The Lawrence-Based Poet is the Winner of a 2017 Langston Hughes Creative Writing Award
“In the Garden of Broken Things,” a 34-page chapbook of prose and short fiction works by Lawrence, Kan., poet on-the-rise Mercedes Lucero, is a short journey, but it maps the crevices of the heart and soul, stopping a while to reflect on life’s messy entanglements.
The unassuming paperback is available from the small press, Flutter Press.
Lucero is a writer whose prose, poetry, and book reviews have appeared in “Curbside Splendor,” “The Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Journal,” “The Pitch” and “Heavy Feather Review,” among others. Her short story “Memories I Cannot Recall” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize recognizing published works from small presses. Her prose poem “The Possible Causes of Your Suffering,” which appears in “In the Garden of Broken Things,” has also been published in the April issue of “Paper Darts Literary Magazine.”
Lucero holds an MFA from Northwestern University and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Creative Writing at the University of Kansas. She is the assistant fiction editor of Beecher’s and recently received the Langston Hughes Creative Writing Award, co-sponsored by the Lawrence Arts Center and the Raven Book Store of Lawrence.
All of Lucero’s experiences in her 26 years of life have influenced her poetry. Born on a military base at Camp Pendleton in Southern California, she was raised by her Spanish mother and Hispanic step-father.
“I relate to my Spanish heritage, but to everyone else I’m considered black. Recently, I started writing about those topics,” she says. In her writing, she also explores sexuality. “I identify as queer and lesbian, so many roads intersect.”
In April 2016, Lucero was the featured writer for the Project on the History of Black Writing (HBW) during National Poetry Month.
For this issue’s “Honor” column, I asked Lucero to talk about her new book and her poetry.
Kerr: True to the title of your book, broken relationships, broken people and broken moments in time all come together in a seamless way. Your prose “Defining Things” describes a passionate love affair from mid-June to September, during which a sensual relationship eventually is found wanting. For many of us, when we think of broken, we think first of a broken heart. Is this why you led with “Defining Things?”
Lucero: I want readers to notice how delicate it is to live and breathe and that when the light shines on all of these “broken things” just right, it can really be quite beautiful. I imagine most of us will spend our entire lives learning how to see “broken things” in this way. A broken heart is universal. But a broken heart is always the beginning of everything. You start examining things differently. You start examining everything: thoughts, relationships, life, your own body. I could only begin with “Defining Things” because that is the point at which everything opens up.”
Kerr: To quote from your poem “Missing Girl,” you write, “Missing girls are not hard to find. They are mothers and daughters who go on long walks in winters, usually along lakes. They have eyelashes like spider legs and paint their fingernails bright shades of reds and pinks to hide the built up dirt caked underneath.”
At first glance, this piece of prose sounds like the missing girls are those whose loneliness and fragility keep them in the isolation of society’s dark woods and cold lakes. However, something more sinister near the ending might leave one to believe they are women who may have lost their lives in those lonely woods. Can you reveal the real story?
Lucero: If I reveal the real story, then there is no room for the shadows within it to breathe.”
Kerr: The short work of fiction “Six Possible Reasons Amy Becomes a Whore” ruefully goes through six life-changing moments for a young girl that might explain her current of sadness and promiscuity. Reasons range from the heightened sexual awareness of a preadolescent and teenage girl, to a father sudden leaving without saying goodbye, to casual sexual encounters with men who love and leave.
Lucero: I like the ambiguity of not knowing why we do the things we do, even though we are always searching for causality. We always want to know why. In the end, I’m not sure we can ever arrive at an answer. We may only come up with a list of “possible reasons” and then must learn that this is enough.
Kerr: The final piece, “In the Garden of Broken Things,” creates an ending that is true about almost every challenge in our lives. We keep on mending the pieces together, even though, as you say, it may take forever to rebuild.
Lucero: Yes, and we never stop trying. o
Lucero will give a reading of her work at 7 p.m. August 24 at the Raven Bookstore in downtown Lawrence. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, www.ravenbookstore.com.
Photo by Jim Barcus