Lynn Melnick is the author of Landscape with Sex and Violence (2017), If I Should Say I Have Hope (2012), and the co-editor of Please Excuse This Poem: 100 Poets for the Next Generation (2015). Her poetry has appeared in APR, The New Republic, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, A Public Space, and elsewhere, and she has written essays and book reviews for Boston Review, LA Review of Books, and Poetry Daily, among others. A 2017-2018 fellow at the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, she teaches poetry at the 92Y and serves on the Executive Board of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. Born in Indianapolis, she grew up in Los Angeles and currently lives in Brooklyn.
She’s Going to Do Something Amazing
She’s choking on the inspirational music
from the nurse tech’s radio, something about running and fire
but like it’s a good thing, like the fire is what drives all the running
and the running is toward something good and not from something
that when it catches her she ends up here
standing up slowly, blood still trickling down into her sock.
It’s tinny, she realizes when she swipes a taste in the elevator
on her way out.
She passes each of the neat houses with red shingles
near the hospital in the posh part of town
and as she moves further away
the shingles take on an ashen color
the color of steak when it first starts
to move beyond bloody.
It’s the color of the newly dying, is what she’s trying to say.
It’s the color of the world with all the bodies dying.
She’d meant to make a hook rug. Do you know those?
That’s the kind of thing people did before computers
the kind of thing girls did before they were forced to suck dick
in the back of somebody’s car.
The hook rug was of a reindeer, out of season,
and one of these seasons she had hoped
to be done with it and she’d lay it on her floor
like she’d been laid on the floor before and she’d lay on top of it
and she’d pull the threads out one by one
until her fingers burned and bled
and then she’d rage at herself for the ruin
and then she’d throw the whole ridiculous thing away
because whatever made her think she had any talent
for domesticity anyway.
There’s an enduring chart on her.
When they need somebody with indefinable eyes
they call her up, they parade her around and inspect her.
They don’t –what’s the word– they don’t
help her but they like to stand around
with their tongues down each other’s throats
about how hot they are at rescuing girls.
Meanwhile, the blood keeps dripping down her legs.
She takes a job in a video store.
That’s where people located porn before computers.
She watches men disappear
into the back room and she wants to tell them
she doesn’t care what turns them on
but she wishes they wouldn’t look crushed
when she won’t touch their hands at the counter.
It’s not the worst job;
it’s just the kind of job you’d expect a girl like her to have.
But she doesn’t care what you think.
She’s going to get out of here eventually.
She’s going to run triumphant circles around all you jerk-offs.
She’s not bad at basketball, as long as nothing is flying at her face.
She likes the way asphalt smells like sweat smells like rubber.
That’s the grace of being knocked nose-down,
that smell which is richer than skin
which suggests there once was victory even in this defeat.
Some nights at the discount laundry prove exciting.
This is where she finds herself with a scarf around her neck
holding a tissue just for effect. She’s not crying anymore.
All her clothes look beige even when they are the colors she thought
would change her life into a life like other people might have
when they don’t have blood dripping down their legs.
A stray gets into the building and everyone’s got something to worry about
and everyone’s a hero here because they are all so fucking concerned
about the dog, but she’s taking her clothes
out of the dryer
and taking her scarf from around her neck and hanging herself
or hoping to
except she’s too afraid of heights to climb higher than her height.
You maybe imagined her taller
when you picture her at night
when you imagine what holding her down was like—
more leggy, less bruised
about the thighs, about the throat, less hoarse.
She walks past the hospital where they long since took her chart
and used it to wipe between their legs
the hospital where no one remembers her
now that the worst thing
that ever happened to her happened
in the last century.
She stops bleeding.
Eventually, even metaphorically,
she stops bleeding.
She’s going to go where no one knows they can’t see her.
She’s going to go where no one is getting high off her suffering
and then she’ll be approximating a whole person
who may not play good basketball
and may not finish a rug in time for gift-giving
but wait, because she’s waited.
She’s going to do something amazing.
A man on a park bench wants to tell her a story.
It isn’t what you’re thinking.
He wants to tell her about the weeping willow that grew
in his boyhood backyard
in a different, easier land
and so she listens through his accent
and folds and unfolds herself on the bench
for most of the afternoon because his voice is gentle
and because it’s the first time she’s learned the name of a tree.
It’s not that no one ever tried to teach her
it’s that she couldn’t understand
above the screaming.
from Landscape with Sex and Violence
An Interview with Lynn Melnick
KMA Sullivan: Please talk a bit about what you hope Landscape with Sex and Violence offers to others in this time and this culture where even our president is an admitted sexual predator. Do you have a reader in mind when you think of your book being consumed?
Lynn Melnick: Yes, I do, and it’s my younger self. I imagined her being like, thank you for telling my story as I would want it told.
But, along with young Lynn, I think everyone should read this book! Two different men have told me, about my first book, that it was well written but they didn’t feel like it was for them. Seriously, fuck off with that line of thinking, random men! All readers are my readers!
Having a proud sexual predator as president was a curve ball even I would not have predicted, but I’m probably more exhausted than shocked. Which is to say again, yes, I think in this enduring world of rape culture and patriarchy especially, all readers are my readers, and I hope that Landscape with Sex and Violence can offer a space of solace, understanding, and hope to readers, and also inspire some outrage and fight.
