Family Matters: a poem


we will all be in the same place

for the first time in six years

distance, the only way civility thrives

will close around us as we

occupy the same room

breathe the same air

stifling one another with subtext

stabbing one another with only joking


we three

a volatile concoction of scars

a triangle more fatal than Bermuda

triangulation, triginomical espionage

a mother and her two surviving children

the derelict son, the daughter who escaped

together loud silence

mother: I love you, hate you

you are not a mother–though

you birthed me

that is where the mothering ended

left to fend for myself

like a feral cat

I made a home out of garbage and broken dreams

brother: I love you, hate you

how are you my brother–though

blood ties us, first born,

that is where the relationship ended

you chose chasing dragons

left me for mystic faerie stardust

like a changeling

I slept in the tree of despair

together: you say we love you

your actions betray the truth

you resent me my growth

I am not the daughter, sister, you knew

abandoned to the fire, silt and shame boiled out

cool independence, courage,

like a crucible

I was poured into a new form


one meal together after six years of jarring silence to pretend to like one another

one meal to sift through the garbage, fables and aggression

one meal to wear Kevlar

Copy Right Cheryl Folland 2016

This poem was penned from a memory of a moment. Written in from a place of frustration at the old patterns we can fall back into with family. I am happy to report that though this poem is entirely true of that moment, the family characterized in it has reached healing in so many ways.  I think that a lot of that has to do with the ability to work through things (first on our own and then together). Through poetry, I’ve been able to walk through moments and the emotions attached to them. By releasing them to the page, I am no longer inhibited or burdened by the trauma or the lingering doubt.


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Family Portrait: chapbook sneak peek​

I’m getting excited about this project. To give you a small taste of what I’ve been working on, I thought I’d share the introduction to Family Portrait with you.

“Not much by way of content has changed over the past thirteen years in my poetry. I’m driven to explore familial trauma through the written word both in fiction and non-fiction. Poetry offers a nuanced way to zero in on specific language. This close-up examination of moments allows an honesty and an intimacy that is not readily available in a journalistic account of events or a fictional narrative. 

When I began to seriously consider poetry, my work was posted to a personal blog. It was confessional in style and written for no one in particular—but I knew it must be shared. Before the internet became widely accessible, my poems existed in volumes of written journals or were housed on 3.5 disks. My mother still has a stack of those old 3.5’s in her desk as sentimental paper-weights alongside a hand-bound collection of poems from my original blog.

Even in those early works, I explored themes of familial relationships, identity, longing, and spirituality. I often incorporated scenes from real life, with dialogue and identifiable characters, into musing and metaphors grounded most in colours and textures. 

 My current projects speak both to a broader audience and on behalf of marginalized voices. Over the past four years of exploration, themes of childhood trauma, queer identity, womanhood, and mental illness come together in free verse, experimental form, and nuevo-formal tradition. 

To me the fight is not content versus form, but the poem shapes into what it needs to be. Fixed form can shape an idea into a striking image by way of control. A poem about something as mundane as a vanilla scented candle can be as profound as a poem about infant loss—it all comes down to moments crafted to allow readers insights otherwise unavailable. 

This collection is comprised mainly of free form and free verse. Fixed form causes me to self-edit content that I’m vulnerable about before it ends on the page. I prefer to use fixedform for nature themes or humorous work.

 I’ve titled it Family Portrait as my two favourite pieces “Father” and “Mother” are the heart the rest of my story flows from. Both are inspired by conversations. My mother raised my older brother and I on her own from age 20. She and my father separated when I was two years old, and later divorced when I was eight. The last time I saw my father was Christmas Eve 1990. He promised to be there in the morning when we woke up. After my brother and I had gone to bed our parents had an undisclosed conflict and we never saw our father again. 

We grew up transient. We moved a lot. By age 18 I had attended 23 schools. We were poor, on welfare, and had no longterm attachments outside of my maternal grandmother Helen. Our childhood was steeped in drugs and risky behaviour.

27 years later, I received a message on Facebook from a man with a made up name. Though he appeared very aged (for a man of 56 he looked more in his 70’s) and clearly unhealthy (I could see the grey of his skin and the toothless smile he gave in his profile picture—of him and his cat), I recognized my father and my heart cried “Daddy.”

I try to write most about the underneath of it all. I pay attention to the interaction between reality and the interpretation of reality. With “To Hold a Candle” I wanted to look at how consumption as an attitude has real consequences to the world around me. A candle is an object without thought or feeling. The consumption of an object, that by nature is designed to be consumed, is something we think little of as we interact with the world daily. But what if the candle did have sentience? What if it wanted a life of comfort enriched with literature and antiques? 

