No hay reggaeton sin ti Tennessee is a black tree blur 101 miles per hour, the speed of night Boys in the front, girls in the back I'm scared, she whispers Me too, I mouth back At the house it's MDMA and Rapa pa pai, rapa pa pai Yo no me sé ni su nombre, Pero la quiero If I hold your hand, will you slide into mine? Dónde está mi gente? Estoy con mi gente 1, 2, 3... I think in Spanish I think in English I think in Love I think in All I Want Is You I think in Is This How My Heart Breaks I think in Spanish I think in English I think in Dolly I think in Is This My Tennessee Mountain Home I think in Spanish I think in English I think in Miento Si te digo que en ti no ando pensando Quisiera saber lo que estás haciendo When I drive with / out / you I hold a phantom hand
Michelle Villegas Threadgould
What is the significance of this work to you?
“You Can’t Shoot” has many origins. I was a film major in college and I was told repeatedly by the men in my class and men who I dated, “you can’t shoot.” As in, I needed a man to do my camera work for me.
“But I can and I did.” All of my best films I shot, wrote, and directed. I think many women have stories only they can tell, and this poem is the re-memory / re-telling / re-claimation of that.
I don’t believe in literalism, so I’ve obfuscated certain details about my own experiences, but this is also a story about abuse. I was in a relationship with a man who graphically described killing me and my friends after I broke up with him. He stalked me for close to a decade. On some dark nights, just like in a horror film, I feared he’d appear. I saw his shadow everywhere, he was always in my periphery.
When I thought I got rid of him, I dated another man equally as controlling, and I almost left my family, home, and career for him. Later, I learned he had fabricated every detail about his life, from the college he graduated from to having a terminal illness. I was in a parallel circumstance a decade later.
What is the significance of the form(s) you chose for this work?
Parts of “You Can’t Shoot” are written as a screenplay and use scenes from films with toxic ideas of love. Are those scenes from my life, from my films, from films I’ve seen, or from my imagination? Who knows?
For “Love at 101 MPH,” parts of the poem are autobiographical and parts are not. It’s told in snapshots of a trip I took to Knoxville. I dated someone who drove me and two other passengers through the backwoods of Tennessee in a former cop car to watch the sun rise under the influence. My memories of that night are fragmented, but at one point I was asked to play music and all I wanted to listen to in a place so White ™ was reggaetón. So snippets of songs I listened to by Ozuna and J Balvin appear throughout.
The poem is about contrasts. Take a biracial city girl, put her in the country, in a car going 101 MPH in a black tree blur, and watch the poem unfold.
What was your process for creating these pieces?
For “You Can’t Shoot,” I wrote down a list of some of my scariest memories, like staying in a motel on Valentine’s Day that resembled the Bates Motel and was run by an innkeeper who knocked on our door every thirty minutes, and was clearly on meth. Then I thought of filmmakers who influenced me, Pedro Almodóvar, Mary Harron, David Lynch, Maya Deren, Peter Greenaway, Julie Taymor, and Isabel Coixet, and I wrote about what it was in their films that really moved me. I have a copy of the “I Shot Andy Warhol” screenplay and I reread scenes for inspiration. I took my memories and scenes from films and spliced them into a poem.
“Love at 101 MPH” was written in notebooks on travels when I felt my loneliest. On airplanes or car rides I’d write a few lines— unsure of how they’d all fit together. I was writing with reggaetón as my soundtrack and my companion and I wanted to mirror my experiences with music lyrics in the poem.
Michelle Villegas Threadgould is a biracial, Chicana writer and poet who covers Latinx issues and resistant movements. Her work has been featured in CNN, Pacific Standard, KQED, New York Observer, and Latino USA. Seven of her essays were in the music anthology Women Who Rock, and her poems about Broken Borders were published in the Chachalaca Review.