The Cortland Review


Kaydi Johnson
Kaydi Johnson discusses Greta Garbo’s legs, dirty rooms, and carpal tunnel syndrome with Renee Bandazian.

Robert Danberg
Robert Danberg reviews the words of experience and wisdom in Winter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver.

John Kinsella
A Brief Tour of the Cocos Atoll: The next installment in John Kinsella’s fast paced and exclusive autobiography series.

Kaydi Johnson

Kaydi Johnson is a singer/songwriter and novelist whose first CD is entitled Tied. She is in the process of completing her second CD, No goDs Allowed, and her first novel, Dizzy Me a Monkey. Kaydi received an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and leads an online writers' group as well as a local group in Huntington, NY where she resides.
Kaydi Johnson Interview


Kaydi Johnson and Renee BandazianI first met Kaydi Johnson at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, when we were graduate students in Marie Howe's Craft Class. We exchanged few words privately, but I knew she had written and recorded a critically acclaimed CD, Tied. Her lyrics and music were visual, lush, sensuous, and resonating, and she had a knack for effortlessly blending music and the spoken word. 

This interview was conducted at The Whitney Museum in New York City, during the time she was working on her second CD, "No goD's Allowed." It contains audio clips of the songs, "Eddie," "The Way She Loves," and "Carpal Tunnel," from the new album.

—Renee Bandazian

The Interview with Kaydi Johnson

Renee Bandazian
: Do you feel that your work has a Long Island sensibility—a sense of "place"? When I read your poems or listen to your songs, I hear movement: cars and trucks, traveling, leaves, parks, Ferris wheels—a suburban sensibility that takes us back to simpler times. Some of your songs sound nostalgic for the 1950's, a "lost America" so to speak.

Kaydi Johnson: I would say the sensibility in my work is probably not Long Island or any specific place, but rather what I subconsciously gathered from a lot of Irish folklore and literature that was read to me as a child. It's more of a universal sensibility. I don't really know what a Long Island sensibility would be. I'm also influenced by the fact that I live part of the time in the Catskill Mountains, so there are rural connotations as well as suburban ones. It's a kind of mixture of the two. I also guess a song like "Eddie" would have a 1950's feeling. I was born in 1961, so I really didn't grow up in the 1950's, but my parents did, and that probably carried over. My family lived in a suburban area, but I would also consider them rural since they came from a very poor, rural area of Ireland. We were living in this hub of wealth and suburban atmosphere, but in the center of my family, it was something very much other than that.

RB: You're a singer, you play the guitar, and you're a songwriter, poet, and novelist. How would you rank these if you had to?

KJ: That's a difficult question because of the nature of who I am. There might be a week when  I consider myself singer/songwriter first and foremost. Then there might be another week when I put the guitar away and consider myself a novelist first and foremost. Then I'll write a poem that strikes a cord in my heart, and I'll say, "I'm a poet first and foremost." So I don't think I can really say what I am first and foremost, but I will say the singer/songwriter aspect is enjoyable to me because the material is immediately accessible to people. I can play live, sing, and get feedback, bring groups of people together and emote. I can create this little universe, which is what music does. Today, I would say singer/songwriter, but it varies.

RB: When you're writing lyrics, a poem, or a novel, do you start with a character, a plot, or an image?

KJ: When I'm writing, I always start with a character. Then the character takes on a life of its own and guides me. That's the beauty of writing—the euphoria—when you write up a character and they start to move around and your whole life is consumed by thinking about this fictional person.

I write a song differently than a story or poem. The difficulty with poetry is that the music has to be built in using rhythm and line breaks. Fiction is also very lyrical. I find myself using my whole body when I write—moving it to the rhythm of the lines and sentences. For me, that's the real enjoyment outside of the characters.

Lately, I've been setting short stories to music, then editing them so they're like story/song. I'm very interested in that genre. Music and story used to be separate for me, but now I'm merging them.