How can I explore the underneath of relationships in my life? Is there a way poetry can convey truths and emotions that are difficult to pin down much less say aloud in conversation? I believe that poetics allow writers the space to create images in place of, or in conjunction with, complex and sometimes troubling topics. Poetry gives us permission to explore the taboo and the traumatic in a place of protected vulnerability. Word-craft becomes simultaneously an outlet and a sanctuary for our shadows and light.”

Doubt: Watch Me

Doubt is a nasty germ. It creeps in subtly when things are going well and begins to breed in the background. First, it will show up disguised as rational thinking. Should I really be doing this? I know ________ is more qualified at __________ than I am. We begin to compromise. Before long, we avoid the things we once loved—things we know we’ve been good at before—for fear of failure.

I struggled for two weeks to write a short story in October. I am in fourth year of creative writing and have published several stories, poems, and non-fiction pieces. I was long-listed for a prestigious literary competition and have won prizes for my promise in writing. I’ve been paid for not only my own content but to create pieces for others’ websites as well. I’ve been solicited for publication from links I’ve shared on Twitter and been hired out for events due to my creative prowess. All this is true and I still struggle to create.

I’m not trying to humble-brag. If anything, I’m trying to remind myself that I am extremely talented at making something great out of thin air and sheer will power. I have three novels in progress but am terrified to complete them. What if they aren’t good? What if I publish them and only sell ten copies? Worse, what if I publish them and someone expects MORE? Doubt is a jerk.

I say to look doubt right in the face and say watch me.

When I finally buckled down and quit the debilitating habit of self-censoring, I produced a short story in under five hours that is already receiving positive feedback. It’s even spawning the idea for a chapbook of short stories unlike anything that is currently being done. It just might be that accidental best idea I’ve ever had. It was full of typos and a little rushed—I was outrunning doubt after all, and we all know doubt is a marathon runner.

That thing you love, that you miss, but you doubt you’re good enough/brave enough/_________enough to take it on again—it misses you. Tell doubt watch me. You’ll be glad you did.

Esteem

Lately, I’ve been thinking about esteem. Not self-esteem, though that’s part of it, but esteem as in value. I’ve placed a great value on writing by pursuing an education in the field. Yet, when faced with the opportunity to apply for a writing position, I am quick to discredit myself.

I took a good hard look at other areas of my life this past two weeks. My skills, likes, hobbies, and things that bring me joy all point to things I value—things I hold in esteem. I started to pay attention to others’ observations (not to be confused with opinions) and realized that as my own worst critic I often fail to realize and own my accomplishments.

Cataloguing things that I’ve worked hard for and things that others noticed in me gave me courage to apply for a position, and I received a second interview. To stand out on paper, without having met an employer, isn’t easy. During our discussion, the interviewer let me know what set my application apart. It was my ability to describe myself, they said. They could tell my wit, humour, and love of writing from the “tell me about yourself” portion of the job application.

Don’t be afraid to hold a high esteem for the things you love, your skills, or yourself. One day it might land you your dream job.

Fall Semester Challenge: A novel in 91 days.

On the first day, of my last year, of University, our Advance Novel Prof asked us to do some math. MATH. From CREW students. He asked how many days are in September….we all paused and someone, thank God, said “30”. Then he asked how many days were in October, this I knew because Halloween, obviously, “31”. Again he asked how many days were in November, turns out there’s also 30. That gives us 91 days. Then he asked his room full of upper level students if it was possible to write 1000 words a day.

Yea. We do that all the time for assignments, but what was he getting at? Class continues until December 5th, so obviously his questions weren’t for class right? Wrong. Last question, how large is the average novel? 80,000 to 100,000 words. You’re welcome. So, all the math. If we write 1000 words a day, for 91 days, we will have 91,000 words—a novel.

WHAT?! But novels are hard to write, and I never finish them. I get to chapter three and crap the bed, shove it in a drawer, and cry myself to sleep until I have a new idea. The life of an aspiring writer. First assignment, outline (with as little or as much detail as is developed for your current idea) due next class for the entire project. Who is in it? What do they want? What gets in the way? The normal story questions. But over and over again until you can “see” the skeleton of a story. Then the 1000 words a day begins. I’ve started….two days ago. Current word count, 756. After two days. I suck at this. But I’m going to do it.

Want to join me?