A note from Outpost founder Ricardo Wilson
Launched in 2022, Outpost is a residency for creative writers of color from the United States and Latin America. Each September, we welcome two writers and award them with a stipend as well as complimentary travel, lodging, and meals to spend a month cultivating a generative writing community in the mountains of Southern Vermont. STEFFAN TRIPLETT and MARICEU ERTHAL, whose work you will encounter below, are exceptionally talented, and we feel quite privileged to have had them represent Outpost’s inaugural cohort. Thanks to the ongoing support of our funding community, we have been able to increase the stipend to $2,000 for our 2023 cohort. Applications are open and will close January 15th.
By Mariceu Erthal
The piece appears below in both English and Spanish.
Las tormentas arrastraron los peces
los desgarraron de sus corrientes suaves
llegaron violentamente hasta aquí
temerosos, metemos nuestros pies
después, todos nuestros cuerpos
agua revuelta color penumbra
el día es soleado, como nuestra niñez
entro en una especie de éxtasis, tantos peces para mi
brinco y los arrojo al cielo
“hay tantos hasta para tirarlos”
mi hermano no dice nada
sigue recolectándolos con un pedazo de tela
llevamos una cubeta con cemento viejo adherido
llenas de peces hacinados
nuestros temblorosos huesos se esfuerzan por cargarla
ellos saltan con desesperación sobre el pavimento
la voz de mi hermano: ¿No que había hasta para tirar?
las serpientes son raíces
Soñé con él, fue luna llena y tal vez la gravedad atrajo esos recuerdos, un metro cuadrado, ninguna ventana, una cortina sucia, arañas, cochinillas, cucarachas.
Al bañarme me encogía con ansiedad entre los chorros de agua.
En mi adormecimiento él estaba en ese mismo lugar entre sombras, yo lo veía desde un extremo y lo esperaba. En destellos me abrazaba constantemente, tiraba su brazo con calidez sobre mis hombros. En mi memoria el jamás me tocó así, yo corría para llegar a él, y cuando lo alcanzaba sentía su impaciencia al hacerme a un lado.
A mi mamá y mi papá no recuerdo buscarlos de esa manera, mi forma de pedir afecto a ella era diciendo: tengo hambre. Y de él solo aparecen sus ronquitos, su orquesta sonando durante el día.
Ahora que escribo, vienen a mis algunos besos incomodos en mis mejillas, picosos por sus bigotes.
Translated from the Spanish by Ricardo Wilson
The storms dragged the fish
tore them from their smooth currents
they arrived here violently
afraid, we put our feet in
after, our whole bodies
water turned the color of twilight
the day is sunny, like our childhood
I enter into a kind of ecstasy, so many fish for me
I jump and toss them to the sky
“there are so many we can throw them away”
my brother says nothing
keeps collecting them with a piece of cloth
we carry a bucket pocked with old cement
full of overcrowded fish
our trembling bones struggle to carry it
they jump in desperation on the pavement
the voice of my brother: were there really so many that we could throw them away?
snakes are roots
I dreamt of him, it was the full moon and, perhaps, gravity pulled those memories, one square meter, no window, a dirty curtain, spiders, mealy bugs, cockroaches.
Bathing myself I cringed anxiously under the shower’s jets.
In my numbness he was in that same place in the shadows, I saw him from one end and I waited for him. In flashes, he hugged me constantly, threw his arm warmly over my shoulders. In my memory he never touched me like that, I ran to get to him, and when I reached him I felt his impatience as he pushed me aside.
I don’t remember looking for my mother and father like that, my way of asking for affection was by saying: I’m hungry. And from him only his snoring appeared, his orchestra playing during the day.
Now that I write, some awkward kisses come to my cheeks, prickly for his beard.
By Steffan Triplett
Once again, I am at the whims of the weather. This must become a daily practice. In fear of things getting hotter, I’ve made myself too cold. Cold in a literal and figurative sense. I’ll spare you any false pretense: every move I make anticipates a certain climatic future.
The sun rose this morning but was overcast by clouds. In a set of hours, it will set. This is scientific. Apply that feeling to whichever circumstances of your life, even where you’d least expect. A pessimism. Or simply a routine occurrence. Today’s forecast: a nice cool rain; my legs left scrambling chilly beneath a blanket.