RB: How old were you when you started writing? Who were your earliest influences? Who are your influences now in fiction, poetry, and songwriting?

KJ: I started writing when I was 8. I remember starting my first novel then, but I didn't finish it. I'm writing a novel now, and it's almost finished! My earliest influence in songwriting and storytelling was my dad. He was very interesting and adventurous. An orphan, he bounced around all over the world. When I was a little girl, he would tell me his stories, and they were so dynamic. He would make up songs and sing to me, so I would have to say my dad was one of my biggest influences.

As to music, being a child in the 1960's and 1970's, I was highly influenced by Joni Mitchell and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. I also loved Jimi Hendrix and The Grateful Dead. I don't know that I could narrow my music down and say it fits into any category or is like anybody else's. People have compared me to Ani DeFranco and Joan Baez—completely opposite ends of the spectrum, so it's very difficult for me to put myself into a box.

In poetry? Believe it or not, The Bible. I grew up Catholic, a staunch, practicing Catholic. The rhythm of prayer, the rhythm of The Bible and its language was my earliest poetic influence.

RB: When you're writing a first draft, whether it's fiction, poetry, or song, do you write it longhand, or do you use a typewriter or computer? 

KJ: I always write songs in longhand, then go to the computer and make a hard copy. Poetry always begins in longhand. With fiction, I can start a scene longhand or on the computer, depending on where I am when the spirit moves me. 

RB: Do you find you're more inspired at certain times of the day?

KJ: I like to write in the late afternoon, say from two to seven.

RB: On your first CD, Tied, what were you listening to, specifically, or reading when you wrote the title track, or did you shy away from reading or listening to anything?

KJ: The songs from Tied were written at various times. I was taking a fiction class with author Richard Ellman. He was reading parts of my novel, and he said it was very lyrical; he was extremely encouraging. He encouraged me to go for my M.F.A. I also showed him some of my songs, and he was enthralled with them, loved them, and he said, 'you really should do something with your music as well.' He was my mentor. He was dying of cancer, and he would come to class really ill. I would drive him home after class and help him into the house. Then he passed away, and it was very hard: I had been studying with him for two years, and we had become friends. I was in my cabin in the Catskills, and a friend called and told me she had just read his obituary in The New York Times. I was in the cabin alone, and I picked up my guitar and wrote "She Will," the opening track on the CD. I decided this was a dream I'd had since I was a child, one I had put aside for personal reasons. With the news of his death, I just accelerated and said, "I'm going to do this." I walked into a recording studio—I did this blind—and made the recording. I wrote a lot of the songs on Tied while in the process of recording, but while I was doing this, I was not reading or listening to other things.

The most incredible thing I've experienced from bringing my music out and on the road is that people have told me it has changed their lives.


How it's happened, I have no idea, but, somehow, it registers emotionally and gets them to start thinking about their place in the world. 

RB: Your second CD, new and about to be released, is called No goDs Allowed. Was the process the same?

KJ: No, not at all. It was completely different. I was about a year into my M.F.A. at Sarah Lawrence; I was writing short stories, some poetry, and some prose. As a result of being in the program, I started editing my stories and putting them to music. I had never written lyrics prior to writing the music. The second CD is a mixture of spoken word and song: some poetry, some short story, and some pure song.

RB: At 30-something you went back to school to pursue a graduate degree in writing. You also released your first CD at about the same time. Do you have any advice for someone in their late thirties or forties who wants to get on a different career track—or more specifically for a woman, a wife and mother most of her adult life, who has had to put husband, family, and children first, but is finally at a point in her life where she wants to spread her wings and do something on her own creatively?

KJ: I'm not big on advice. I think that's a really huge personal decision. It has been the hardest thing for me to do and also the most satisfying. I have children and I'm also on the brink of getting out of my marriage. I think there is a sense sometimes, especially for women, that there is this choice: you are going to choose your art or your family. There's a great poem by Mary Oliver called "The Journey" that expresses this so well. There comes a time in life when you are giving, giving, giving to everyone else, but you need to do this thing for yourself. On the one hand, something dies, but on the other, something else is born. And, no. People are not pleased when you choose your self because you are not giving them your full attention. I don't know where I read it, but I've read, "art and marriage don't mix."

