Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The #Midwessay: Kathryn Savage, Fly-Over

Ancient mountains (now hills), ancient ocean beds (now plains and prairie), tornado alley, tablelands, highlands, cross timbers, caves, the Ozarks, cypress swamps and forest—we've got it all in Oklahoma, baby. This place favors writing about landscape—it's embedded in us in a way I suppose other writers feel. For me, why I write about Oklahoma, why I care about its history and future, the legacies it will and won't claim, has something to do with the sight of a flat blooming canola field straddling a wet red dirt road beneath striated grey and white clouds after a spring storm. And, that this place has been and is filled with a mix of people—displaced, wandering, outcasts who are still often overlooked. The late Barry Lopez (RIP; not an Oklahoman) wrote, "If we could speak more accurately, more evocatively, more familiarly, about the physical places we occupy, perhaps we could speak more penetratingly, more insightfully, more compassionately about the flaws in these various systems which, we regularly assert, we wish to address and make better." Each of the Oklahoma writers for this series speak to the physical place well, and each asks us to consider what that place (and its people) has to offer, or not. —Liz Blood, Oklahoma Coordinator


Kathryn Savage


Lights flank tarmac. Everywhere, staircases on wheels waiting to be rolled beside small planes, wet from rain. At the airport, at night, in the Midwest, a plane descends slowly and I watch a man in a reflective vest out on the ramp wave it down like he's nudging a shy animal from the sky.
     Boarding the plane, a man in first class, the aisle, brazenly watches softcore on his cellphone. Women’s bodies tangle the way new puppies do, all that flesh and sucking. I take my seat, watch the others who board see his screen and look down instinctively. This is a small plane. We are shoulder to shoulder, flying between small midwestern cities. 
     I remember this party in high school. Then I'm going into a bedroom with my friend R and this guy who wants to have sex with us together. There was a desktop computer in the corner of the bedroom, screensaver rotating through a pattern of abstract geometric shapes. The emanating light dull and soft as the belly of a flower. We took our clothes off, licked and felt. We were clownish, a performance. Hair all down my back, skin strangely lit. I wanted to be a performance, a painted on grin of a body.
     The plane lifts. All last year, I kept recording dad's dying body with my phone. His voice, his walking, his words, so I could play him back. Then I couldn't watch any of it. To see him performing his living was also to see him performing his dying. After the funeral, me and some cousins screamed along to the radio, speeding and drunk through night-shaded cornfields. It was a beautiful feeling—the cool wind and the cigarettes we smoked down one after another and our shared youth and blood coursing between us. 
     Eric Gamalinda: “Because memory moves in orbits of absence.” The women on the man's phone in first class were on their knees in a kind of worship. They performed presence and aliveness so well. I used to want to be a good performance too. Then I changed. The cars I've driven too fast in. The bad parties. People I've loved and fucked and hated here. My Midwest is so many small monuments. Memories that orbit, and depart, and resurface. Here’s a memory: When we lived in extended stay motels, me and dad, I remember watching Arachnophobia starring Jeff Daniels and John Goodman. It was the first film I watched entirely while jumping on the bed. 

Kathryn Savage is a hybrid writer whose debut lyric essay collection GROUNDGLASS is forthcoming from Coffee House Press. Her writing has appeared in American Short Fiction, the Guardian, Poets & Writers, the Academy of American Poets / poets.org, the Village Voice, and The Best Small Fictions of 2015, among others. She is a 2021 Tulsa Artist Fellow. 

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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