The weather, as it does, has affected my dreams. In this one: I forgot my rain jacket, and I’ve been left sloshing in rain puddles running late for a date. ♠ is in my dreams again. This is typical, but last night I dreamt about ♠ and his older brother. In this one I was choosing between the two of them. One, ♠ I’m comfortable with but who caused me so much anguish. The other, different in just about every way, but still the brother of ♠.
A dream isn’t real life, only an assemblage of memory of me trapped at age ♠-teen. It is climate following me, even states away. A storm brewing out of space and time. A gray squirrel hops in view of the window. Sometimes, crickets chirp even in the daytime.
Comfort. I uttered comfortable to you earlier, but that might have raised a red flag. See, you spend so much time with someone and they become second nature. Spending years in the wake of someone. So normal and so formative, that my subconscious returns to it more often than anything.
My conception of love’s tectonics and platonics have been spliced. Sometimes I still say their name when I mean someone else.
Second. Nature. As if we could exhaust this one in exchange for a do-over. Today, the rain dries quicker than expected. I hear a guttural mewl from the trees and when I go to inspect it, I don’t find any creature there at all.
In a book I read last night, Dustin K. Pearson writes, “I didn’t think about you for years. I thought about what we did every day.”i In his book he writes of chickens clucking and laying eggs, chickens as abusers, victims as yolks and I hear one near the premises of the house nearby. Have I mentioned to you yet that there are other people in this place? We don’t know what’s got the chicken so worked up this morning. I finish the book after. There must be something in the air today.
In a filmii, in present day, a musician drops a mic into a fishing hole in search of sounds with meaning. Together, we, the subject, the filmmakers, the spectator, listen to the sound of ice from decades past as it melts. It is time travel. The musician’s creative practice has been disrupted not just by climate anxiety, but the self-destructive nature of humans, the creation of nuclear bombs. He is trying to listen to the natural world around him.
After all this, he is somehow able to make music that’s still beautiful in its own right, on instruments made by wood and metal forged by men.
The next evening, in a new filmiii, a woman who might be from another planet collapses the lines between what is alien and what is machine. She’s not meant to be where she’s arrived. But she finds herself still both things, and a woman. She discusses with her new colleague, a journalist, the political warzone they’ve both found themselves end. How we all—but in this case, Palestinians—are “victims of a map,” or man.
Impressed by her resolve and growth across time, her colleague asks how she is so steady knowing all the knowledge she knows. Her thought is simple and resolute: “It will all end.” In the end, she leaves her original mission behind to fight and encourages the viewer to do one thing: travel.
A change of scenery can reilluminate one’s vision of the world and its order.
I know this is sounding grim, but how might I convince you that this confrontation is helping? That I realize that I am man and this earth is full of altering nature?
If I, one man can do this, maybe you and others can do it to. Maybe it will burst men into action. Maybe we can savor a little more time.
In the most popular song in America right now, a singer repeats, “Yeah, I bite my tongue, it’s a bad habit.”iv He imagines a world where he’s not afraid to say the thing on his mind the most. Maybe a place can be a new feeling at which to arrive.
Here, it takes only minutes of being away from routine, to see that nature, on the surface, is alive and well. I see what I think is a burst of light, but it’s just a busied chipmunk, its warm colors alive and combustible. I watch a handsome blue jay hang out with other birds. On a walk, a lone monarch butterfly flits past me, and then later, another.
Later when we catch the sunset, I notice the leaves of the large tree next to the house are not brown, but a smoldering red. What a rich world there is to witness.
A woman and I explore my body’s resistance. How emotion is a motion. How it’s all connected. We notice there’s some resistance in my hips, my pelvis. I think, of course, this is not surprising, but I hadn’t considered how I carry a trauma with me physically. My past resistance is so rooted in my body it effects my gait.
“You’ve carried on / acting for so long anyway,”v Pearson wrote. So we do exercises where we move my hips and pelvis in three dimensions. She shakes me in motions I’ve never shook in before. Maybe, just maybe, I can shake this all off, then out.
The past few days, I don’t dream much of anything. Each day brings to me a new animal I didn’t know existed in this environment.
One day its chipmunks, then turkeys, then crows.
