Why I Write: Diannely Antigua
I often say I write because I have to, that I know no other way to live. And it’s true in some regard. I can’t walk around Brooklyn without wanting to make everything I see into a poem. But before poetry found me, (because I honestly believe it found me) I wrote in a diary every day. It started when I was 9 years old after my sister gave me a diary for Christmas. My diaries became a place of refuge from a world I didn’t know how to live in. I grappled with trauma and mental illness in the midst of a strict religious system. Writing was a temporary respite. I could call the diary mine. I didn’t have to prove myself as a worthy believer of anything other than the words I wrote. When poetry finally came along, I was already used to the practice of trusting language. I was receptive to its doctrine—the gift to follow and break and make new rules. I think my subconscious is always looking for a new cult to latch onto. So far poetry has been the answer, a foundational part of my spirituality, a healthier version of “cult.” To me, poetry is religion.
DAY OF PENTECOST
It was August in Canada
when it happened.
They told me if I prayed, it would come
like a flame on my tongue.
I was ten. Almost eleven.
I want to say I remember the smell
of the sisters, their breaths in my ear as they prayed
little wails, placed their hands on my back,
on my pink flowered dress.
I want to say I was sweating
as the beads turned white on my skin,
toes slick, slipping in my heels.
I want to say I got the Holy Ghost
to a Vertical Horizon song, not
the guitar, not the singers in the sanctuary.
Maybe it was the “Best I Ever Had,”
Walkman low on batteries,
still on the ride from Haverhill.
I want to say I was crying about a boy,
or about the hole
in my nylons or my dirty
City Sneaks. I want to understand
why my tongue moved and a voice came out
and the voice said nothing
like something important,
And maybe that meant Save me, or
Leave me, or maybe it was
Make me disappear.
DIARY ENTRY #11: STILL LIFE WITH CHRISTMAS
I will confess to everything:
I will confess I couldn’t find
the Sargento cheese at Shaw’s last week,
that my December romances have been equal to
putting my lips where they don’t belong.
I will commit to the smell
of the old t-shirt one Santa left for me.
Last Thursday, he slept on the floor,
his body another ensemble
of serpent and noodle wrapped in a sleeping bag.
When I say that to create and destroy a second
is to measure the funny noise of existence,
I might be lying.
I saw one of my Santas in a music video.
He made snow angels and hung mistletoe
above the bathroom door.
Through the screen I said
come to hell with me ,
said that I could be a random act
of kindness, that there is
an unnameable accident in my limbs.
Then I showed him my altar and my little fists.
I beat my body
like forty men.
DIARY ENTRY #12: THE BOOK OF JOB
The year the World Trade Center is bombed,
he wants to kiss me one last time.
I’m worth five minutes, I’m worth
mixing certain drugs. It’s a long time
to sit behind the gingerbread door,
to own a sin like a steady stream
of urine on a stick. I’m trying to re-explain
perversion. It responds to a name I read
in a book about eviction. There were ten beds
in the basement. I am the only piece of furniture
In the middle of her forehead
between her brows, my mother
placed a piece of scotch tape,
to keep from furrowing,
from wrinkles, from expressing
anything other than joy.
Once I taped down my eyelids
so I could stop seeing him. He wasn’t
my father, but shared her queen bed,
had arguments about remotes.
The day of his brain surgery,
my mother cried. I was playing
with Barbie dolls, cutting their limbs,
poking them with sewing pins.
My brother shaved their heads.
Then I sliced open soft skulls
like I’d done this before, like scissors
breaking through the skin of a diabetic toe.
On their wedding day, on the top stair,
I don’t know what my stepfather yelled.
But I tried to hold my mother back.
I was too small. She followed him down
the hallway, to the bedroom,
petticoat rustling behind her.