Kimberly Kruge is a poet and translator based in Mexico. She is a lifelong poet; her first publication appeared in an anthology of children’s poetry, and she began to be awarded for her work as an adolescent. Her recent publications include poems in either English or Spanish in the following reviews: The Wisconsin Review, The Briar Cliff Review, Luvina, and Two Thirds North. Her poem “The Rains” was featured earlier this year as the ‘Poem of the Week’ at The Missouri Review. Her co-translations of baroque sonnets from Spanish can be found in the current issue of Riot of Perfume. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing from Dartmouth College and an M.F.A. in Poetry from the Warren Wilson Program for Writers. Learn more at kimberlykruge.com
I don't know what colors
are in the night for the others
which voices they hear
convening around which tables
what food from what hands of
what mother's mother keep them alive
I do not know
what size shoes they wear
and if they pin their hair before bed
or in what house on which street
in which position among all other places
and all the varying grades of light
and receptions of rain and radio
and exacting natures of
wind and windows
and doors and dirt
I do not know
if good hard work excites them
if humor makes them nervous
if in panic they laugh or faint
I do not know what they do
when the afternoon is dry
and the high-sun is singeing
their mamas’ philodendra
and withering their will
I don’t know what
backroads they know
to get home or get out
or if when completely distraught
they can be impelled by the white-noise
of their minds to ask some god
for dispensation or forgiveness
or if it’s the other way around for them
or if when all other hope is lost
and death seems imminent
do they consider
forgetting their education
and getting down on their knees
and crawling towards the Basilica’s
image of the Virgin I do not know
if they know of any kind of pilgrimage
or of mine: me, the clumsy immigrant—
do they go getting lost?
I do not know what these women
know about themselves which version
of the ending they believe in
THERE ARE SELVES THAT CANNOT LOVE
For example, this self that is writing now.
This self is too self-conscious to love.
This self reaches into darkness,
expecting it will return full of something to inspect.
But this self is tired of inspection
and the requisite letting go after inspection.
This self prefers to wash its hands of itself.
This self already knows the measure of the streets it follows.
This self turns where it should without thinking.
This self thinks it understands what it reads
and that it knows a thing or two
But another self—that self that loves you—
what does it know—
vigorous as a bloom emerging out of season,
blind enough to think fruit will be made of its existence.
And sometimes, the self that can love does survive,
becomes the plant that climbs the walls,
becomes the hands that tame it.
What we’ve made are the rectified wall and the swan neck
of the reading lamp, the irregularity of concrete and the bed.
We made plump buds, more alive than even we are. One might
say we are good at creating. But I know that most days
we are in the spin between creations. A vortex of hands washing plates
and putting this or that away. A nebula of the image of our bodies
sprawled out on furniture or floors, filtered by the glass round of exhaustion.
Most days we are like writers between one piece and the next,
not knowing what the next piece will be about or how it will get written.
We tell ourselves that in the best cases, in the cases we’ve seen,
the next piece does get written. An idea comes into our head about how
to write it and we sit straight up from our haze and greedily
snap it down. Later, we reread it and in most cases
this creation has no bones or beams. This is the curse
of creation, at least in the cases we’ve seen:
if we have to make a neck, an irregularity, a bed,
we can’t remember how. How to fatten a bud?
How to make something larger than you or me?
We nod to our other selves, the ones that couldn’t see
this future, were fine with that, foraged and made a haven.
There are things that are true
that are at the same time false. I made them
false. Laments: I throw them back
into the chaos (there, they can become
what they like). Unpaid bills. Muddied prints.
Diatribes in 4/4 time or verse.
Other truefalse things I stuff under the rug
or drown in the oil-slick heart of an other.
One truefalsehood is that I lost a woman
in the metro. Another is that I simply
let friends go. That I don’t have a hand in
relegating unwant to the crawlspace.
Even more obscured: things like that night
I made a stranger drive me out to the island.
I could tell you now that all around were
pious stars and that the sea was
the sea and minding its own, or
that I was only a sister in need, but
I could only tell you that now
because depending on the day
I drop my life into water or
cover it with a thick slab of muck
and believe in the result:
however it looks on whichever day.
