Public Letter: Mary Margaret Alvarado

Hello dear Melissa, Andy, Jay, and Zach, by which I mean “Dear Editors”:


This is my “public letter about putting together my book, and [the] attendant feelings.” I feel so much, so much. Like this: I feel that I would like to eat dinner with you, and call it supper. And then, the very next day, I feel that I would like to eat lunch with you, and call it dinner. After that, we could have Blancmange, a cornstarch pudding, cooked from a recipe Atoo1 left me, with these notes: “This is the dessert that Jo of ‘Little Women’ often carried to Laurie, her frail neighbor.” She found it, she says, so romantic.

I find paper mobiles romantic, and Prosecco, and the Texas two-step, and very dark soil.

What else am I feeling, you ask? I feel grateful for Eric Gill, that problematic man, who painted the lettering for a bookstore’s sign, and later carved it, beginning with the H and the O. I have loved Gill Sans Serif for a long time. It is as quiet as dots. Edwardian Script2 is new in my life, and its flounciness makes me feel like I’ve had three champagne mimosas and a standard poodle just walked into the room, where the napkins are folded into swans, and all-you-can-eat cantaloupe is on the house, and it’s spring and no one is dying.

Have you seen the ceiling of Union Terminal in Cincinnati? I would like for you to see it. The colors are an unexpected, 70s-ish/celestial marriage of avocado and silver and yarrow and a host of oranges; it’s rather like a pagan sun, or The Good as Plato describes it, and also it is circles, and circles give such peace. Union Terminal is Art Deco; it was a train station; it is a half dome; by way of pen and appropriation, it is D.C. Comics’ Hall of Justice; and the outside looks like a radio with arms. Its ceiling is the loveliest ceiling of all ceilings.3 The fact that it was made as a public work, in a public space, for public transportation, makes me love America, and 1933, and 1980, and you.

Sometimes, when I read The Showings4 I thought, “Man: that girl needs to get out and get some air!” Other times, like when the anchoress describes how “the purse” of our bodies is opened and shut, I thought: oh my, huh, wow, and wow. Epigraphs are tricky, and at some point I had, like, twelve. I think I was writing a page-a-day calendar. This one is a good one: “We have scarcely broken into our hoard.”5 And I like this too: “Small, lofty, straggling, thick, that is as to foliage, dark, light, russet, branched at the top; some directed towards the eye, some downwards; with white stems; this transparent in the air, that not; some standing close together, some scattered.”6 That’s about trees.

Trees do not make a notable appearance in this book, but there are other living eloquences that help us breathe. For instance: mushy waves, and ruby stalks, and a snowcube caked in pitch, and a harlequin mantis shrimp. There are some feral pumpkins on page 13. On page 40, there is moon balm, moon meringue, moon droppings and moon bones. The caliche, when it appears, is cracked.

These poems were written primarily in pen on yellow legal pads. After several pages were filled, I’d make checkmarks next to what might have merit; those places became the first drafts of most lines. The book starts with the chick speaker as a failed hermit, who happens to look like the flying woman in Marc Chagall’s “Over the Town,” and is praying to a god named Frank, and recollecting certain parties, and longing for hot dinner rolls, and working on getting more singular, which is what paying attention demands. From there I tried to figure out the key, and move to its cadenza. Or I’d slur in the musical sense. Or I’d see how a particular texture or thing needed to announce itself again. The movement between desolation and consolation. The arc of a mixtape that means to mess you up. Several series and three parts, in the middle of which7 the via positiva hinges to the via negativa, which is, I think, the better way. The first part is the loudest, the second is the quietest, the last ends with the animals overtaking the city, which is a comic ending in the Greek sense, and is a resurrection by natural means, and makes reference to the artist renamed Prince.8

It is a first book, and I like that about it. It is a book on paper, and there are no electronic copies, and I like that very much too. I feel grateful that my book of poems is home9 and done. I feel grateful that this creates a strong disincentive to revise. Sometimes something happens and I’m like: Holy shit! You’re alive! And I’m alive! And the dead are with us! And there are all these COLORS. This book reminds me of that.

Now a marching band is invading our street, and they’ve got drums and whistles10. The baby’s gonna wake, with her sweet smashed cheeks.

Thank you and so long!



1 Hey Folly is dedicated to my grandmother, Atoo.

2 The book’s text is set in Gil Sans Serif; its title is in Edwardian Script.

3 A photograph of the ceiling of Cincinnati’s Union Terminal is on the cover.

4 The epigraph is from The Showings by Julian of Norwich.

5 Repeated throughout Virginia Woolf’s The Waves.

6 Leonardo daVinci, Notebooks, “Trees.”

7 Pgs. 44-45.

8 Purple rain!

9 With the loveliest, loveliest human being of an editor.

10 They do this often: cf. pg. 6.


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