Cady Vishniac studies Yiddish and Hebrew at the University of Michigan. Her poetry has appeared in Verse Daily, Tupelo Quarterly, and Sugar House Review. Her fiction has won the contests at New Letters and Ninth Letter and is forthcoming in Glimmer Train. Her poem “In All My Dreams My Love and I Are Chased by an Army of Terrible Men” will appear in the Fall 2017 issue of Carve. Preorder or subscribe by Sunday, October 1, for special savings and discounts.
Please tell us a little bit about what spurred you to write “In All My Dreams My Love and I Are Chased by an Army of Terrible Men.”
I had an assignment in my poetry course—we were learning the poetic line by writing some very long ones, basically. This assignment had me so thrilled. I was finishing coursework in a fiction MFA and had been mostly writing fiction for the past year, while everybody else in the course were really gifted MFA poets. When I heard the words “long lines,” my ears perked up. I thought, “Finally, something I know how to do!”
But it’s all a sort of trick. It’s not really true that people who’ve been writing a lot of prose lately are only able to do prose poems or long lines, and a lot of my friends who do both verse and prose are fine to write this short, wild, image-driven stuff. It’s about the individual, and my individual tendency is to ramble. You find the thing that makes your ears perk up, and you don’t feel like the worst in the room anymore.
Of course, I’m mostly touching on form here, and circumstance, and while these are aspects of the poem, it’s about more. It’s about how I’ve been so relieved to get catcalled less now that I’m over thirty and I’ve gained twenty pounds and I always have a small child with me. And yet, it never entirely stops. I was hoping I could do something, anything, to make the inappropriate advances of strangers just go away, but I can’t. My frustration with this can boil over at any moment. I just think about whatever man bothered me in public lately, and I’m like, “I’m cranky and my ankles are full of fluid and when I gave birth a couple years back my vagina merged with my butthole. So can you not?”
And then I think about my daughter, who is borderline perfect, putting up with this nonsense for most of her life, and I kind of want to burn down the world for a couple hours. So that’s the space I was in, only I wrote this poem instead of burning down the world.
We were moved by the ending of the poem. Did you have this closure in mind as you wrote the poem?
Not remotely! In fact, the poem’s been edited a bit since it was written, both in workshop and by editors at Carve, because I went on a bit at the end about how frustrated I was, wanting to be the wall between my daughter and a world with lots of bad men in it.
I have what I think is a prose writer’s tendency to take the wind out of my own sails by explaining everything to death. In order to get to this ending, I had to hack off the original ending, the explanation. The result’s been pleasing, and I’m really grateful to the Carve editors for working with me!
The quotidian has entered the dreamscape in your poem. It serves as witness to the multiple layers of stress we are exposed to throughout the day, either via media or our own lives. It is not mundane, but achingly human. How often does the quotidian enter your work?
All the time! I think it’s a cultural thing—I’m in the world, not seeking the next one. I’m telling the world when it’s fucked up, not turning the other cheek. I’m whining about the little stuff, because I’m not from a culture that puts a huge premium on niceness or the appearance of niceness. I’m trying to be truthful. And maybe this makes me sound like a Woody Allen character or whatever, but if you ask me how I am, you’d better be prepared for a ten-minute anecdote about the blood tests I just got to figure out what’s up with my thyroid.
I’d argue, by the way, that this is happiest, to just let yourself vent about stuff, that the real sad sacks are the people who tell you they’re fine.
But anyway, I think for the quotidian to enter someone’s work, you have to be this sort of person, the sort of person who never says they’re fine. You have to go through your day fully engaging, feeling every bump, registering every bump, and maybe even having a heated argument with it. And if you are the sort of person who’s fully engaged, who’s never bored, then even when you write dreamy, you’re writing the ordinary, workaday world. The ordinary, workaday world is all you’ve got.
What writing projects are you working on now?
In theory, I’m writing a novel in which a bunch of American Jews fight bitterly about Israel/Palestine, as we're known to do, and I’m working on finishing up a collection of English-Yiddish stories for my MFA thesis. In reality, my thesis advisor seems kind of baffled by my stories in a way that makes me feel really down about the whole endeavor, I just got married, my kid is starting kindergarten, the land of my birth is sliding into fascism, people all across the political spectrum appear to hate Jews more than ever—maybe these are all excuses, but I’ve spent the past week or two doing my own version of self-care where I crank out poetry and flash fiction instead of all the other stuff I promised I’d do.
So two-hundred-word flash pieces about all the bugs that scare me, starting with these huge ants in my new apartment. Poems about how silly it is that I fear these ants so much—they’re not fire ants and not a single one of them has ever bitten me, but I think I just started to be terrified of ants and other bugs as a kid because I realized that’s what girls do. And how do I un-program myself from this particular learned behavior for long enough to clean the kitchen? How do I make that a poem? And so on.
I think we’re all allowed to just write weird stuff about ants sometimes, if it feels right.