Thus, I’ve lost: yellow afternoons
and the pattern on the curtains,
the visage of the stray, the current
of my husband’s hair, the rules
of night, the science of shadows,
my shadow, the timbre of voices.
From time to time, someone will stun
me and ask for identification. Awe at it, I do—
Name: true. Eyes: true. Home: true.
Good down to the digits. I wait for them
to tremble and morph, a 2 to become a 3. Then,
I could shake my head and wring my hands,
(so hard I’ve worked on fallacy, I could cry)
Yes. I could cry from my frenetic void:
now, when they need to,
how will they identify me?
You must not write about the wall because the metaphor is dirty.
A fast, insalubrious, coming-right-up metaphor that leaves the body sullen
upon its being written. Try on that sullen body:
a wall will be built between me and my mother
un muro se construirá entre mi madre y yo
Now, shake it off.
Never again, never again.
Leave that metaphor out in the sun. Take it down to the corner
with the rest of the things you no longer need.
Better yet, trade it in for a tall ladder. Scale it.
Make some notes from the top.
Jump from its apex. Break your body on the way down.
Write about it all. When you can’t run anymore,
write an apology about how far you’ve come and how
veraciously you’ve tried. To love mother.
I know you do.
And it’s all just wordsanyways.
Until those words are in stone.
And then, you’ll know what to do with them.
When my mother goes, then,
bring on the super volcano. I wouldn’t
even have time to feel bad for the rest
of humanity, for once, this time,
not time to dwell on the imperfection of the chairs
in the kitchen, all slightly different, with
the five-thousand-degree billow decimating
or —because in the end it depends on
the wind—Mexico’s going slow with the flora
trapped under the brume and the bleared sun
struggling to make a a difference anymore.
I feel bad even writing this.
I feel bad even thinking this. As if
I will be the pin in the crater like NASA
wishes to be, only their attempt would
be preventative, and I’m no scientist.
I’d get it all wrong. Yes,
I feel so bad I could cry.
See, when I lived on earth I loved
the flora. Fauna, too. How I appreciated a good Bird
of Paradise, blooming in yellow and orange
shrapnel. How I wished to see, just once, God
perched in a tree. When I lived on earth
I cared about things the like the placement
of light switches and the insides of bowls,
or if this plant or that plant was meant
for sun or shade, and how to make
a garden that was a gradation of size and color.
How it hurt to live on earth, to feel
my husband’s body change night after night
into a new man and another new man or watch
my poor face have to learn itself time and time again—
time again that was a thing I used to say
when I lived on earth how I used attempt prayer from
time to time Dear God don’t ever let my mother go
nights awake wrapped in the nebula of
my body against my husband’s ending with
and God, I’ve decided, that the super volcano, no.
Interview with Kimberly Kruge by Amelia Looney
AL: To start off, will you give us a visual of where you are while you answer these questions?
KK: I’m in a little coffee shop overgrown with giant ferns in Guadalajara, Mexico.
AL: How would you describe your favorite color to someone who had never seen it?
KK: I can’t say that I definitively have a favorite color, but if I had to describe any color, I would likely start out by considering visceral reactions to and unfiltered observations of it—I find that I am often able to make the most accurate/truthful observations when trying my best to separate objects from their most common associations. This often means that what I define as true and accurate in a poem is a description that teeters on the edge of what I might consider reality. This is a kind of formula for me when deriving descriptions and forging metaphors—it often begins with separating the tenor and vehicle as far as possible from each other without completely losing the connection between them. I find that this opens up a larger universe of meaning from which to mine, refine, and redact a strong description.
AL: Your first poem was published when you were only a child, how does it feel to know you were enlightened of your life’s passion so early on?
KK: I think that when we’re young and told we are good at something we reject it—it’s almost embarrassing in some way. I’ll speak for myself: when I was young, I wanted to be good at all the things I wasn’t and was timid and furtive about the things I was. I remember writing that poem and feeling this immense pressure for it to be “good” and look and sound like what I thought a poem was at the age of 8, and from the moment it came out, I’ve avoided looking it at. I think in the life of my work as a poet, I’m still a child. I’ve been reading a lot of work that’s blown my mind lately, and I only ever want to write better, read better, and maintain an elastic approach to creating.
