To The Woman Crying in the Airport Lounge (After Kim Addonizio)
It will get easier that baby kicking you on the inside
will come out through your own strength on the backs of grandmothers
and shoulders of giants into hands of midwives and it will fight sleep
wean off your breast or off a bottle (it doesn’t matter) and give you sleepless nights
to the point you forget days and weeks in blackness of memory
and it will fight with that brother
who is currently running between gates to Portland and gates to Los Angeles
past the line to the coffee barista because he is too tired to sleep to hungry to eat going dizzy
from the fluorescent lights and he is screaming and wailing
and you sit on the floor of the airport lounge
and hold your head in your hands and cry like him
who is lying there and refusing to get up and banging his fists into the floor.
The gate steward calls Miss, final call, and you say you have no more calls within you because you are too tired to speak so a circle of women waiting for their respective planes who do not know each other or know you will form a circle around you.
One will offer an orange from her purse
one will hum a nursery rhyme
one will offer you a bottle of unopened water that she had saved for her own flight
one will find a toy
and another will just kneel quietly
and in that circle the toddler will calm and you will board your flight
So will they too disband like the end of a farewell concert of a reunion tour
But there will be no encore your child will take flight as will you as will the one in your belly
and you’ll go home ‘listen I love you joy is coming.’
the Same: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Kim Dhillon: I am a writer living and working on the traditional territory of the WSANEC peoples of the Coast Salish Nation on Vancouver Island, Canada. I grew up in the Okanagan Valley, BC, and left a small, remote town for university in Montreal when I was 19 and for London after that. I’ve recently returned to Canada, after fifteen years away, bringing with me three young children who were born in London, and a partner who is English. So I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about homecoming. A lot has changed here since I left, with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the dialogues and debates around indigenous peoples and colonization, and Canada is radically different than when I left, but also very familiar. There’s also a juxtaposition of a country that is very liberally progressive on the one hand, and has many skeletons in its closet. I am a first generation Canadian, and my father is Punjabi, and so my experience of Canada and of colonialism is seeding in my mind at the moment for some current writing. I also write a lot about maternal relationships.
I’m new to creative writing though. I’ve worked for fifteen years as an art historian and art critic, but I’ve grown frustrated with art history and academic writing, so have branched out in the last year into short stories, and then poetry, and creative non-fiction. It’s been a homecoming of another sort, I suppose, returning to creative writing after not having done so since I began my undergrad degree (in English).
I also have an artistic practice in collaboration with Andrea Francke, a Peruvian artist based in London, called Invisible Spaces of Parenthood. It’s a feminist research project which questions the possibility of politicizing the labour of care.
tS: How did you come to be a poet? Have you always enjoyed poetry? Who are your influences?
KD: This is only the second poem I’ve published. (The first was published last month by Big Smoke Poetry, in Toronto, and was a limerick on the collision of late capitalism and climate change). I’ve always been a writer, but only very recently have committed to making it my full time occupation rather than a side project. I’ve been experimenting with poetry and creative non-fiction, and this is where my strength seems to lie as I move away from art historical and academic writing.
As far as influences, I am constantly awed and inspired by the work being published today. I hold Louise Erdich’s work in high regard, as well as the playwright Sarah Ruhl. I’ve recently come across the work of a young, Vancouver-based poet who is getting some well-deserved acclaim, Selina Boan, and her work is incredible.
tS: What was the inspiration for this poem?
KD: The story behind the idea isn’t one that I witnessed first hand. I saw it via an internet news article on one of those feeds that pops up on Facebook. It had been shared by a Facebook friend, who is a former professor of mine from my undergrad at McGill University in women’s literature, Susan Elsmlie. I clicked on the link because Susan Elmslie is a poet of considerable note, whose latest book, Museum of Kindness, really blew me away. The news article was about a story of a group of women helping another stranger in an airport terminal, and I’ve been on both sides of that experience (not exactly as it plays out in the story, but enough to identify with both the exhausted mother and the surrounding strangers), and so I thought I’d translate it into poem (and then of course added and imagined liberally). It was only after writing the poem, and when I was editing it that I read and felt a similarity to Kim Addonizio’s To the Woman Crying Uncontrollably in the Next Stall, and felt the last line should be an attribution as such. I think it’s a common maternal experience to feel isolated and alone in the throes of chaos and exhaustion, and also to feel like you want to help someone who you can see is in the throes of exhaustion and chaos when you’ve come through it. But sometimes that help comes off as patronizing or unwelcome, sometimes it seems awkward or uncomfortable to offer it, and in the experience in the news story, it just seemed to come together like a perfect choir.
tS: This is a question we love to ask everyone we interview . . . Was there a moment in your life when you first understood that words have power?
KD: My PhD thesis at the Royal College of Art examines the use of text in 1970s feminist art and its importance to conceptualism, so I suppose I’m a bit obsessed with the power of words. Many, many arguments, chapters, and sections of that thesis changed in the years that I wrote it, but the title More Than Words, was the title I used in my original proposal and that stuck for eight years. (Yes, my PhD took me eight years. I had three kids during it). I’m not sure I can pinpoint a moment when I first understood that, though I’d hasten a guess that To Kill a Mockingbird played a part in it.
tS: What are you working on now?
KD: I’m finishing up a few pieces of creative non-fiction exploring topics ranging from miscarriage, to my relationship to trees, to class difference between parents and adult children. I’ve got a longer project in the very, very early stages which explores ideas of homecoming. I’m writing a longer article about feminist publishing collectives of non-sexist multi-racial children’s books in the US in the 1970s, which is the output of an art installation of such books, which I’ve shown in Scotland and France in 2017. And as far as poetry, I’ve been using it to address the topics of memoir that are too raw to get at with creative non-fiction, specifically around maternal ambivalence and unresolved grief.
tS: Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about?
KD: Since this poem came about in a roundabout way by Susan Elmslie, I’d recommend her book Museum of Kindness to readers. It’s a book of poetry eleven years in the making and addresses sub-genres such as the school shooting (experienced first hand), and raising a child with developmental disabilities. It was so good that I passed up taking a shower in my toddler’s naptime to finish it.
Finally, let’s spread the love! Who is a female author that you think we should be reading?
Since I’ve already mentioned Sue, I’ll mention another book, though it’s a NYT Bestseller, so not exactly a secret, but I recently devoured Terese Mailhot’s Heart Berries. I read this last weekend, whilst on a more remote island than the one I live on. Mailhot is from the Seabird Island reserve, outside of Greater Vancouver, and the book is really ground breaking in how Mailhot blows open the entire expectation of what it can mean to write from an indigenous perspective, and she writes with a surety and honesty that doesn’t give a fuck about positioning herself as just. There’s also a young Canadian essayist, Alicia Elliot, who is Haudenosaunee First Nations and everything I’ve read by her has been incredibly sharp and astute.
Thank you, Kim, for doing this interview with us, and, again, congratulations on your win! It’s been a pleasure!