No. 36: Richard Siken
Q. Let’s get a little metaphysical. At the end of your poem, “The Story of the Moon,” you write “one wonders why a story like this exists.” Why do you think stories exist in general, let alone this one?
Stories are the way we pass along information, to each other and also into the future. They turn data into knowledge. They record and transmit. Some delight, some convince, and some stories are, and should be, suspicious. Not just because the veracity or intent of the story is in question, but simply because the story exists. History? Sure. Love poems? Sure. Creation myths and drug testimonials? Of course, of course. But this specific story of the moon? There’s something wrong with it. More than one thing. It leaks out knowledge it shouldn’t have, betrays itself in casual details. It’s attempting to answer a question that wasn’t asked. Makes you wonder what the question was.
Q. The moon and red horses feature in both of these poems. What was the inspiration for this connection?
The moon is in most of the poems in War of the Foxes. It’s a character. Well, a variety of characters. The horse is an example of power. Especially the red horse St. Peter rides when he comes down from heaven. I tried to take specific nouns and turn them over and over, changing their implications. Examples: “The conqueror suits up / and takes the field, his horse already painted in / beneath him. What do you do with a man like that? / While you are deciding, more men ride in.” and “Give a man a weapon and you / have a warrior. Put him on a horse and you have /a hero. The weapon is a tool. The horse is a metaphor.” And also this: “And I am not the moon, says the moon. / I am your own big stupid head just trying to talk to you.”
Q. Samuel L. Jackson’s characters are associated frequently with the color purple—George Lucas even let him have a purple lightsaber in his run as Mace Windu in the Star Wars franchise. If you had to choose one color to include in every piece of writing you do from now on, what would it be?
Gertrude Stein said there’s no emotion in a sentence, there’s emotion only in paragraphs. I think she meant the friction between things makes a feeling, while single things are static and cold. I don’t want to agree, but I like pink against yellow, not either color on its own. For actual color, I like the hot ones — Aureolin, Raw Sienna, Gold Ocher, Venetian Red, Caput Mortuum Violet — but the names don’t move me. If I had to pick one color to use in every piece, I’d pick green, for the sound of it: green, green-yellow, green beautiful green…
Interview conducted by Fairy Tale Review Editorial Assistant Lucille Randazzo.
Richard Siken’s poems, “The Story of the Moon” and “The Worm King’s Lullaby,” can be found in The Mauve Issue of Fairy Tale Review.
The Story of the Moon
Once, night, unchallenged, extended its dark grace
across the sky. To the credit of the town, the stars
at night had been enough, though sometimes
the townspeople went about bumping their heads
in sleep. Eventually, three brothers, traveling through
a foreign town, found an evening that did not
disappear behind the mountains, for a shining globe
sat in an oak tree. The brothers stopped. That one
is the moon, said a man from the foreign town.
The brothers conferred. They could make certain use
of it. The brothers stole the moon down and put it
in their wagon. Seized it. Thieved its silver. Altogether
greedy. The wagon shining bright. At home:
the moon delivered. Then, celebration: dancing in red
coats on the meadow. Number four brother smiling
wide. The moon installed—it extended its silver
calculations. Time and more time. The brothers aged,
took sick, petitioned the town that each quarter
of the moon, as it was their property, be portioned out
to share their graves. Done, and the light of the moon
diminished in fractions. They had extinguished it,
part for part, and night, unimpeded, fell. Altogether
lanternless. The people were silent. The dark rang loud.
Underground: cold blazing. The dead woke, shivering
in the light. Some went out to play and dance,
others hastened to the taverns to drink, quarrel,
and brawl. Noise and more noise. Noise up to heaven.
Saint Peter took his red horse through the gates
and came down. The moon, for the third time, taken.
The dead bidden back into their graves. One wonders
why a story like this exists.