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Welcome back, Lisa Dordal!

This month we are celebrating the titles that we’ve acquired over the past twelve months. These manuscripts came to us through our open reading periods. Today we bring you Lisa Dordal, whose forthcoming book Next Time You Come Home will be published next fall. This will be Lisa’s third book with Black Lawrence Press.

Have a manuscript you think we’d like? During our June Open Reading Period we are looking for poetry (chapbooks and full-length collections), short fiction (again, both chapbooks and full-length collections), novels, novellas, nonfiction (CNF, biography, cultural studies), anthology proposals, and translations from German. 

 

 

The Author

Lisa Dordal holds a Master of Divinity and a Master of Fine Arts (in poetry), both from Vanderbilt University, and teaches in the English Department at Vanderbilt. She is the author of Mosaic of the Dark, which was a finalist for the 2019 Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry, Water Lessons (April 2022), and Next Time You Come Home (forthcoming 2023), all from Black Lawrence Press. She is a Pushcart Prize and Best-of-the-Net nominee and the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize, the Robert Watson Poetry Prize, and the Betty Gabehart Poetry Prize. Her poetry has appeared in The Sun, Narrative, Image, The New Ohio Review, Best New Poets, Greensboro Review, RHINO, Ninth Letter, and CALYX. Her website is lisadordal.com.

 

Photographer credit: Beth Gwinn

 

On Writing Next Time You Come Home

In January 2021, I rediscovered one hundred and eighty letters my mother had written to me between 1989 and 2001, plus one from 1983, when I was away at college. My mother had been an avid letter writer, writing two to three times a month when I was in college and then, later, when I lived in San Francisco and Nashville. My mother died in 2001, a full twenty years earlier, yet as soon as I started reading the letters, I began to sob as if she’d died that afternoon, and with so much more emotion than I’d experienced at the time of her death. It’s not that I didn’t grieve when my mother died, but my grief was muted by the fact that, in many ways, my mother had left me long before her actual death. My mother started drinking “regularly” — the word she uses in her 1983 letter — in the mid-1970s, when I was about ten. I loved my mother during the day, but in the evenings she disappeared. I remember many dinners when she seemed to look right through me.

Soon after reading the letters, I began typing them up (they were all handwritten) as a way to preserve them. My urgency to preserve my mother’s words stemmed from the joy I felt about my mother’s return — my daytime mother’s return. Not that she only wrote her letters during the day — most of them were probably written at night — but it’s only my “daytime” mother who comes through in the letters. And having lost my daytime mother so many years before when the distinction between daytime and nighttime became increasingly blurred, the last thing I wanted was to lose her again.

After typing them up (a process that took several weeks), I began tinkering with them, distilling each one down from several single-spaced pages to about half a page. And then distilling them more and more until I discovered whatever it was I seemed to be looking for. Throughout the distillation process, I deleted a significant amount of text, going from my mother’s original 112,000 words down to 12,000 words. Thus, this wasn’t a simple editing process; it was more like a shaping exercise. A process of uncovering what I considered to be essential. Everything I needed was there; I just needed to strip away what wasn’t necessary. My modus operandi was less is more.

The final entries, in my view, are something between letters and poems — not fully letters and not fully poems but, instead, their own thing. Ordinary moments distilled into something sharp and luminous. That these letter-poems don’t fit neatly into one category, to me, serves as a metaphor for how we know, or think we know, someone we love. My mother was 36 when she gave birth to me — she had a whole rich life before I was born, a life which I’ll never have full access to. And now, since her death when I was 36, I’ve had a whole rich life that she’ll never have full access to. Just as my mother will always be (for me) “not fully this, not fully that,” so, too, will I be, for her, “not fully this, not fully that.”

A couple of months before my mother died, she was admitted to the hospital for a heart problem. I have fond memories of her time there because, for that brief period, without access to alcohol, my daytime mother returned. And now she has returned again, through her letters. Letters in which she’s searching for her keys, dropped in the snow on her walk home from work. Or she’s hiking in Yosemite with my father, arriving at a dried-up lake, too tired to try another trail. Letters in which it’s raining and the birds are staying away, or it’s sunny and they’re coming back.

 

Selections from Next Time You Come Home

 

September 1983

This should arrive in time; I hope the Post Office doesn’t disappoint.

We had a lovely weekend at the Lake over Labor Day—
grilling steaks, bobbing around on inner tubes.
We missed you. Jackie’s sister was in town—
have you ever met her? She’s pretty but in a colder,
more sophisticated way. I like Jackie’s prettiness better.

WFMT just played “Blue Skies” by Irving Berlin—
his songs were what I grew up with. Happy songs

in Depression America. I appreciate the letter you sent.
You were 10 when I started drinking, maybe 9. Yes,

I attended Alfred’s funeral. He was 25. There was a bouquet from his fiancée.

I’ve put you through a lot of pain. The dried blossoms
are from the mock orange tree in our yard.
I carry your letter in my purse.

 

 


January 1991

We started dismantling the tree yesterday.
After taking off 150 ornaments, I quit, had a glass of wine,
and wrote a letter at my desk.

Today we completed the task. As usual,
the needles clogged the vacuum.

I just put a chicken pot pie in the oven.
We’ll eat in an hour. I can hear Dad,
through the intercom, shooting pool downstairs.

Outside is a winter fairyland.

The Middle East has me worried.
Bush is determined. Congress has caved.
It will not be a short war.

 

 

 


February 2001

My Monday client said I’d smell Spring on the 7th.
I didn’t smell it on the 7th but I did on the 8th.

It was fifty degrees and raining. Now the rain
has turned to snow. Our lives have been quiet.

Symphony, opera, a meeting or two. I’ve agreed
to a two-year term on Church Council—

I might regret it, but one thing I can do
is sit through a meeting and give an opinion.

This afternoon we’re going to the Branson’s for tea and pie.
Last week, a grackle came down our chimney—

Dad put a board up. It’s surprising how much chipping
it did to the stone ledge. I’ll show you—
next time you come home.