AL: You write poetry in both Spanish and English. As a poet, are you more connected to one language over the other?
KK: While I think in both languages depending on the day, the hour, or the task, I normally write in English. Even the Spanish poems that I have written are translations of English versions of the work. But, connection to language is a personal fascination and preoccupation—it’s often the subject of my poems. I strongly believe we are different people in different languages—diction, syntax, you name it, are different in even two languages that share similarities like English and Spanish, and the context in which we speak these languages is also very different. I perceive myself and others differently in English and Spanish. What I’m getting at is that my mind now contains a mash-up of two languages and the denotations and potential connotations of the words. I think of being bilingual as having this huge vocabulary but that you can’t use all of it all the time (This is true of any vocabulary, right? Only some of the words are appropriate and will be understood at certain times.) A practical example of this is “Spanglish”—saying a word in one language rather than its equivalent in another because it's the word that foremost describes something—it’s the lowest hanging dictional fruit. Sometimes, I will use a Spanish word in a poem or use sonic patterning from Spanish in an English poem to fulfill a lyric motive. And, when I translate English poems to Spanish, I have to consider how to undo and remake more than just the words—I have to consider syntax, meter, and the universe of connotations the poem will carry into its new cultural context.
AL: On top of being a poet, you also translate poetry and stories amongst the two languages; how heavy is the responsibility of relaying the content’s message through, not only a language, but a cultural barrier?
KK: The responsibility of relaying content undoubtably requires a great deal of care. Content isn’t going to be interpreted in the same way in the second language. There was a time when I was practicing translation on some stories that were very intimately about Mexico City. It is difficult, for example, to describe the nuances of quotidian aspects of Mexico City without somehow redefining the context for readers elsewhere. What is the intention of the story? Is it about some shared human experience, and if so does it make sense to root the story in translation so firmly in Mexico City? Should the translator rather construct the translation in a generalized city? Or, if the intention of the story is something to do with the experience of Mexico City itself, should the translation render even more unfamiliar for readers coming from a different context? This is an extreme example of the kind of thinking that happens in a microcosm while translating.
AL: In your poem “There Are Selves That Cannot Love” there is a theme of a person having multiple selves within one self. Can you elaborate on its inspiration?
KK: This idea came up when I was writing my master’s thesis, and I can’t take full credit for it. My adviser at the time, Heather McHugh, suggested that I explore this idea in the poems I was writing, in which the speaker’s selves were splitting off into another and another. Part of this had to do with the speaker’s existence in two cultures, two countries, two languages, and two homes. But, it was more than just that—the speaker of the manuscript I was making was actually three. Not only did the speaker have different personalities in different contexts, but she moved between states of narrative reliability—a ‘stable’ self, a self that was between realizations/enlightenments, and a self that was destabilized by these realizations. In the poem “There Are Selves that Cannot Love” the speaker is addressing how one of these versions of the self--the destabilized, distant, despondent, dysphoric self --is permanently incapable of love, despite her context.
AL: How do you know when a poem is indeed finished, and what does that experience entail?
KK: I hear a lot that ‘when you know, you know,’ and I can’t refute that there is some truth in this. It is very obvious to me when a poem is not done. Figuring out what isn’t right in a poem is difficult, though, and sometimes it means obliterating the poem entirely. If the foundation was good, the poem will usually come back in a different iteration somewhere down the line. I have poems I’ve been trying to write for 10 years and can’t—every time they are wrong and I destroy them, knowing well that in two or three years I’ll write that poem in a different way and that, again, it may or may not work. Perhaps I know when a poem is done when I read it and think ‘this does what I set out do to’ and the poem contains no words or craft features that don’t serve it.
AL: What would you eat for your last supper?
KK: I’ll make it known that I am terrified of death because I have an interminable to-do list that is somehow gravely important to me. But, it would probably be something with wheat, which I am allergic to, but if I were going to die anyways, well—
AL: What are you working on now?
KK: I am working on a new manuscript tentatively entitled There’s Something They’re Not Telling Us, which narratively addresses the conspiracy of the ordinary/quotidian and makes use of a range of defined forms—from the traditional to experimental ones that I’m generating specifically for the book.