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The Black River Chapbook Competition Winner

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In Life There Are Many Things

Publication Date: February 2023

About

In Life There Are Many Things is a portrait of adolescent mental illness after the end of history: “I have / this body— / residue—and I don’t know what / left it.” This chapbook’s unmoored speakers seek, alternately, to root themselves more firmly in the world and to exit it entirely. Autobiography and allegory merge to track the inexplicable shapeshifting of the self as it ages, heals, dies, and lives again.

FROM In Life There Are Many Things

NEIGHBORHOOD

The sky is blue again and all the knees around me
bend. I look. A big red cut shaped like a fingernail,
a mouth starting to open. Litter on the sidewalks
glittering like candy. A big red mouth bleeding
cherry candy, dull gray smoke. Grown-up arms
wrap around me and grown-up legs start running
all in the same direction: away. We go all the way up
to the streets with the numbers on them. We move
all the way up to the streets with the numbers
on them. Then we move again, and again, and I get lice
so we cut off my hair and soak it in oil. Ugly gray
crayon I drag off the edge of the paper to show
the smoke, only that’s not really what it looked like.
I learn that Daddy didn’t wake up until the second
plane hit. He went into the living room and there weren’t
any windows, just different kinds of dust. He gives me
so much candy my mouth goes dull as a knife.
I get so hungry I have to eat until it hurts. I eat slabs
of dead things and look for the raw part, the softest
pink, my favorite color, but then I start dressing
like a boy. This is the kind of thing teachers call
a story: Daddy didn’t wake up until the second plane hit.
But he never wakes up when the sun is out, anyway.
He stays awake all night at his machine, its dull gray
glow. At night he cooks me dead things, cooks away
all the pink. When we finally get to move back home,
there are windows. The furniture is all blood orange
and cherry red. Across the street, instead of two big
buildings, there is one big hole, which they are covering
with metal, which is stupid. Sometimes I like it here.
How nobody knows where I live. I am a very small thing
and I am so good at slipping past fat pale crowds of people
with cameras. I am hard to surprise and easy to fool
because I know that so many things are normal.
My hair is long like a girl’s and my clothes are ugly
like a boy’s, so my body is just right. I can’t help it,
I have to pick the stupid scabs until they bleed cherry
candy, salty caramel. I sleep through the sun
and its dull gray glow, and my alarm goes off
but I don’t wake up. I can’t help it, I hate going
to the playground—I don’t know how to move my arms.
I don’t know how to move my legs, my open mouth.

Praise

Lucy Wainger is a brilliant poet whose ability to follow the visceral logic of her electrified imagination leads to lines so bright I want to eat them. She dazzles me with her deadpan humor and breaks my heart with her sudden utterances of love or hurt. While these poems are skillful and intelligent, they also give a feeling of guilelessness, the wild and askew openness children know and are taught to forget. Wainger is in touch with ungovernable forces. The lines she pulls down onto the page are virtually humming with energy; it is possible that when you read them you will produce sparks from your fingers and tongue.
-Heather Christle

Reader, I envy you: you’re about to meet Lucy Wainger and read her work for the first time. Wainger is obsessed with the way the largest questions in the world—what it means to be human, how we cope with embodiment, how we respond when in danger, how we shift and morph as we experience the passage of time, how we realize we love life and how we bear it when we don’t—can feel achingly specific and material, like a “big red cut shaped like a fingernail,” a deck of cards in a psychiatric facility, or “the smell of flapping fins and failing gills.” Whether Wainger is inhabiting a persona—which include Scheherazade, the famed sushi chef Jiro Ono, and Teen Wolf, among others—or wielding her “I,” which is at once relentlessly contemporary, Gothic, and pastoral, you always have a sense that you are sharing a world with her and her speakers, so close to them that the juice that “spurts” from their oranges may well also get on you as you read. I am so jealous that you get to experience In Life There Are Many Things freshly, although I know that even after you’ve read it, every subsequent encounter with this relentlessly curious, seeking, and dynamic chapbook will always feel like a fresh experience, no matter how many times it has already stood in front of you and asked, “What else do you remember?”
-Sumita Chakraborty

About the Author

© Ian Jacobs

Lucy Wainger

Lucy Wainger grew up in New York City. Her poems appear in Best American PoetryDIAGRAMThe MarginsPOETRYPuerto del Sol, and elsewhere. She holds a BA from Emory University, where she received the Academy of American Poets Prize and the Louis B. Sudler Prize in the Arts. She’s currently an MFA candidate in Poetry at UMass Amherst, where she teaches undergraduate composition and creative writing. In Life There Are Many Things is her first chapbook.

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