On No goDs Allowed, there's a song called "Carpal Tunnel" that addresses this issue. A woman is confronted with a choice between a relationship and art. She chooses art. My advice would be: if you can do it all, do it all, or else try to do it a little at a time. I did that for a while but things changed. Nothing stays the same. I'm happy.

RB: But what about you? Does being around younger people ever discourage you, ever make you feel as if you should be further along?

KJ: I've kind of come to terms with that by not seeing my life as linear. Things don't necessarily have to work in a certain order. I had my first child when I was 20 years old, and everything went on hold, but I'm still young; I'm 39. Culturally, you're supposed to get out of college at 22, get married, have your career, have children, and then what? Didn't do that. Haven't been there. Don't want to be there. There are things younger people have to deal with that I don't, like making a living. I often see young people who are fabulous artists and writers who, because there is not a lot of money to be made in the arts, have to get a 9- to- 5 job, and their work suffers! I worked for 20 years in restaurant management, made money, invested it. Now I don't have to worry so much about establishing a career, buying a house, raising the kids, because I've done it. Yes, my self-esteem suffers because I wake up in the middle of the night and think, "What the heck am I doing? Singer/songwriter/writer? I should have a job; I should be a teacher." I have taught, but if I were teaching now, my artwork would suffer. It's very demanding trying to market my music, write, and do all these things. It's a full-time-plus job. If I had a 9- to- 5 job, I wouldn't be able to do it.

There are pros and cons on either end, and I would have to say that being our age now and doing what we want is a conscious decision; it's a hard decision, but it's rewarding because it's something we want, and it's ours. We, ourselves, have decided. It's courageous.

RB: Do you feel you have more to write about now than you would have at a younger age?

KJ: I've discovered, being with people of all ages, that younger people tend to write more about their immediate situation; their writing is much more autobiographical. It's a great on-ramp, but it's true that being older, I'm bringing in more people and emotions.

We are all writing about what we know.


The more we live, the more we have to write about; just by virtue of having those years under my belt, I write differently. 

I may not have more to say, but I know my writing is different. I would not have written the same ten or twelve years ago.

RB: This question may seem oxymoronic. Many male poets who are married to female poets feel the relationship is not hurting their art. Do you think women writers feel that way, or do you think they would say their art suffered? From a woman's perspective, can two artists live together and be happy?

KJ: I think that would have a lot to do with the specific man involved. I doubt that all men are threatened by a woman's pursuing her art... as long as it doesn't get competitive; competition could create a problem. However, just by virtue of the roles we've assumed as women and men, because women are the nurturers, I would imagine it's easier for a man to pursue the arts and get away with it than it is for a woman. As Virginia Woolf said, "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to be a writer." I think I've followed that philosophy and it's changed my life. If you have to do it, you have to do it, and if the person you're with can't accept it, well, maybe it's time to move on.

RB: What do you hope to bring to your listeners and readers with your songs, poetry, and your novel?

KJ: I guess I would have to answer that with what I would want to derive from other people's work. I would want it to be thought-provoking, pleasurable, and pain-inducing, because life without pain is not life. A lot of my songs have been described as both joyous and haunting; life has both of those sides to it.

Probably the most incredible thing I've experienced from bringing my music out and on the road is that people have told me it has changed their lives. How it's happened, I have no idea, but, somehow, it registers emotionally and gets them to start thinking about their place in the world. I'm thinking about a young man in particular who is married, has three children, and is bogged down with a 9- to- 5 job. He came to a show in Champaign, Illinois, fell in love with my music, and decided he had missed a big part of himself by putting his guitar away 20 years ago. After coming to my show, he started writing songs again. I've had subsequent e-mails from him telling me his life is so much richer for that. A lot of my songs talk about art and the struggle between art and the so-called ' real world.' I hate saying that because art is the ' real world' for me right now.

