"About the Work" with Denise Duhamel



In our "About the Work" series, Savannah Trent asks recent contributors for insight into their writing or for current sources of inspiration. Read Duhamel's poem, "I Am Not an Astronaut ," in SER vol. 39.1

I wrote this poem after reading about SpaceX and NASA’s Commercial Crew Development Program. Though nothing I read explicitly stated that rich humans planned to flee earth once it became uninhabitable, I felt a creeping sense of paranoia. Were these billionaires going to take off once they’d completely trashed earth? This is what I profess as a statement in the poem. This lead me to remembering all the hope I felt as a teenager about technology—flying cars, especially. Upon getting my driver’s license in 1977, I thought I’d only be in a giant used Impala for a few years. After that, I’d be zooming around with a jetpack on my back. I had a favorite uncle, an early environmentalist, who told me that there was a finite amount of oil in the earth and that we would be driving electric cars and scooters in the very near future. He was right, of course, about the oil, but wrong in that he couldn’t have predicted the catastrophic mess we’ve make of the planet.

Space Sticks were incredibly delicious—and on the expensive side for our family. I would twirl the three-tier Lazy Susan in the corner cabinet of our kitchen to find them and count how many were left in the box versus how many more days until my mother did the supermarket shopping again. My sister and I were only permitted one Space Stick a day until the box was gone—and there were fourteen per box. Flying Saucers were more plentiful and only cost a penny a piece at the candy store.

As a sullen teen, I did want aliens to come rescue me after I saw what I was sure was a UFO at the top of my street. I was with two friends who wanted out as well, to leave our puberty woes behind. The UFO didn’t come to take us away and, of course, the lights we saw weren’t really part of a UFO at all. Now my friends and I want to stay put. Lately I have been feeling a fierce devotion to earth and its peril. Poets and scientists may work with different parts of the brain, but they are both dreamers and creators.



DENISE DUHAMEL's most recent book of poetry is Second Story (Pittsburgh, 2021). Her other titles include Scald; Blowout; Ka-Ching!; Two and Two; Queen for a Day: Selected and New Poems; The Star-Spangled Banner; and Kinky.She and Maureen Seaton have co-authored four collections, the most recent of which is CAPRICE (Collaborations: Collected, Uncollected, and New) (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2015). And she and Julie Marie Wade co-authored The Unrhymables: Collaborations in Prose (Noctuary Press, 2019). She is a Distinguished University Professor in the MFA program at Florida International University in Miami.