Margin of Error (for Ana Mendieta)

In D.C. I saw a work of art at least two times removed from its creation: A grainy film on repeat, of a woman digging rock, a self-sized hollow where she rested, fit her body (nude) into the space she’d carved out in the stone. Beside a river. She is no longer living, she died young. Cause of death uncertain but suspicious.

I learned I was a natural at empathy, inspiring trust. I held space well.

So many questions can be answered now, we tell ourselves, by calculation, counting stones. When will the sun die, when will I. Why did Mama’s brain get cancer. Best guesses based on math and observation, always room for error and assumptions. Unanswerable are the small things: Where is my blue bra that disappeared? And why that word, on that day. What did we really mean to say. I watch the film on repeat, on a screen beside a small square explanation. Sometimes I don’t want to know, I tell myself. That is a lie. I always want to know, and make up answers. What else is imagination for?

Wren Donovan

3 Questions for Wren

What was your process for creating this work? 

The original version of this poem was in response to a prompt for NaPoWriMo in April – something about a piece of art that stayed with me (the Ana Mendieta piece immediately came to mind), a job I used to have (I was a counselor), and finally a question without an answer, I think? I ended up deleting much of the long original version and keeping this poem. 

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

Like many of my prose poems, this one began as a “lined” poem but did not want to stay that way. As it breathed, it released into sentences and became what I would describe as a one-way conversation. This prose poem feels as if I’m speaking to myself inside my own head, excavating memory and making space for meaning to enter or to drain away so something else can take its place. 

What is the significance of this work to you? 

I love the ideas of “space” that found their way into this poem – creating and inhabiting a physical space, holding psychic or emotional space, “filling in” answers to unanswerable questions. The poem can evoke in me a little of what I felt watching the Mendieta piece over and over – a clearing within me in that moment standing there, an excavation within which words fail but the emptiness does not remain empty. Something about Home, like the home I create/inhabit during meditative dance. Words do fail, obviously, when I try to talk about it.

Wren Donovan (she/her) lives in Tennessee. Her poetry appears or is upcoming in Emerge Literary Journal, Anti-Heroin Chic, Harpy Hybrid Review, The Dillydoun Review, Moist Poetry, and elsewhere in print and online. Wren also reads Tarot, practices dance meditation, and talks to cats. She lurks on twitter @WrenDonovan. Published work

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