I would also just like to make somebody feel good. My novel is a character novel that takes place in the 1950's about a poor rural family in a town where the right of eminent domain is going on and a highway is being built. Everyone is being moved, and it addresses a lot of issues about family and the conventional family, and how this family is not. The protagonist is a female struggling with all of this—what's hers and what's somebody else's. If a woman who is not really in charge of her life can read this and get some kind of inspiration, some kind of drive to move forward, I'll have done my work. I don't want to say that it's my work because it's not. My work is just something I have to do, but if the novel influences someone else or makes somebody feel better or worse—because sometimes you have to feel worse before you can feel better—I find that gratifying.

RB: You said you're working on a novel. Do you have a title yet?

KJ: Dizzy Me a Monkey. And everyone is like, "what does that mean?" Well, the protagonist of the novel is Ida, and her youngest child, Petey, is five. He has a few things wrong with him, and he doesn't talk much, but one of the things he says is, "Mom, dizzy me a monkey." And she picks him up and spins him around, and he walks across the floor like he's a monkey. It's not about that, but that's the title.

RB: Your mother died when you were very young. Do you feel a heightened sense of mortality because of that?

KJ: We all come to the edge. There's the grandparent, there's the parent, and then there's the child. Hopefully the child doesn't fall off the edge first. My mother fell off the edge before her mother.

My mom was 39 when she died, and I'm 39 now. My friend and mentor, Richard Ellman, died two years ago. I think the frame of his death and my coming up on the age when my mother died has completely changed my outlook on life. I went into overdrive. I stopped worrying about what other people think. I realized that other people's pain is not mine, and I can not take it away from them, whether it be my children's pain, my ex-husband's, my friends', or my family's. The only way I can look at leaving this world is in terms of being old, sitting back in my rocking chair by the fire and saying, I did this, and I did that. Coming upon the anniversary of my mother's death, though, I think, well, I may not ever reach that rocking chair: there is this sense—when you lose a parent really young—this sense of impending doom, that it's your destiny, too. It's definitely very real. Having reached her birthday and having come up on the other side is scary, too, because, where do I go from here? I'm out on a limb, but it's one I want to be on. I started to really take charge of my life and do things I need to do.

RB: On No goDs Allowed, among your favorites are the songs, "Eddie," "Copper Beach Tree," Carpal Tunnel," "Holding the Light," and "Trying Not to Love." Do you want to talk about one or some of those songs?

KJ: I'll start with "Eddie." "Eddie," started out as a short story. Actually a friend of mine was kidding around and said, "Why don't you write a song about me?" And I wondered how I would write a song about him. Again, I don't write songs about specific people, but there are character traits, personality traits, and spirit that incorporate themselves into a character. 

Click to hear in real audio  Listen to "Eddie" in Real Audio

"Eddie" is fictional, but "Eddie" turns out to be the man that a lot of men want to be: the man a lot of women have loved tremendously but had to leave, the man at odds with conventional life, finding himself; the man every mother is afraid of her daughter's becoming involved with, but who is really kind of innocent in his dangerous sigh. It's a really important song, but I didn't realize how important it was until I started performing it live and saw how people were taken with it. Everyone identifies with "Eddie" or the protagonist, a female, who gets in a car with this guy who drives real fast. They have adventures, and he's sort of the quintessential James Dean, but there's a lot more going on—a lot of metaphor for life itself and taking risks. Sometimes taking those risks doesn't look like a good decision, but you just have to because you have no choice.

RB: The details in "Eddie" are so visual, particularly the tattoo of Greta Garbo's legs on his shoulders. Do you make up the details in your stories and songs, or are they something that you collect through observations? Do you consider yourself an observer, a people watcher?