When I’m writing at night, my solar powered light attracts a small winged being. I dislike bugs but don’t have the heart to kill this one. Just here, searching for some warmth. What if we took on a practice of keeping everyone alive?
I am on the sun’s time now. It wakes me when I wouldn’t normally want to wake me, and its disappearance lulls me to sleep. I could sit in the sun for hours here, reading. In fact, I do. Fifty pages in and I notice a spider has been on my arm, has begun to spin a tiny web.
I am static, here. I am one with nature. Three birds circle above, sputtering to one another. I know they’re not vultures, but I move a little to show them I’m not dead. I am alive.
I’ve turned red from the light; got caught up in a game of playing with my limits. In an environment so different, I am learner and educator, testing for those of my kind that will come after me. I worry the color will stick, show everyone my recklessness rouged on my face, but in a few hours, it’s gone—I a chameleon in this clearing.
Recently, I joked with a poet friend about how Frank Ocean has our generation of Black poets “in a chokehold”—his lyrics always topping our pages, or sprinkled, italicized, in our verse. But it’s true he’s a bit of a poet. He has an eye for beauty: I listen to him sing as I writevi, “Hope our children walk by spring, when flowers bloom / Hope they’ll get to see my color, know that I’ve enjoyed sunshine / Pray they’ll get to see me, (me) wither”
He has an eye for imagining futures. And like the poet, he has a knack for disappearing.
Today I did something I’ve never done before: watched slowly as a storm approached. I sat in a chair outside in the wind and felt each change in the atmosphere. First, the sun was shining, then gray clouds floated in. It encroached slowly in the beginning. Then suddenly, a bolt of lightning, a steady rain for minutes, then hail. Here nature collapsed in on itself, engulfing everything.
Later, through grids in a screen, I watched three deer graze in the drizzle, at peace.
Grids. Little boxes. Check marks and to-do’s. Tick marks marking the time. It’s a shame once you get used to time—what an hour feels like, what it feels like to feel it go. The little blocks begin to take up a physical space.
Today I write about homesickness. I try to explain that this is existential: like life is changing and I can’t stop time. I’m not homesick here, but homesick for an adolescent comfort I’m not sure ever existed. I don’t want to leave [ ] and go back to [ ]. I’d rather just go straight back to home.
♦, the person I’m sharing this space with for these weeks, also writes about tormentas, I discover. But for her, the clouds and the sea might be images of restoration. I can’t imagine such a difference in framing, but I begin to trust her. Her name when translated means both sky and sea; I can’t believe I didn’t notice it before. It was staring me in the face the whole time.
Some neighbors brought us vases of flowers from a garden. They’re beautiful, and I imagine a garden with rows and rows of all type of color. Crimson, maroon, a vivid magenta. That there’s such color in natural flora, not just in a flower shop, is shocking to me. Some anthers and pollen fall onto my desk and I’m taken with such color. More gold than the sun can ever be.
Jacqui Germain writesvii “how fascinating the shape / a city collapses into after it is drained,” then later “some body-cities / are only seen when they are screaming.”
There were years where I was afraid of the wind: it can be monstrous in its full effect. It can dismantle a home, and can steal someone, so young, that you love. The clouds are mean, I thought. In their randomness it comforted people to justify it as not random. How cruel a logic.
But here, in this little house, my fears have dissipated. Not completely gone, but the panic has dissipated. If it’s my way to go, then so be it. I’ve already imagined the worst. In my dreams here, I look the storm in the eye. Here, right now, in the breeze, I can almost feel weightless.
A friend whom I’ve recently reconnected with, ♣, calls out of the blue. He’d done the same about five months ago—until then I hadn’t heard his voice in a decade. He was carrying so many things. We came from the same dirt. I tell him things I never told him 10 years ago, that I’ve learned about myself across these days, being outside. It’s so easy. It’s so natural. When we get off the phone, I’m so happy about it that I cry.
I’ve made friends with one of the cats. He is black and stays inside but watches through the window, wants to slip past when you open it. One day, when he gets out for the first time, he just steps out only a little, stops where the stone meets the grass in the fresh air.
We have formed a kinship. I can’t seem to deny the attention he asks of me. I bring him a blade of green grass to chew on, but he knows it’s not the same thing.
