Introducing Sarah M.C. Baugh & Samara Scheckler
In 2015 I turned my garage into The Crying Room, a space to teach writing. I exposed the beams, and painted the floor the color of the ocean. In my garage, what could swallow us was also our foundation. We showed our bones to hold ourselves up. It was where my students would gather once a week to share poems and stories in their most vulnerable states. This is not where I met Sarah M.C. Baugh and Samara Scheckler, but this is where I began to know them differently, more deeply. “I have come /,” writes Samara Scheckler, “unmoored.” “I’m not certain,” writes Sarah M.C. Baugh, “where the bottom is …” The Crying Room is now where my sons are homeschooled, while my students *zoom* in from all over the world. But when I walk into the garage I can still feel my students’ voices, earthy and sunlit, reminding me that we must keep telling our stories.
Bruno Schulz wrote that we arrive mysteriously at certain images “like filaments in a solution around which the sense of the world crystalizes …(and) establishes our soul’s fixed fund of capital …” We are then left with a “single verse” that attaches itself to our souls by a knot that “grows tighter and tighter.” And we keep working at this knot like an ancient seamstress in an endless fairytale. I watched Scheckler and Baugh work at their knots with an attention to the past so tender and so furious, I could practically smell the debris caught in the wings of Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History.
What are we doing? Where do we come from? Where are we going? How do we get there? “Can you have a mother and no mother?” writes Baugh. “It seems like a good time to tell you,” writes Scheckler, that / grandmothers are everywhere.” Scheckler reaches into her past and finds a grandmother whose mothering cuts through a war, who mothers as she dies, is dying, is slowly being murdered, and she mothers from afar, from the barracks, from memory, she mothers as language goes to ash, and she mothers hungry. Baugh and Scheckler are distinctly different poets but one thing they have at their center is the desire to heal by reaching all the way into the most wounded wound. Reading Baugh I am reminded over and over again how much we are like the earth’s surface. How we are too are “graggs,” how our hearts are pitted by the earth we come from.
If Walter Benjamin’s “Angel of History” is still among us, I imagine he is not flying but walking slowly, hunched over, his wings heavy with the mistakes of our past. It is a sad angel, but if you listen very, very closely you can still hear him singing. The poems I have chosen here contain many of the words.
—Sabrina Orah Mark
Sabrina Orah Mark grew up in Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of the book-length poetry collections The Babies (2004), winner of the Saturnalia Book Prize chosen by Jane Miller, and Tsim Tsum (2009), as well as the chapbook Walter B.’s Extraordinary Cousin Arrives for a Visit & Other Tales from Woodland Editions. Her collection of stories, Wild Milk, was published by Dorothy in 2018. She is the recipient of many honors and awards.
Sarah M.C. Baugh
A Phrase I Misheard, Hallelujah
Another Name for Things
As I fell asleep last night, a dream: Eating slices of the mountain, cut like glycerin soap, with the shine of petrified wood. We stand on the trail turned road and cut, with a paring knife, slices like pound cake. We eat them, they have no flavor.
It is too much to write, yet.
If I told you, there wouldn’t be anything to it, but also there is too much to it, the trees all release isoprene, making the mountains blue from a distance, making the air as we drove up the endless mountain heavier than it fairly should be.
I didn’t find anything out, didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know, except that Webb Creek is misty in the morning, that the rhododendrons are like pre-history itself, and that the carvings in the wood in the eaves of my great great great grandmother’s house look like dragon scales.
When we drove up the road that carries the name of an uncle three generations back, an older woman stood out in front of her little home, across the road from a trailer that looked as though it had been thrown by a giant hand, and then scribbled on with spraypaint. She was waiting for her ride and I asked her where his old house was, and she pointed to her left and then I asked if she was a Gragg. She was. Something about the forehead. Or that I can do that, recognize my people, my people that I am not a part of. But then I asked her who she was, and she told me the names of her parents and I didn’t know them, or her.
We find the graveyard my great grandfather is buried in, and it’s not as though it was a mystery. There is a sizable white sign at the road that reads Jestes Cemetery, probably put there by my grandfather’s legitimate half-brother, on the remnants of his family’s land. We turn onto this road and it’s laid out for us, the light turning the corner toward dusk and the red and gold leaves glowing onto the small rectangle of cemetery. The cemetery sits at the mountain’s feet, at Grandfather’s feet, and I should be making this up, because it can’t be. The light glows and there is a tall old tree and a carefully cut perimeter of grass and an old stone crumbling wall and there he is: Jesse. J.W. Jestes with the flat stone sinking into the soft earth, and leaves covering its face. He’s mine, you know? I can’t unstick myself. Around the graveyard is a burned-out trailer beyond the fence that I’m afraid someone still occupies, and an old wooden barn or house fallen down, and another old wooden something that’s slowly sliding into the Wautaga River itself. We can hear it running, beyond the graves. We push into the bracken growing up, with fairy light coming through the white wisps of weeds, and my sweater gets caught on the blackberry cane and I can’t tell you why I feel like crying.
In Johnson City, TN we find the street behind the train tracks that my grandfather lived on when they left the mountain, but the house or building isn’t there, now there’s a park and a homeless man carrying out some ritual on the white metal flowers adorning the gate. We find the house Clostie, my great grandmother, lived in, maybe all of them lived in, later, until she died, and it’s normal and reasonable and such a far remove from Rosborough (from Chickentown) from the Hush Gully that it makes the mountain into fiction. We eat at a diner with Jesus positively everywhere, and I order a bologna egg and cheese biscuit, because I’ve never seen bologna feature so heavily on a menu, and my grandfather made me fried bologna when I was small and he was alive, and maybe this is a regional food—pink fried meat, and here I am with this cork board pulling threads between pins to triangulate the location of a murderer. Trying to find the body. The bologna egg and cheese comes out on a biscuit so fresh it’s steaming, and it’s all delicious. I wasn’t hungry but I’m eating it as though I am very very hungry, and I’m ashamed at the way I make the biscuit disappear while I look at my phone to find my great grandfather in two different states in the same census year.
Nothing at all happened. We drove on a lot of dirt and gravel roads. We spent hours, and then we saw it. The isolation and the way the road turned again and again and each time it was more beautiful, till the sweet turned sickening. Too much too much.
I’m so tired, I am trying to eat this mountain, and wash with it, and bury it, and make it home, and make it explain language and weather, and the reason my mother is broken and the reason I am a wound trying to pull up its own edges. I want the people to come out of their houses and say to me “I am a Gragg, yes, and you are a Gragg, and this is yours, this mountain. Let me show you.”
I Found Horses
roads, the snow
Sarah M. C. Baugh is a writer and portrait photographer born and raised in Central New York. When she was younger she wanted to be a nun, but lost something in the dark. Her work can be found in Gulf Coast and Sand Hills, and she was nominated for Best New Poets 2017 by Gulf Coast. Sarah makes her home in Athens, Georgia, with her husband and two daughters.
I eat toast and read the news
Moment and Monument
Samara Scheckler is a postdoctoral fellow at the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard. She isolates with her partner and two boys in a snowy little apartment in Somerville.