Two Things Worth Living For

This is the last in a series of posts by recipients of the 2018 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This final entry is by Heather Finnegan, COL ’19

The opportunity to devote the summer to my creative work helped me to explore new styles as a poet and solidify my decision to continue perusing writing as a career. Working one-on-one with Jason Zuzga, a professor I met during Queer Theory, pushed me to consider new forms for my work, including the sestina, the epic, and the modified sonnet. The feature poem of my summer collection, On Average, is a twelve-part chronicle about a young gender non-conforming person, Ave, who miraculously grows gills during puberty. With Jason’s guidance, I was able to push the narrative form I learned so intensely during my studies at the South Carolina Governor’s School for Arts and Humanities into queerer, post-modern territory and create a feeling of mystical awkwardness that could touch any person coming off age or struggling with gender identity. 

Many of my new poems have a dream like quality to them. During my sophomore year at Penn, I was diagnosed with major depression. I slept excessively and felt distant and fuzzy most days. My body of work reflects that headspace, focusing not only on the difficulties of mental illness, but also the resilience and nuance of those in the recovery process. Much of this body of work derives its energy from that process, as well as the restorative powers of engaging with the natural world. The unknown is abundant in wilderness. The unknown, too, is a core element of my queerness and my struggles with mental health. At times, this can be absolutely horrifying. And at times, the wonderful potential of these mysteries is exhilarating.

The following poem engages nature as it can be found in Philadelphia. Homing in on the foliage of West Philly as well as the crawling creatures of Center City shows that even in an urban environment, nature can be found by an observant onlooker. Likewise, even when depression leaves one feeling numb and stuck in a mundane and oppressive system, hope can be found in celebrating the sensation and liberation of the body. This is the uplifting nature of giving oneself over to the queer, the volatile, and the feral parts of our everyday lives.

Two Things Worth Living For

One:

The heat

In the east, the garbage standing in line

Behind the Ritz Carleton hotel, rich

And maggot loved. This city, full

Of life, recycled, re-claimed.

From the Center where a prostitute

Shakes her straight shoulders at me,

Sideways, as if she’d get a dime only for dancing

The chacha up the sidewalk. Her kudzu bush

Creeping out the edge of cotton shorts. I smile.

Almost stop to ask what she’s selling and

How much—as if this block with the rainbowed

Crosswalks could be a farmer’s market for sex.

Peaches, sweet corn.

Two:

Back west

The blocks become pines, oaks,

Peonies trembling for a taste of breeze.

The kinked, glistening garden snakes in my garden

Make love knots together behind Mexican heather.

When the sun pounds us like this

All afternoon, demanding every last drop of egg

White fluid we can fathom from under our skin.

Sweating like this, we have not felt so deathly

Dehydrated, nor absolutely alive since last year.

And you with your ball cap. And I with my dirt soaked

Denim would beg her fuck us breathless

With her stone rays

All day.

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