KJ: Yes. I think Marie Howe said in a class I took with her that "if you stare at something long enough, it will stare back at you," whether it be an object or a person. I love to observe people. I also make things up. A lot of details come from my imagination. I'd never seen Greta Garbo's legs on a man's shoulders, but I have since I created "Eddie."

RB: Tell us about "Copper Beach Tree." There are a lot of similes in that song. I loved the similes "like treasure in a sling shot," and "like their wings on the heartbreak of his memory."

KJ: "Copper Beach Tree" is more autobiographical than a lot of my other songs. It's about a young girl going through a shoebox of family photos. All these photos have been taken in front of one tree, and she describes each in detail. The woman in one of the photos, her mother, is gone, and the tree becomes the symbol for life in a yard, in a house—all the different images and faces of this tree and the people who lived through all of its phases: 

It's a playground
It's a port of respite
It's a graveyard
It's home. 

Of the songs I've written, this is one of my favorites, but it's sad. "Sun no bigger,/ but as bright as a quarter/stuck in a Y of a branch like treasure in a slingshot." Be prepared to pull out your tissues.

RB: One of the most important songs on your upcoming CD is "Carpal Tunnel."

KJ: In that song, a couple meets down by the river, and the woman has forgotten the wine and the lunch. She says, "I was in the middle of writing one of those stubborn poems that refuse to let me leave it alone." And the chorus is:

Click to hear in real audio    Listen to the chorus

Love is not for me now
You say I don't know the ways of it yet.
I say it's not what I'm not finding, Hon, I don't want to
    love anyone, 
because to take your hand I might lose what's in mine, 
and I really don't want to do that yet.

The crux of that whole song is being presented with the personal choice of giving up one thing for another. I was presented with that choice, and that's how the song was born, so it's a poignant and relevant one. Many people, including men, have identified with it.

RB: Let's talk about "Holding the Light." The song mentions sons. Is it about your sons?

KJ: No. That song was written about my ex-husband, believe it or not. When you're in a relationship for so many years, when somebody steps into your heart, no matter what, even if you can't live with them, they never really leave that place in your heart. It is a song about not being able to see the rest of this person, but there is some light they are holding. Actually, it's very dark out, and a man is holding a lantern outside a woman's window. The lyrics are: 

I can’t see your eyes, but the light, it travels on
   your sleeve,
the way you’re holding that light, makes me think,
you’re the sun for me with arms for me...

Regardless of all the things going on, all the negatives, there's always some aspect of that person you can never really give up. This is what makes leaving relationships so difficult. That's the metaphor in that song.

RB: Will you talk about "Trying Not to Love?"

KJ: [Laughs.] "Trying Not to Love." I'm always kidding around about how I do not like to write love songs. Too many love songs have been written, and they all sound the same. So I wrote "Trying Not to Love," because I find myself usually trying not to love. It's almost like "Carpal Tunnel" in that you meet somebody, and you don't want to get involved; you don't want to love them because you know what's going to happen.

The song, though, is of the sentiment, 'you know what? I think I will. I think I might. I think I could love you.' It's about resisting the love relationship, because you know, especially at our age, all that's involved, all the baggage that's going to come with it, so you try not to love, but guess what? You can try until you're six feet under; sometimes you can't help it. [Laughs.]

Click to hear in real audio  Listen to "The Way She Loves"

RB: That reminds me of Gibran's writings on love. "Think not you can guide the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, guides your course."

KJ: That's great. Perfect.

RB: Do you want to elaborate at all on your first CD, Tied? Are there any songs there, in particular, that you want to talk about?

KJ: I think my favorite song on the record is the title track, "Tied," and that's why it's the title track. Again, the theme is consistent; it's a song about a woman involved in a relationship who is confronted with somebody on the outside she is very attracted to, and she makes a decision that they cannot be together in this life, that they'll have to be together in some other life. It's about the ramifications between choosing the right thing and the wrong thing, about what is right and what is wrong, and whether it's right for her to pursue somebody she may be better off with or stay in the situation she's in. It's a metaphor for so many things. It's not just about relationships. It's about jobs; it's about staying in situations where we feel comfortable, about being afraid to take the risk in spite of seeing something that might be better. 

