Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The #Midwessay: Chris Cokinos, Born There

I think one of the things that I first came to love about Indiana, and particularly about Muncie, was its contradictions. It doesn’t quite know who or what it is, and so it’s a little bit of everything at once.

On any given day, you could walk into Rural King and feel like you’re in farm country, surrounded by men in Carhartts and work boots. A mile away, at the coffee shop right by campus, you can find a group of queer undergrads talking about poetry. Downtown, you’ll get served craft beer by tattooed bartenders with great taste in music, or can catch a drag show at Indiana’s oldest gay bar, which opened the year before the Stonewall riot. You can drive down Kilgore and see the ruins of the BorgWarner plant, empty as long as I’ve lived here, and it feels like Buffalo, like Cleveland, like Detroit, like any rust belt city that’s seen the jobs all leave.

Indiana is somehow all of these things at once: the rural heartland, the economically-decimated rust belt, home to vibrant college towns and one of the largest cities in the country, a state that is both known for cars and concrete and roads and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and is also home to Indiana Dunes, the Hoosier National Forest, Brown County. 

This is the place that gave the world Axl Rose, Adam Lambert, and Cole Porter. We’re responsible for both Eugene V. Debs and Mike Pence. (I didn’t say complexity was always good.)

There’s space here. The space to—like the space we create in an essay—embrace complexity, to explore it, to complicate rather than simplify. It feels, sometimes, like the possibilities are endless. —Silas Hansen, Indiana #Midwessay coordinator


Born There

Chris Cokinos


Against so many trees, against humidity, against corn, corn and corn, against what the glaciers did, scraping land ahead of strip mills on the west side of Indianapolis. Against my parents screaming. Against the trailer and its monthly empty pantry.

Against soybeans, Dan Quayle, Coach Bertalon and Bobby Knight. And Lori Cotton, who should have told me she would date.

Against Spanish rice (again), against beef hash (again), against those cigarettes and the smell of my mother after her nursing shift. Against my sister’s punches. Against my father’s house-quiet rage.

Against that disaster though not the ones I loved on Channel 4: When Worlds Collide and The Night the World Exploded.

Against tornado cautions but not the green skies that preceded them. Nor the twisters themselves.

Also, against REO Speedwagon (except for “Roll with the Changes”) and Johnny Cougar (but not John Mellencamp). Against Ayn Rand (but not Rush concerts, wet night, Market Square Arena, stupidly booing Graham Parker). Against that shitty Replacements show (but definitely not against The Replacements, shit no). 

Against parking lots to drink in. Against getting her pregnant. Against not knowing what to say or what to do, against fear in Indiana and fear in Kansas, where there was a dust storm at the new job. There was the long walk home, believing, like an idiot, “Ah, here is my story.” Against that.

But not against remembrance, old friend, my exit ramp from I-70, that unspooled neuron of boredom that finally sent me west.

A native Hoosier, Christopher Cokinos did his graduate work in St. Louis at Washington University then lived in eastern Kansas. He's considered Utah his home-place since moving there with his partner Kathe Lison in 2002; they arrived in a snowstorm that blew a Western Tanager down from the mountains to the phone lines by their rental house. They have a cabin in Logan Canyon. He's the author or co-editor of seven books, including most recently the poetry collection The Underneath and the anthology Beyond Earth's Edge: The Poetry of Spaceflight. Recent essays, poems and journalism have appeared in Dark Mountain, the Los Angeles Times, Chariton Review, and Sky & Telescope. He's working happily on a book about the Moon.

What is the #Midwessay? What is the Midwest? What are the characteristics, if any, of the #Midwessay (the Midwest essay)? What gathers us together? What pulls us apart? Springing from a twitter conversation, we started asking writers and readers what they imagine (or would like to reimagine) as the Midwest and the Midwessay. The #Midwessay is a series of reports from the Midwest (whatever that is) by and/or about Midwestern essay and essayists (whatever those are). Essay Daily will be publishing these, sorted (loosely) by state, in February 2021 and beyond.  These #Midwessays will be collected here and on a separate site at a later date. If you'd like to submit a report / essay, send it our way. Details and coordinators for each state are listed here. You can also ping Ander (link at the upper right) if we don't list a coordinator yet for your state. —The Editors

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