I Agree In Security


Except when I don’t. During a discussion about Jackson MacLow on the Poetics listserv the other day, Nick Piombino posted the following, “I had the feeling he [MacLow] was talking about going to museums and art galleries or even movies and overhearing conversations where reactions often seem to neglect time for fully absorbing and encompassing an experience. This leads into my recent preoccupation with the positive side of ambivalence. The ability to tolerate ambivalence, or ambiguity, can create an opportunity to wonder, to wander, daydream, to think, to puzzle or figure things out. Full circle: isn’t this often what is wanted from artistic experience in the first place?”

This predilection for ambivalence and the ambiguous (what’s the word for more than two optional reads?) holds special significance for me. I feel like I’m regularly ambivalent, that it may be my most “stable” or steady underlying condition; in fact, I’m fairly sure I seek the condition out and inhabit it, in my head at least, intentionally. Of course, I’m speaking in the abstract; ask me if I want the war to end… there can be certainty too.

Anyway, surely I’m not alone. Security is so desperately and regularly fashioned in our culture; hell, it’s the false-bottom premise of the fast-fading American Dream! Maybe we should consider other options? Why not start identifying & acknowledging the ambivalences, embrace and inhabit them? But I rarely hear someone actually celebrate the condition of ambivalence aloud, except through poetry, and even there, it’s often resisted. The poetry that pulls me is the poetry of the former, not that I can’t appreciate the latter!

Coincidentally enough, last night I was looking through a few issues of Court Green that David Trinidad gave me at AWP recently. I came across this very lovely poem that isn’t “lovely” in the traditional sense, but certainly is for me because it plays with those ambivalences, adjusting, measuring, contradicting, searching, and ultimately, enjoying. Of course, those who know my work will appreciate that the subject matter(s) bowl right up my alley. May you find some new pleasure therein.


In a bathroom with little girls,

I sewed thick black ribbon into my skin,
a corset from the middle of my breasts down
to my belly button. Cuts like stitches.
When I pulled it–it burned it felt
like erotic pain–I couldn’t remove
the entire thing before I had to leave.
I put my dress back on and went to a town
municipal meeting about money.
When everyone began joking around,
I slipped out and went to another bathroom.
A homeless woman walked out whistling–
all gray hair and dirty gray sweatshirt–
saying she was happy and I thought
because she had access to a bathroom.
I had a “date” and had to hurry.
I didn’t want the bathroom after
the homeless woman because I was afraid
of catching disease. I tried to use the toilet,
but it was too high. I couldn’t reach it.
The homeless woman came back
and I let her in. I pulled my dress off
to get the rest of the ribbon out.
She looked at me with disgust. I said,
“Don’t judge me. I didn’t judge you.”
I left my shoes outside
of the bathroom while I changed
and they got stolen. The woman who ran
the building gave me two mismatched blue
shoes: one too big and one too small.
I put them on to meet my “date.”
He asked about the shoes and I lied,
afraid that he would think
I was poor. I pulled him
into vintage shops to look for my old shoes.
I never found them.

Carla Conforto


One Response to “I Agree In Security”

  1. Jim K. Says:
    March 22nd, 2007 at 5:23 am eA lot going on there, on top of a surface ambivalence, so it’s hard
    to connect it all. There is the familiar project-out vs act-in
    difference (a natural hypocrisy, confessed), some masochism in
    response (perhaps) dissociation/numbness,
    and the overall narrative seems
    to have the switchings of a dream. Sort of an internal discussion.
    There are ambiguously placed words in poems too, although they
    trigger things more randomly than the known feeling there.

    If someone wants a certain waking ambivalence, there could be a desire
    not to be trapped into commiting to a line of action, or some
    presumed tactical advantage, or even a desire to
    “surprise myself” in people who are actually capable of that
    (that’s not common), which could be a thrill thing, or a desire
    to make oneself more original through more rare combinations
    of actions. That last one is interesting from the POV of art
    or poetry, but from your poetry style I hunch that you just are
    randomized and capable of multiple outcomes naturally,
    and just playing out that. Most people are stuck in a ‘groove’,
    a mode that it’s hard to switch to others, like quantum states.
    Perhaps others have a lower jump theshold and can switch.
    At some point, one might become addicted to the fun of it.
    Non-shifting people may develop issues, since they aren’t
    sure who they are dealing with. But that’s if they do not know the
    core, the motivations that don’t change. Unless those change..
    (just a babble)

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AMY KING View All →

Amy King is the recipient of the 2015 Winner of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA) Award. Her latest collection, The Missing Museum, is a winner of the 2015 Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize. She co-edited with Heidi Lynn Staples the anthology Big Energy Poets of the Anthropocene: When Ecopoets Think Climate Change. She also co-edits the anthology series, Bettering American Poetry, and is a professor of creative writing at SUNY Nassau Community College.

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