RB: Are there any other songs on Tied that are among your favorites?

KJ: Well, I know one of your favorites is "Dirty Room," so we could talk about that. "Dirty Room" is a song.... Well, what do you think "Dirty Room" is about?

RB: It's about a man who expects his wife to keep a perfectly ordered home for him, as well as a perfectly ordered existence. When he comes home at the end of the day and things aren't up to his exacting standards, he says, "…And what are you doing with yourself all day?"

KJ: And the chorus, of course, says, "I'm going to keep this dirty room." The woman decides to keep the room dirty. Again, a metaphor for a lot of things, because, God, you don't want things to be so neat and tidy. At least, I don't! [Laughs.] Do you? 

[Kaydi accidentally tips over the wine glasses.]

RB: Oops!

KJ: Perfect!

[Both are laughing now.]

RB: In terms of poetry and songwriting, do you consider yourself from a particular school or aesthetic?

KJ: Wow. "American Grocery Store" would be considered Beat. It sounds like something that would have been written in Greenwich Village in the 1970's. Though it was written for the Village in the late 1990's.

Some of my poetry is confessional; some of it is not. I think it varies. It's a blend.

RB: Where do you see your work heading now after the No goDs Allowed tour to promote the CD? What do you see yourself doing next?

KJ: Once the record is released, there will be the big job of promoting it. I'll be sending it to radio stations and traveling throughout the country. I'll also be doing tours in pockets of the country where I've been before and people are anxious to have me back. That is wonderful.

After that, I'd really like to focus on sending some of my writing out. My novel, in particular, is almost finished. I've written about 350 pages, and I'm just about finished. I'll go back and re-edit it, and send it out. Then I'd like to start a new novel.

RB: You mentioned that you worked in the restaurant business for many years, and you also touched on the fact that you teach or have taught. How do you see teaching as a profession for writers? Do you think teaching is a hindrance to your writing or a help?

KJ: I've taught eighth grade. I had 130 students and I taught English. That was one of the most demanding jobs I've ever had: lots of compositions, lots of corrections, lots of reading, and lots of tests. In that space, I could not work on anything else but really creative lesson plans. I loved what I was doing, but in terms of being able to do any writing of my own? No. Would I ever go back to it? I'm not saying never, but at this point in life? No. It's hard, though, because there are days that I really need the structure of 9- to- 5; it's often difficult to get motivated to write. And it's hard, too, because you write by yourself, and you wonder where this is going and where it's going to end? But you have to ask yourself where anything ends. At least I'll die having tried, and if nothing ever happens.... It's like perpetual play. It's spending your life in your own imagination, and it's very self-indulgent. But you know what? I really don't have a choice right now. That's the answer to that.

RB: Are there any people you share your work with or use as a sounding board during the writing process?

KJ: Yes, a few people, a couple of people in particular. One is my friend, Harriet Rovener. She's a psychotherapist and an aspiring writer. She's a wonderful reader and a wonderful editor. She's also written a book and published. I have another friend, Chris Conroy, who was in the Sarah Lawrence M.F.A. Program with me. I play him my songs and read him my work, and vice versa. We give each other feedback. This is very important because writing is such a lonely occupation. Sometimes your eye is not as clear as someone else's because it's your work.

RB: How many poems or songs do you work on at a time?

KJ: I could have as many as five songs, three short stories, three poems, plus a chapter of my novel going at the same time, which is difficult. I get up in the morning, and it's like having too many pots on the stove. Where am I going to go? Should I finish this song or that song? It's a curse and a blessing. Sometimes that's why it takes longer for each thing to be completed.

