Interview in the Aftermath

by Siobhán Scarry

How do the thoughts move?

With whirring, with wings, with unthinkable thoughts. 

Are you sleeping?

After the year of instant replay, you get to keep the insomnia without the terror. 

What replaces it?

The no-no-no, the blank canvas, a shushing sound of mental static.

Are you writing?

I am trying to negotiate my responsibilities to everyone. 

I’ll take that as a no.

The cicadas against the windscreen, the owl in the backyard sounding the depths of the trees. I am taking it in.

You are taking notes?

I am listening for what the space of the poem can hold. Space of the poem, what can you hold?

Any answers?

I am made of words, but I wear a million sheets of silence. I once watched myself stretch the tape across my own mouth, as if it were my job to fix it there.

You seem surprised by yourself. 

Trauma short-circuits the mind, launches ships of terrible logic. 

Is this why, in one of your poems, you write you “can no longer ... caper in language without inner recoil”? 

To feel free in language seems a luxury. I’m not sure it’s relevant at this time.

What is?

Food, laughter, caring for my child, embodied social engagement, a reading list of second-wave feminism I thought I was “beyond.”

So experimentation is a luxury?

It’s the fractured package language arrives in. But I cannot open the gift or venture toward its logic on the page. Give me the plain-spoken sentence.

Because you believe it is solid ground?

Its fiction still gives me the balloon’s string. And I must travel feeling the grasp of my own hand. 


I can count on myself to keep good hold.

Do you no longer trust the reader?

I may have imagined the reader as a field of kindred someones, or at least someones I could trust. When you lock the door, and the danger is inside, trust itself flies up and away.

Are you willing to speak of the event?

I am trying to negotiate my responsibilities to everyone. 

This sounds coached.

Catharsis may not be worth the collateral. Yet silence cuts the ethical line that has led me to be a writer of poems. 

A delicate question: can you continue writing under these conditions?

Not very well.

So you are trying to not speak of the event and find your way out of silence?


How is that going?

Fits and starts. Mostly fits. 

Do you have any models for this mode?

No one I respect.

What are you writing now?

Work emails. Grocery lists. An essay exploring why feminism is necessary but futile for a body in trauma.

Any poems?

Is this a poem?

Siobhán Scarry

Three Questions for Siobhán

What is the significance of this work to you?

Experimenting with a new form makes every writer a beginner again. In writing this piece, I had to grapple with what a poem is and can be.

What is the significance of the form you chose for this work?

“Interview in the Aftermath” is a genre outlier for me. While I do write in a variety of hybrid forms – the prose poem, investigative poetry that blends the creative and the critical, and more – this is my only exploration so far into the creative possibilities of the interview. The prosaic language of the piece is also wholly different from most of my other poems. Necessity mothered this curious invention.

What was the process for creating this work?

After an event that split my life into a before and an after, I struggled to write in familiar forms and voices. All seemed strange, even and especially my own poetics. For a while, I attempted to write in the old modes, which kept me connected to the page, but I knew I was whistling in the dark. I made some attempts to write about the experience head-on, but I wasn’t ready, and there were many good reasons I could not unlock my tongue. This poem arrived late one evening as a set of questions – the necessary breakthrough into curiosity, listening, and thus care. Writing the piece was restart, rubble, surrender – and hinge, as different kinds of writing opened up for me on the other side.

Siobhán Scarry is the author of Pilgrimly (Parlor Press / Free Verse Editions, 2014). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Cincinnati Review, Colorado Review, jubilat, New Letters, and other journals; she also publishes scholarly work on 20th-21st century American poetries. The recipient of fellowships from the Djerassi Resident Artists Program and the Brown Foundation, Scarry is currently Associate Professor of English at Bethel College in Kansas.