Bone Clean – Ginger Ko


I was young, during my twenties, but not so young that I couldn’t know better.

I spent a single unhappy semester in a low-residency MFA program. The in-person workshops took place in Louisville, and during these gatherings Charles Wright was circulated with reverence by all the hipster broets who styled themselves after Dust Bowlers. A young man, dressed to look like he had emerged, avec flannel, from The Grapes of Wrath, reverently handed me a Wright book as if it were my turn to receive the wafer. I read it and thought: “What.” (For instance, in “The Southern Cross,” that long, long poem, why isn’t it an apparent problem that female gender appears only as icon or figure or city subdued or sleeping sister or a…spider?) My mentor for the semester was an old white man who lived at the top of a mountain in Montana. I stopped turning in my packets of writing to him mid-way through the semester. I did not plan on ever writing again.

While completing a biology degree in Indiana, I earned my only A in an undergraduate creative writing class. The professor, another old white man, considered Merwin unpleasantly experimental due to lack of punctuation. He liked my writing very much and slanted my writing into something so small that I was hardly upright. This professor imprinted on me the desirability of slow nature and velar sounds. I found everything very beautiful all the time. I was so exhausted from the rich precision of the meditative mode that each poem I wrote for his approval was like wrenching my spine between two fists. At the end of the semester, he told me that I did not need to turn in a final portfolio, that I had far exceeded the requirements of the course. I went home and then felt empty for months. I did not plan on ever writing again.

Bone Clean covers the period of my life spent in the lower Midwest. Bone Clean is my repudiation of a place that a too-large amount of people style as “Kentuckiana.” Bone Clean is my reparations to myself as the young person who knew things were wrong even as I did them.

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