Ken Chukwuba, Salt Lake City
BY JILL MCDONOUGH
I’m in Utah, which keeps surprising me.
Both Salt Lake City and me, here in it. Surprise:
they asked me to read at BYU, but said
swearing or saying “Jesus Christ” or “God”
wasn’t okay. Or being gay. Okay. The gay
kiss-in in Temple Square. Surprise: we still do that.
Surprised each day by mountains taller than clouds,
than flight paths, freshly white each morning. Surprised
by all the white people, any Ayran crowd
making me look around, nervous. Surprise:
I don’t like being white when everyone is,
and you can’t always get coffee with your pie.
I went to rent a car downtown, surprised
the bus never came, surprised it took an hour
and a half to walk halfway. Surprised by the man
who rented me my car: Ken Chukwuba,
who feigned interest in me. “Why are you here?”
I’m a visiting professor. “That’s good. Where
from?” Boston. He didn’t look up, did paperwork.
“That’s good. What do you teach?” Poetry. “That’s good.”
Do you read poetry? “No.” Then why
did you say “that’s good”? You don’t care. Then Ken
Chukwuba started laughing, said if I
wrote him a poem I could keep the car
an extra day. Ken Chukwuba, I asked
how to say your name so I’d know where the stress
would fall. I teach people how to write in lines
of iambic pentameter, like what Shakespeare wrote,
but better. Because they write them in Salt Lake City,
in Utah, where the LDS stores grain
against the rapture in white silos, file
all our families’ trees in mountain caves.
Because the inversion sometimes rises, clears
for Wasatch, Oquirrh, Timpanogos, Wolf,
and Ken Chukwuba and I are here.
The winner of three Pushcart prizes, Jill McDonough is the author of Habeas Corpus (Salt, 2008), Oh, James! (Seven Kitchens, 2012), and Where You Live (Salt, 2012). The recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fine Arts Work Center, the New York Public Library, the Library of Congress, and Stanford University’s Wallace Stegner Program, she taught incarcerated college students through Boston University’s Prison Education Program for thirteen years. Her work has appeared in Poetry, Slate, The Nation, The Threepenny Review, and Best American Poetry. She directs the MFA program at UMass-Boston and 24PearlStreet, the Fine Arts Work Center online.