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Onto today’s theme… does anyone remember when the musician Sufjan Stevens said he was going to make an album for each of the 50 states? He got as far as Michigan and Illinois, and then he said he was just kidding. Maybe he really was, or maybe he got interested in other kinds of projects; I respect it either way. But I still like the idea of all the states getting a tribute. There’s certainly enough history and particularity and regional pride bound up in every one to merit it. Maybe over time I’ll attempt to present poems and stories from all fifty (and should I include territories?)
I have complicated feelings about where I grew up—New York, but more specifically, Long Island, a very specific place—but as I get older I’m coming to feel a stronger sense of ownership of and loyalty to it, nasal accents and all. To paraphrase today’s poem, we all have to be from somewhere.
Today’s poem and story reference Michigan, and manage to capture a sense of specificity and universality at once, which I think is often (though not always!) the task of a writer. Also, this is the first time I’m including a graphic narrative—hope you enjoy.
I remember Michigan fondly as the place I go
to be in Michigan. The right hand of America
waving from maps or the left
pressing into clay a mold to take home
from kindergarten to Mother. I lived in Michigan
forty-three years. The state bird
is a chained factory gate. The state flower
is Lake Superior, which sounds egotistical
though it is merely cold and deep as truth.
A Midwesterner can use the word “truth,”
can sincerely use the word “sincere.”
In truth the Midwest is not mid or west.
When I go back to Michigan I drive through Ohio.
There is off I-75 in Ohio a mosque, so life
goes corn corn corn mosque, I wave at Islam,
which we’re not getting along with
on account of the Towers as I pass.
Then Ohio goes corn corn corn
billboard, goodbye, Islam. You never forget
how to be from Michigan when you’re from Michigan.
It’s like riding a bike of ice and fly fishing.
The Upper Peninsula is a spare state
in case Michigan goes flat. I live now
in Virginia, which has no backup plan
but is named the same as my mother,
I live in my mother again, which is creepy
but so is what the skin under my chin is doing,
suddenly there’s a pouch like marsupials
are needed. The state joy is spring.
“Osiris, we beseech thee, rise and give us baseball”
is how we might sound were we Egyptian in April,
when February hasn’t ended. February
is thirteen months long in Michigan.
We are a people who by February
want to kill the sky for being so gray
and angry at us. “What did we do?”
is the state motto. There’s a day in May
when we’re all tumblers, gymnastics
is everywhere, and daffodils are asked
by young men to be their wives. When a man elopes
with a daffodil, you know where he’s from.
In this way I have given you a primer.
Let us all be from somewhere.
Let us tell each other everything we can.
Who is this guy?
Born in 1960 in Grand Ledge, Michigan, Bob Hicok worked for many years in the automotive die industry (in true Michigan fashion). He has published ten collections of poetry and today teaches at Virginia Tech. His poems are known for their humor, pop culture references, and sense of narrative; they are, as Elizabeth Gaffney wrote in the New York Times Book Review, “marked by the exalted moderation of his voice—erudition without pretension, wisdom without pontification, honesty devoid of confessional melodrama.”
Mr. Ware (Excerpt)
—Chris Ware (Read the rest here.)
Who is this guy?
Born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1967, Chris Ware is among the most well-known and regarded American cartoonists working today. He began publishing in the 1980s, but his major breakthrough came with the 2001 graphic novel, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth. He has since published several more books, including Rusty Brown, which today’s story is from. In an interview with The Guardian, he said of his characters, “I try, but don’t always succeed, to somehow love them all, even if that sounds crazy. I genuinely believe there’s a redeeming impulse of goodness in everyone which is heightened by sympathy, if not by art, and in my own mind the two should be synonymous as much as is possible.”
This one is borrowed from the Gotham Writers Workshop, which in turn borrowed it from the writer and writing teacher John Gardner: Describe a lake as seen by a young man who has just committed murder. Do not mention the murder.
Alanna Schubach is a fiction writer, freelance journalist, and teacher. Follow her on Twitter @AlannaSchubach and read her work at alannaschubach.com. Send questions, recommendations for future newsletters, and the results of writing prompts (if you’re so inclined) to email@example.com