RB: There's a sensuality in your work, but not an overt erotic sexuality. Do your dreams influence your work or are your songs and poems about your dreams?

KJ: It's somewhere in the middle. When I get to the place where I am really writing—whether it's a song, a poem, or a short story—it's almost as if I am dreaming while I'm awake. Thomas Lux said, "A poem is not born, it's made." I agree with that, but I think there is a birthing process, and after that birthing process, you go back and change it, edit it, and polish it. That's the craft of writing, but as far as its being born, I just kind of sit. It's almost kind of a Zen thing: these things kind of come through me, so, yes, they would have a dreamy texture. Are they actual dreams that I've had? No, probably never.

RB: If you weren't a writer, what would you be doing right now?

KJ: I'd probably be a prostitute. [Laughs.]

RB: OK. Good answer. What books are on your night stand right now? What are you reading?

KJ: I'm reading Stephen Dunn's poetry. I'm also reading a novel by Larry Brown, called Fay.

RB: What about music? Are you listening to anything other than cuts of your new CD?

KJ: Yes. I like a lot of independent artists, and there's wonderful indie music out there so much better than the stuff they play on the radio. There are middle-aged female artists that are just fabulous. Ward Stevenson is one of my favorite independent male artists. I like Annie Gallup, Dar Williams, Lucy Kaplanski and Shawn Colvin. I love Ani DeFranco. Bruce Coburn is a wonderful songwriter. The list goes on.

RB: In the title track of your new CD, "Not an Ordinary goD," I notice that "g-o" is in lower case and "D" is capitalized. Why is that?

KJ: No goDs Allowed is the title of the record, and the premise of the song, "Not an Ordinary goD," is that ' Dog' spelled backwards is ' God.' I played this song, and a fundamentalist Christian was totally insulted, and I don't expect even very religious people to be insulted by this song. I look at an animal, or I look at nature, particularly my dog, and there's a divinity in animals and nature that for me is God. Now, I'm not a religious person, but the song addresses the fact that this animal can be many things. "…God, your ordinary God, won't come to you when you're in trouble, but this god has teeth..." means that this dog means business. Couples stay together because they know who will get the kids, but they're not sure who will get the dog, a kind of spirit in our world that is so powerful that, except for animal lovers, we often overlook it. They will always hear this song and know exactly what I mean and appreciate it as, I think, you did.

RB: Only for me, it's cats.

KJ: OK. I love cats, too. But, ' cat' spelled backwards is 'tac.' Is there a God named Tac?

RB: No. But, you see dogs think they're God; cats know they are.

KJ: I'll buy that!

RB: In closing, how about reciting one of your poems for us? Are you willing to do that?

KJ: Fine. This is actually the last poem I wrote. It's called "The Affair:"

The Affair

What if the bed you lie down in with a lover
is never the same? No—it's not what you're thinking.
Same lover, only the bed is strange.
You hop from hotel to motel,
B&B then back to the car
which faces east
where the mean sun
lounges on your windshield.
You are already a desert
inside, parched and searing from the heat
of too much wine. Sweating beneath bedspreads
never washed, too close to the mouth,
rowdy, stingy, stealing what's left
of a night's sleep.
You don't want to think about the pillows—
as if their cases were reliable,
offering protection from skin,
hair, lips. The breath of a former tenant.
Getting into your car
you say good-bye to your regular lover
carrying the remains of others.
You pull away, one hand
on the wheel, the other blind
at the bottom of your bag
chasing a bottle of Advil. Head South,
arrive at your permanent address.
Take too much time getting out of the car
because home just isn't, anymore.

Renee Bandazian is a poet and freelance writer who serves as a volunteer in the PEN Prison Writing Project, and with STARTII, an animal rescue organization. She is a student in the M.F.A. Program at Sarah Lawrence College and is the Managing Editor of The Cortland Review. She has been published in Antipodes, and will be published in an upcoming issue of Mantis.



© 2002 The Cortland Review