE GREW UP
BY MATT TERHUNE
Even now, we walk through each day
dressed in our grief:
our inked denim
rolled above black oxfords, our
steamed flannel, our skinny jeans, our
taut woolen suits, our bodies
branded and waxed, our chests lush
with hair, our newsboy caps
and molting boas, our infinite drag.
Haven’t we been trailed each moment
by the ghost with champagne press-ons
and streetlamp jewels?
Didn’t we follow the path of what
haunted us most, tracking game
without weapons, those claws,
the massive jaw? We found each other
everywhere: through perfect holes
in arcades, our limbs rinsed
in the cinema’s light, in elevators, on
office desks, over steering wheels, in
backseats, the soles of our feet
pressed against the soft underbelly
of the roof, the felted grottoes
of truck cabs, in bathrooms, over
rest-stop sinks, on top, on bottom, on our
knees, over our heads, in the bedrooms
of too many men we didn’t know.
Maybe we share more than a name, our bodies,
given over to us and used. Maybe we
divide our dread, our desire that drives
us into each other’s arms. They’ll say
we killed ourselves and each other
but maybe we only wanted
what was ours, our own imprint
of anything we dare call love
in our fathers’ wake.
Maybe we weren’t born
to be saved. Maybe this
is our heaven.
Sarah Katz: "We Grew Up" reads to me as an intimate speech addressed to individuals who identify as LBGTQI. I was particularly drawn to the way you indented the stanzas following the fifth stanza, which starts with the line, "Didn't we follow the path of what." The question and the stylistic choice to indent gave the poem a greater speed even though these stanzas retain the structure of the previous stanzas. The anaphoric refrain of "maybes" also seemed to contribute to the poem's urgency, especially with the stunning revelations of the final lines. How is the white space, in your opinion, contributing to the poem?
Matt Terhune: “We Grew Up” is one of those poems that just had its way with me. In retrospect, I had been terrified to explore the matrix of identity issues here—desire, sex, shame, grief—and that fear had a paralyzing effect on my writing. The speaker was having none of that dread. He charged headlong into it and through it and dragged me with him. In some ways, this was my only means of regaining movement as a poet, a path, however rocky, as opposed to a complete shutdown.
So I wanted to give that breathless moment in the last several stanzas some room to roll. Still, I think the white space and the refrain of “maybes” also exist as an attempt to mitigate some of the risk in the poem and perhaps betray my underlying anxiety. Can I say this? Do I dare use first person plural?
Matt Terhune is the author of Bathhouse Betty (Autumn House Press). His work has appeared in various journals including American Poetry Review, Antioch Review, and Narrative. He lives in Los Angeles.