Julia Anna Morrison: How I Wrote “Drift”


I had a feeling I was married, that we’d signed the papers
and swam in the lake.

I have no photographs of you. But I know your phone number,
that you were born without a cherry.

I wake in Iowa, mid-virus.

The kale you grew you didn’t eat. It started as an image of a seed,
and then a seedling, something to save
our marriage, though we weren’t married.

If you want to get to Heaven, which you don’t, you will have to quarantine
fourteen days.

You will have to grow weeds and scan your brain for mildew,
rot, the plans to your treehouse.

I found a map to a city & knew I’d lived there,
not when, but that I had a tree where I would read. I took baths and a train
to and from the city center, a baguette crumbling in my arm.

What’s the end point of a marriage, of a husband?
Someone to eat oatmeal with every morning. Someone to watch your body as you watch
your body

I could only half-raise, half-mother, half-watch the tornado
skidding into the valley

I wanted to swallow the lake
before it got to me so I could drift in it.


I’m sure “Drift” began as the feeling a dark dream leaves in its wake. In the morning, the sunrise just visible out the window, I sketched the poem in the Notes app of my phone as a draft, considered calling it “Draft.” I had been reading “Drifts” by Kate Zambreno, which is why, ultimately, I called the poem “Drift.” I was moved by the permission Zambreno gave herself to include seemingly everything as fodder for her book (journal entries, photographs, lists), which is a ghost of the novel she is supposed to be writing, and I wanted to evoke that excessiveness, to put something in a poem that I felt didn’t belong in a poem, to embrace the driftiness of language, of poetry-making, of ghost-making. 

I sometimes feel like a ghost, like all of my identities (mother, woman, romantic partner, parent, daughter, sister, etc.) are best kept separate. I am not home but I am at home. Joan Didion, in The White Album, describes her detachment as a kind of dreamwork, “I had the keys but not the key,” she writes, and I think this informs “Drift” in the sense that the speaker has these multiple identities but she has trouble integrating them, or trouble letting others see her fully (“I have no photographs of you…”). I wanted to explore that, or at least express that conundrum. 

I once read that monogamy is like only being allowed to eat oatmeal every day for breakfast. I happen to love oatmeal and I do eat it every day. I also find myself curious about monogamy, about oatmeal, about why I do the same things day after day. With this poem, I wanted to do something (anything) different, to let my thoughts drift, to admit something to myself I didn’t yet know. The poem took me back to Prague, the city of the crumbling baguette, and I kept it in, even though I felt it didn’t belong in the final revision. I honestly don’t know what it’s doing there, if not taking me back to a time before I was someone’s mother, before some of the questions of my life were answered. 

The last gesture of the poem, which becomes a lake, is to gulp it down, to swim in the discomfort, the oncoming storm. The speaker tries to swallow the poem, to repress it, to keep it in her body. Water is the only ground she knows. The poem makes no promises, however. The storm is still coming towards the speaker, too large and unpredictable to control. When I look back at the poems I don’t necessarily understand, “Drift” included, I find comfort in Paul Celan, who writes, “To that in your work which did not—or not yet—open up to my comprehension, I responded with respect and by waiting: one can never pretend to comprehend completely—: that would be disrespect in the face of the Unknown that inhabits—or comes to inhabit—the poet; that would be to forget that poetry is something one breathes; that poetry breathes you in.”


Julia Anna Morrison

Julia Anna Morrison's poems and essays are forthcoming in Brink, West Branch, The Columbia Review, and Poetry Northwest. She lives in Iowa City where she teaches at the University of Iowa and co-edits Two Peach with Catherine Pond. You can find her at http://www.juliaannamorrison.com/

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