It was a massive complex, with more units than we could count, our own roads to walk down, our own security. I did not know this was more cage than castle, did not understand that a person could live other places and not see an entire family’s belongings strewn across the grounds, even their bras, their silks and laces, even the basket from the dishwasher that held the silverware, spoons and knives glittering in the grass. I was thirteen and had always been lonely. Here, each door could open to some new face that I could love or that could love me. When it snowed enough for the schools to close, all doors did open, a bevy of faces obscured by our winter layers, only our eyes peered out at each other, our arms pulled back, hurtling well-packed snowballs, hoping to make contact. What little skin showed was rubbed raw with ice. Our game was desperate. Our aim was true.
Elizabeth Joy Levinson
3 Questions for Elizabeth
What was your process for creating this work?
I think the spark for this piece was a memory I was trying to sort through, but in retelling the memory, I wanted to pay attention to something outside of my own experience. So as I was writing, I intentionally tried to keep widening the lens.
What is the significance of the form you chose for this work?
I like working with prose poems, especially when dealing with memory. In a prose poem, you can stack images and let the syntax and grammar knit them together in a kind of logical narrative although they may be disparate or even competing ideas.
What is the significance of this work to you?
As a high school teacher in Chicago, it seems my relationship to violence is often being questioned. I think violence is a kind of connection-maker. If I hurt you, I am connected to you. In addition to exploring a moment in which I was hurt, I wanted to reach back and see what I could find about the source of violence and how and when it starts and how and why I was complicit in that violence.
Elizabeth Joy Levinson is a high school teacher in Chicago. Her work has been published in Whale Road Review, SWWIM, Cobra Milk, Anti-Heroin Chic, and others. The author of two chapbooks, As Wild Animals (Dancing Girl Press) and Running Aground (Finishing Line Press), her first full length collection, Uncomfortable Ecologies, will be published in the fall of 2023 (Unsolicited Press).