The Story Behind “Two Poems” by Jenna Kilic-Somers

J_Kilic_Somers_Headshot_300Today’s post is written by Jenna Kilic-Somers. Her poems “My Father Recites a Story in Low Voice” and “Language” appear in our Fall 2015 issue. 

On the day before learning that my father had passed away, I dashed off the first draft of “My Father Recites a Story in Low Voice” for a workshop I had the next day. Although I’d been estranged from my father for nearly ten years, his language and voice were fresh in my mind as if I’d been listening to him speak every day. There was a sort of rough, haphazard poetry to the way he phrased things, at times sounding comical and at others, dead serious. It was that juxtaposition between comical and serious that I had aimed to represent in this poem. I elevated his diction to words he wouldn’t have used or even known—“double-helix,” “borborygmic,” and “coup de grâce”—in order to augment that juxtaposition.

Once I’d learned of my father’s passing, I was a little disturbed that I’d written this poem on the day he died, that his voice was so viscerally in my ear as if he’d been speaking to me, and that the setting of the poem mirrored the setting of his death. In the poem, he encounters an angel in the deserts of Saudi Arabia, an encounter he insisted was true. The angel warns him of the dangers of smoking and provides safe passage out of the desert and into Mecca for my mother and him. Throughout the poem he insists “this true and written story,” by which he means we all have a destiny, our life stories that god wrote and to which He already knows the ending.

My father was found dead in the desert of Mecca, California. He’d abandoned his truck on the side of the road and was walking in the direction of the Salton Sea. While the circumstances of his death are uncertain, he most likely had a stroke on that walk. Mecca, California, was perhaps his favorite place in the United States. He loved the date trees, the Salton Sea, the arid climate, and how it all reminded him of his trips through the deserts of the Middle East. I don’t believe that he spoke with an angel in Saudi Arabia; but, if you’re a person of faith, perhaps he did speak with one in Mecca, California.

Obviously, the poem “Language” is in conversation with, and ancillary reading to, “My Father Recites a Story in Low Voice.” I wrote it two-and-a-half years after my father’s death in order to provide context to some of the coincidences surrounding the former poem. A Schrodinger’s cat scenario is sort of in the historical context of “Language.” Even if I’m to guess that my father is dead judging by the tacit and grave message my sister leaves on my cell-phone, until I call her back to hear confirmation of that fact, he is both dead and alive; hence the “is/was” refrain in the poem. While those verbs were sometimes deleted from my father’s sentences as if they were of no concern (as depicted in “My Father Recites a Story in Low Voice”), knowing which one to use when speaking about him on the day of his death is of paramount importance in “Language.”

About the Author

Jenna Kilic-Somers received her MFA in Creative Writing from The Ohio State University, where she served as poetry editor of The Journal. Her work has been featured or is forthcoming in Southern Humanities Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, Pleiades, and elsewhere. She grew up in North Fort Myers, Florida and lives in Columbus, Ohio.

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