No. 54: Caroline Cabrera
Q. I’m awed by your word pairings – “goat electrons” and “woolen periscopes” are a few that spring to mind. Why do the agrarian and the scientific make such compelling poem-mates?
The agrarian and the scientific, to some extent, provide two different perspectives on nature, or at least changing perspectives over time, and I think merging those perspectives can help to widen a view a little. Or at least to reshape or refocus a frame for looking. I’ll admit I hadn’t realized how often I forge these kinds of pairings in my work before reading your question. And I think that for me part of the appeal comes from taking something that feels natural and intuitive and merging it with the more measured/mathematical reasoning that can help to explain that intuition. And I think that’s what I’m often looking for in poems as a reader—the collision of reason and intuition in ways that makes a new glimmer of meaning/resonance.
Q. Your work in The Ochre Issue is excerpted from a larger project, Apple Hill Farm. Is this based on the alpaca farm of the same name in North Carolina? As a follow-up, how fares the alpaca-as-muse?
Yes! I visited Apple Hill Farm while on a farm tour in Western North Carolina several years ago. I took pictures of all the animals and recorded all their names, and I liked looking back at the photos because I love animals, but over time their names started to make them into characters and that’s a big part of what pushed me towards writing about them. What interested me most was that the alpacas are kept in the center of the farm, near the donkeys, who will bray if there’s any trouble. And goats are kept as a perimeter so any wild animals that attack will attack the goats first, protecting the alpacas. So the goats are essentially conceived as sacrificial animals. I was completely haunted by that setup.
Q. Barring the shiftless Hickory, Hunk, and Zeke, what fantasy/fairy-tale characters would you hire to tend the Farm?
Oh interesting! All the farm workers are called KaleSuzy (after a real farmer I know, named Susan, who is wonderful—though the KaleSuzys of the poems have come a long way from real flesh-and-blood Susan). They’re an all-female, very practical, collaborative society. I think many types of fantasy creatures could be KaleSuzys, but the best fit are probably land-sirens. Or just a good old-fashioned coven.
An excerpt from “Apple Hill Farm”
Goats are the fleshy fence for alpacas. If the farm is a cell, the farmhouse, its misshapen nucleus, then the farthest rings of goat electrons must go unnamed. Lady goats, it’s not that you aren’t useful, it’s just your use is prey-meat.
On the farm everything lows, is spun and woven. You can paint the farm by numbers, the numbers a scale from one to ten, beige to brown to browner. If you plan to stay the night on the farm, be prepared to weave yourself a fold in the loft, or to ruminate.
Where men go, beasts follow. Hoof in heel. Alpaca necks craning, woolen periscopes. Any movement can be tracked and is.
All your childhood toys have been updated or discontinued. Your play now is work. Your work, symbiosis. You are one mechanism, one animal on the farm. Some animals stand guard, some die, some are tended, some tend. Your hands and moving joints make a place for you. Your place can be absorbed into the greater fabric of the farm, the woolen masterpiece. You save your place with your use.
“Apple Hill Farm” was originally published in The Ochre Issue.
Interview conducted by poetry editor Jon Riccio.