I am in love with Richard Siken. I can’t help it. I want to kiss his mouth, touch my tongue against his.
I know that he’s gay, but no matter. It’s not that type of love. What I love are his words. I want to fill my mouth with his poems, slide them along my teeth and slowly, slowly swallow them down my throat. I want to read until my lips are parched, until they bleed with the rhythm of his words.
I still remember the first time I “met” Siken. I was working as feature writer at Anchorage Daily News at the time, supposedly brainstorming story ideas but really reading online poetry journals. I linked to a link that took me to the Yale Series of Younger Poets, where I first read Scheherazade. I was stunned. I couldn’t breathe. It hit me so hard I could feel the words inside my veins.
I’ve always read poetry, and I write it, too, though not on par with Siken. And while I have many favorite poets and many favorite poems, I’ve never felt as intimate reading a poem as I’ve felt reading Siken. It’s as if he reached inside my head and stole pieces of a cadence I hadn’t realized I possessed, and then gave it back to me as a poem.
Does that make sense? For I recognized something of myself in his work, something primal and familiar and dangerous and lonely. Something that we all have inside ourselves. Something that can’t be described in words, can only be insinuated through the stark yet comforting white spaces between letters.
That year my sister bought me a copy of Crush for Christmas. I sat on the couch, in the middle of a dark and cold Alaska winter, and read it over and over again. I read it until my wrists ached and my throat hurt and I thought I might go mad from it all, from the things I’ve yearned for and lost, all the things I’ve had and destroyed, all the times I’ve loved too hard or too fast or too distantly or just too fucking wrong.
I suppose since it’s Christmas I’m thinking of Siken’s poems. I’m sliding them around my mouth, I’m eating them with my breath. I’m thinking of this: For two years I lived in Seward, Alaska, a small fishing community at the end of the road system, a town surrounded by vast mountains on one side and Resurrection Bay on the other. Three or four days a week I’d run the Lost Lake Trail, an uphill run up the side of the mountain and then back down again. I’d run this alone, with just the dog for company, and always, always as I struggled up the steep sections through old spruce forests and emerged back into the light, I would think of a line from Scheherazade: “Look at the light through the windowpane. That means it’s noon, that means/we’re inconsolable.”
I ran that trail fifty or sixty times,and each time that line filled my head and I sang it along with my breath as ran through that valley, just me and the dog and the mountains and the air so pure and lonely and perfect that I knew that if I died right then and there my whole life would be worth it.
I don’t know why I identify so completely with Siken’s poems. I suppose it doesn’t matter. What matters is that with all of the books in the world, I was lucky enough to have found Crush, to carry pieces inside of my head. That is a marvelous and incredible thing.