♦ asks for me to share my favorite show with her. It’s a big question but the answer reveals itself. But then, through it, suddenly, I worry I’ve laid bare the ugliest parts of me. This is what entertains me. This is the type of tension that leaves me in awe.
The subtitles aren’t capturing some of the moodiness, I feel. It seems less assured of its own themes in this different language. I worry it will not land with her. I worry that once seemed so deep seems a bit trivial. Still, each night we watch a little more of it. When it’s over, we have so much to talk about.
I worry that I’ve bored you. That the logic of these observations is escaping each of us. But I’m trying to be a stronger person, and for me that’s writing things down. For so long, I kept a secret that keeps me up at night. I thought I was comfortable with taking it to my grave, but maybe my body is tired of holding it in. I shrunk into myself. But I’ve been here 30 years and I want to feel as full and bursting as the roaring skies. I think there’s lightning in here, and I’m so close to letting it out.
My best friend from childhood, ♥, calls about her upcoming wedding. I love her so much, yet I feel like I it never comes across over the phone. It’s been so long since I’ve seen her. I just need to be in the same room with her, rid myself of the ice and thaw into our love.
Back in [ ], when I’m walking home I think “who can I call that will pick up?” and from my own fear, I spend many walks home not talking to anyone. Moving forward, I resolve to recenter ♥
♣ calls again and I’m so shocked I can’t seem to formulate a sentence. I worry he thinks I was scared when I saw his name on my phone. I worry that I was. I do the math and it’s just been four days. I realize that this is something that might be permanent. A best friend I thought I’d lost forever, back in my life, for good. Did I tell you I’ll be seeing him soon? I don’t know what he looks like anymore. I don’t know if he knows what I look like now. I consider sending him a photo. I don’t look like I did when I was 20.
We only talk for four minutes, but at the end of the call, so quickly, he tells me I love you. I didn’t expect him to say it, so he hung up before I could respond. But it’s true, I do love him back.
That first evening here, ♦ and I watched a movieviii that enraptured us. In it, the boy’s first queer love didn’t love him after all. Or wasn’t brave enough to love him. Though who would be in such a country. I take for granted what small freedoms I’m afforded. But has trauma not always left people like you and me, displaced? Despite these limitations, this boy was so free. He pulsed yellow and red and orange when he danced. He was shimmering. He was man. He was the sun, not the men around him. His orbit could pull the tides if they’d let it. His pull could disrupt the skies.
Steffan Triplett is a Black, queer poet and nonfiction writer from Joplin, Missouri. His writing is forthcoming or appears in, among other spaces, The Iowa Review, Fence, Lit Hub, Vulture, and DIAGRAM. His work has been anthologized in Nepantla: An Anthology Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color (Nightboat 2018), Revisiting the Elegy in the Black Lives Matter Era (Routledge 2019), and It Came From The Closet: Queer Reflections on Horror (Feminist Press 2022). He has received fellowships from Lambda Literary, Callaloo, Cave Canem, and is a VONA/Voices alum. Steffan is an instructor at the University of Pittsburgh and the Assistant Director for the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics. His first book, Bad Forecast, is forthcoming from Essay Press (2024).
Mariceu Erthal is a Mexican photographer/writer whose work mixes image and narrative to reflect on humanitarian issues across Latin America as well as autobiographical themes. She received a grant from the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund in 2020 and her work has been published in, among other spaces, National Geographic, Bloomberg, The Guardian, Le Monde, and 6Mois. She was selected by World Press Photo’s 6×6 Global Talent Program in 2019, for the 2021 Women Photograph Mentorship Class, and for the New York Times portfolio review in 2020 and 2022. She has also collaborated with NGOs such as The Marshall Project and WHO.
i From the poem “Letter 13” by Dustin K. Pearson in Millennial Roost
ii Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda (2017) directed by Stephen Nomura Schible
iii Friendship’s Death (1987) directed by Peter Wollen
iv “Bad Habit” performed by Steve Lacy
v From the poem “Choosing Abuse” by Dustin K. Pearson in Millennial Roost
vi “Wither” performed by Frank Ocean
vii From the poem “On The Chemical Properties & Uses of Dried Blood” by Jacqui Germain in Bittering the Wound
viii And Then We Danced (2020) directed by Levan Akin