From the Desk of Indigo Moor: Lost and Found in the World Machine

Indigo Moor is poet laureate emeritus of Sacramento and an author, scriptwriter, and integrated circuit layout engineer. His other works include Tap-RootThrough the Stonecutter’s Window (winner of the Northwestern University’s Cave Canem Prize), and In the Room of Thirsts and Hungers: The Mirrored Tragedies of Paul Robeson and Othello. His most recent poetry collection, Everybody’s Jonesin’ for Something (Backwaters Press, 2021) was published last month.

During National Poetry Month, The Backwaters Press is accepting submissions for this year’s The Backwaters Prize in Poetry contest. Both winners will be awarded the publication of the book by the University of Nebraska Press under its imprint, The Backwaters Press. For more details, please visit the Backwaters Prize page.

As a part of our National Poetry Month campaign, we reached out to several poets that the Backwaters Press has published throughout the years to write about poetry. In the essay below, Indigo Moor discusses some of the themes that he examines in Everybody’s Jonesin’ for Something.

Eight months after receiving the Honorable Mention prize for the Backwater’s Press Prize, the University of Nebraska Press published my fourth book of poetry, Everybody’s Jonesin’ for Something. I pride myself on never writing the same book twice, the arcs ranging from Othello and Paul Robeson as cousins, the world viewed through the eyes of a Stonecutter, and my struggles with identity and the death of my brother. Despite the myriad mosaics, some themes persist. I have spent my writing life delving into the vagaries that have created me. Each year I sloth off or add characteristics that I hope define me better than the year before.

 Everybody’s Jonesin’ for Something is my first foray into examining our country, the beautiful trap in which we all find ourselves searching for meaning, hoping for that one scenario that will fulfill us. Similar to its drug-related origins, jonesing is more than an insatiable appetite for something. It is as much psychological as physical. A yearning to fill a hole, a hole we may not even possess. The longing changes from person to person. It is often undefinable, a shifting point on a retreating horizon.

The target longing being unobtainable does not lessen our desire to define it: a painter attempts to paint the planes out of the twin towers; the patriarchy sends a love letter to Christine Ford; a grandfather tries to take the bullet for Martin Luther King, jr; an artist teaches photography to help veterans with PTSD; two hunters dodge the accusation they have killed an immigrant; a mass shooter prepares to undo what ails him.

Because the book speaks from myriad viewpoints, it contains multiple genres: poetry, flash fiction, flash memoir, and flash drama. I knew this genre-inclusive manuscript would have difficulty finding publication. I was fortunate that Backwaters Press was willing to take a chance on me. If I have not said it enough, thank you.

Jonesin’ is not a book of answers. It is an “unflinching spotlight” on the needs and desires, especially those we use to define our dreams. And our deficiencies. “Lost in the World Machine” examines a time when I was in good standing with the college I was attending, was working a summer job, and I had everything going for me.

Good times.

Lost in the World Machine

I’m 17&Black, nimble as Jack, jumping I-beams like candles.

An air hose hisses like Medusa’s head tied to my wrist.

This Refining Machine performs the alchemy to turn

rusted steel virginal again. But it’s stinging me to death.

Grey-hot pellets jet from tiny holes; blackstrap horseflies

cutting away the oxidation. Like the foreman’s gaze,

they always find the tender flesh. I’m summer college

fodder, working shit jobs before

humping

a train back to Raleigh. The welders’ first

sparks of the day always make me flinch.

Dust-laden smoke circles the rafters,

ropy

chains hanging like man-o-war tendrils,

like a trembling curtain of almost

lynchings.

I’m a Harlequin playing cards with somebody else’s

deck: I know as much about refining steel as I do about

studying textbooks. I’m hard-tracked to do both or neither

until pressure geysers out my brain, until I roll snake

eyes with the future. Maybe— if I threw myself into

this machine, I could save my feet this tortured road.

Crosstown bus-passes dig deep into minimum

wage.

An old lady shuffles after my bus as it pulls

from the curb. I don’t reach the pull cord

in time

to give her a fighting chance. Or, like my

absentee

father might say, maybe I just didn’t try

hard enough.

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