KMA: How was the experience of writing and putting together this, your second poetry collection, different from your experience doing the same for your first collection, If I Should Say I Have Hope?
LM: I wrote Landscape with Sex and Violence much more quickly! It took me about 15 years to write my first book, and I love my first book, I have such affection for it and for the poems and I love much of what’s in there. But I think it took me so long to write because I was holding back so much of the time, I was trying to say the things I needed to say without just straight up saying them., and frankly I was still getting over a lot of trauma and writing took a back seat to just surviving.
Then, after If I Should Say I Have Hope came out and the sky didn’t fall on me (or, if it did, I was like fuck off, sky!), I felt brave and I found myself increasingly impatient and angry about patriarchy and rape culture and I just wrote all the poems in what now seems like a four year fever dream which was actually a mess of triggers for me but I needed to do it, and fast (well, fast for me, it still took four years!).
I guess, then, with the first book I was protecting my own mental health by holding back, and I know that was entirely necessary for where I was at the time, and then with this new one I was willing to risk it, but I won’t say it hasn’t been rough. I’m glad I’m done writing this book, for sure. I’m glad I don’t have to write these poems again. Even though I absolutely loved the act of writing them.
KMA: What are some things you do to replenish the well both as a writer and as a woman?
LM: I don’t know! Hmm. Writing poetry is the most exhilarating experience but it really wears me out mentally and physically. I guess I do limit the amount of time I write poetry, but this isn’t on purpose. I really become incapable at some point of creating anything further if I don’t rest. But that doesn’t mean I rest, ha. I am bad at rest, not for lack of trying, but because there is a lot to do in a day. I thought in January that a good resolution would be to try to sometimes get to museums by myself and just enjoy art, alone, for the sake of it. But it’s October and I haven’t been to one museum by myself. Spending time with people I love is always replenishing. Listening to Dolly Parton. Eating candy. Watching Twin Peaks. Obviously I should write a self care guide because these tips are priceless!
KMA: The poems within your book strike an astonishing balance between the speaker’s vulnerability/injury and the speaker’s strength/agency. Please talk about this balance in your collection and, if you care to, in yourself.
LM: I honestly don’t quite know how to talk about this because I don’t know how (or even if!) I strike this balance in life or in my poems. I am very vulnerable and I have been injured repeatedly, in many ways. I have had to be strong and willful to get through all that. I am not alone or special in this. So many of us are constantly navigating the world while being harmed and triggered by it. But we endure, hopefully, and we hopefully lift others up whenever we can. Sometimes when people who only know me through my poems or, like, through Twitter, meet me in person they are surprised by how quiet and shy and nervous I can be. I am not that frequently ferocious in person. I wish I could be as tough as my poems! I wish I knew anything about striking balances because then I probably wouldn’t be such an alternating ball of nerves and tears.
KMA: Are there any recently published books or essays that feel as if they are in conversation with Landscape with Sex and Violence? What do they have to say to one another?
I’d love to particularly shout out Soraya Chemaly who has been writing on domestic violence, rape culture, the rightful rage of women, and the dangerous anger of men, for years. Of all the trending topics, violence against women tends to recede fastest, and I’ve been consistently grateful to Soraya for keeping at it, when I know it’s exhausting. And I’m answering this question as Twitter explodes over the monster that is Harvey Weinstein and his career-long sexual predation. I’m answering this as the actress Rose McGowan has been suspended from Twitter for calling out rape culture. It’s hard for me to consume all of this, because it is terribly triggering, but yeah I feel like my book is in convo with the world sometimes. I mean, I recently received a #notallmen brand of misogynist review in Publishers Weekly, so I am definitely feeling the pushback!
KMA: What question about this collection are you waiting to be asked? Is there a question you think interviewers might fear to ask but that you want to answer?
LM: I have no idea what interviewers might fear to ask because I’ve been asked some really personal things!! Maybe people are afraid to ask me about me impersonal questions?? Maybe that’s where they draw the line!? I wish someone would ask me about language, because a lot of the book is about examining the actual words that make up our culture and our experience within it, about how what we name things and what we are named creates the way, or changes the way, we are treated by others and by ourselves. I wanted language to be very much a part of the landscapes of this book. And I hope I was successful in making that connection.
KMA: Do you have another project in the works? If so, please tell us something about it.
LM: Yes! Thank you for asking! I’m spending this academic year as a Cullman Fellow at the New York Public Library, which is a rare and miraculous gift of space and time to research and write. I’ve never had even close to this amount of time to devote to writing. So I’m working on what will hopefully be my next book of poems, and which is so far centered on Jewish history, the Jewish diaspora, the cold war years — and then also sex, violence, and LA … the usual.
But because I have such an expanse of time, I’m finally letting myself write some essays. I’m finishing one now about the months I spent writing scripts for a phone sex line (it was my first writing gig!) and it’s been enjoyable to be in those different kinds of prose rhythms. Plus, writing prose doesn’t exhaust me the way writing poetry does, as I mentioned earlier. Poetry tires out my whole body by the time I’m done with it, or it’s done with me!
To purchase Landscape with Sex and Violence.