What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?
The oldest piece in Amenorrhea was first entitled “Fourteen Days After Shima’s Vision,” but is now retitled as “Sunbeam.” It was later published in Pocket In Your Pocket, a Cornell University publication in 2010. It’s a haibun about a very pivotal moment in my life; I was three when my mother died. The poem recounts that dream-like day of how I recall things went. When writing the poem, I remember closing my eyes and pinpointing small details of the truck ride, the sucker, the roadside, the sunlight, and my grandmothers. As I wrote it, I explored the use of verb tense to portray who “is” and when they became “was.” Often, in my writing, as a result of doing so in real life, I look to the land for manifestations of answers to questions and stories.
What’s your chapbook about? How did you decide on the length, arrangement, and title of your chapbook?
This chapbook came as a result of my first “truly” broken heart. Someone I had loved so dearly made an incision at my ankle, reached all the way up and pulled out my heart. And never closed the suture. I’m speaking in a very literal and partial sense here. So as a means of understanding this trauma to my ankle and heart and body, I began to seek out methods of healing. After much digging, I realized I needed to return to the genesis of my first real ache, and that was my mother’s leaving, as described in “Sunbeam.” The second poem, “Amenorrhea,” after which the chapbook is titled, explores just that: a young Navajo girl who struggles with bleeding, who has to create her own ceremony when she’s finally menstruated, and who has no one to teach her how to become a woman. There are moments in the poem where the young girl is grinding corn, as part of her made-up Kinaaldá (Navajo Coming of Age Ceremony), where she sings and chants alone, calling out for help. By the end of the poem, in part 3, an aunt comes to help. The aunt mixes into the earth corn cake a foreign substance, medroxyprogesteron, a medication used to help woman induce their period. And after this the healing finally begins. The final four poems reach into a sort of strange “birthing” experience of a cyst, a lament for having to leave childhood at such a young age, and a failed ode to the doctor who caused so much pain, and finally a story of my great-grandmother whose stomach exploded one morning.
I decided to name chapbook Amenorrhea because all the poems speak to that lack of natural flow in the body and in relationships.
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
I was there first-hand helping in the process of the cover image and design of the chapbook. The editor of Counting Coup Press, Suzanne Vilmain, was instrumental in guiding me as we made decisions and set everything out. Counting Coup Press is a letterpress and so it was amazing to hand set each metal type letter into the frame and bed, and each block for the images. I vividly remember smearing the ink across the roller then inking the type. I was afraid I was going to break it, so I only did it the once. We tore out pages with diagrams of the foot and ankle from a medical dictionary and printed right on them. The outer cover we printed on silver cardstock, this to create a sense of cold and stillness about some of the subject matter. It was altogether an unforgettable and very special experience: imagine a room filled with your own creation of pages next to pages attached to string with clothespins.
How is it similar to or different from your earlier work?
This chapbook is what I would deem my “earliest work.” And again, “Sunbeam” was a strident moment of my life that almost everything about me hinges. And so it is with my manuscript, Rain Scald, which is currently under review at a certain press. Rain Scald begins with addressing the intergenerational trauma of my family throughout the lives of my ancestors. I tell those stories in a very narrative and lyrical way. My current work, however, tends towards the elliptical and perhaps oblique way of seeing and experiencing things up close.
Did you submit your chapbook to contests, open reading periods, or both?
Back in 2009, when the chapbook came together, I was pretty much a novice to everything in the business of poetry: submitting my work, putting together a chapbook, readings, etc. Though I was fortunate to have support from the editor, Suzanne Vilmain, at Counting Coup Press and faculty and friends from the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. After they were printed and bound, I had a few readings and sold all copies but my own, but never thought to submit to contests, open reading periods or the like.
What are you working on now?
Currently I’m working on my second body of work. I’m just finishing up a sonnet redoubled, and along with it, the other poems in the collection seem to meander along the fences of romance. We’ll see if it delves in totally or not.
What role does emotion play within your creative process?
Emotion is everything in my present work. I don’t care if the reader doesn’t understand the narrative, if there is a narrative, but I do care that they can walk away from a poem having felt what I have felt or what I believe someone has felt in the narrative or persona poems.
Tacey M. Atsitty, Diné, is Tsénahabiłnii (Sleep Rock People) and born for Ta’neeszahnii (Tangle People) from Cove, AZ. She is a recipient of the Truman Capote Creative Writing Fellowship, the Corson-Browning Poetry Prize, and Morning Star Creative Writing Award. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Cornell University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Crab Orchard Review, Kenyon Review Online, Prairie Schooner, Crazyhorse, As/Us, Florida Review, New Orleans Review, New Poets of the American West Anthology, and other publications. She lives in Utah.
Around noontime on Highway 666, they are driving to Gallup. It is Pepper’s fifth birthday. My dad is working in Red Valley. Cloudless. He is probably running laps with students. Our two vehicles leave the Chuskas. I want a sucker. Cheii takes me. My little brother, Vince, and baby sister, Billie, are with mom, Pepper, Shelley Dee, and Aunt Vicky in her car. It is too bright today. Two weeks ago my mom dreamt of night birds chanting amidst juniper berries. Today, the land formations look like owls. Mom was smiling in the passenger seat, Billie in her arms. I walk out of the Little Water Trading Post with Minnie Mouse’s heart in my mouth. Cousin Shelley Dee was singing, “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam” with my older sister Pepper. I sit alone, in the back of my Cheii’s truck, spreading rouge across my eyelids. Vince is drinking root beer and Billie is sleeping. It was May. I don’t understand the dream or the land—Grandma clenches my hand as we stand on the side of the road in Newcomb. The sun is taking them: pepper-grass gathered in a pink plastic cup, here Daddy.