Laura Kiesel plumbs the depths of familial dysfunction, and the wretched inheritance of addiction, thoroughly and with impressive nuance in Swallowing the Stem of Adam’s Apple, combining integrity and personal grit that’s interwoven throughout her lyrical style. She writes beautifully about her fractured relationship with her mother, and the ripple effect it has had throughout the rest of her life. Her work is an unflinching examination of the erotic implications of romantic relationships and filled with visually exhilarating metaphors and analogies.
Raised a Roman Catholic, Kiesel describes religious rituals and makes use of Christian symbols, while referencing Biblical figures and stories, in ways that are simultaneously subversive and familiar. Illness and death are common themes in her work, whom Kiesel often personifies and treats as old friends–more accurately, rivals or frenemies–competing for her time and attention and that of her loved ones. Instead of keeping them at arm’s length, Kiesel embraces them and the macabre reminders her daily life offers her of her own and others’ shared mortality and finiteness. Swallowing the Stem of Adam’s Apple does not demur in its assessment of the self and society but instead navigates the trials and tribulations of the human condition with visceral astuteness.
Targeted Age Group:: Age 18 and older
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I have been writing poems since I was a young teenager. However, I really came into my own as a poet mid-way through college. Poetry is my instinctive reaction to the world. It wasn't until my mid-thirties that I decided I wanted to collate a selection of my poems that follow certain themes. In particular, I wanted the collection to chronicle an evolution of trauma from familial dysfunction and its lingering impacts on adulthood.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
As this is poetry, most of the characters are really myself, my family, friends, enemies, and lovers. Many times the boundaries of these categories are blurred. While many of my poems are set fully in reality, I also rely quite a bit on Biblical references and figures, as well as to characters in fairy tales.
I would love to feed you
of words, frothy with sin(cerity)
and watch your Adam’s apple
jut up and down
with the ingestion.
And would you please, then,
take me by the hips
in your need
take sensuous sips
till your belly bloated
with my sweetness.
And when it is done
I want a serpent-moment
the subsequent silence
And to seal it
I want to remain naked
as rebellion against
the god of shame
proving we not only
ate the flesh of Adam’s apple
but also swallowed
Somewhat like a strand of hair gone gray, I attempt
To rip you out right at the root.
Astonished by the sudden shock of opaque,
I gape at the white line, the white sign,
That tells me something sick is penetrating the shaft.
Like some skunk strike branding my skull.
(Is it my skull or soul I rip you from?)
And is it just a single strand, or the symptom of many to come invading, until my head stands—a canyon of colorlessness?
A field of gray grass sprouting up aghast
against a white winter?
Could it be dandruff? Or the snowflakes swooning down from the sky and caught in my tangled mass of hair
like netted butterflies?
I scratch until the skin sloughs off and the bone beneath bleeds.
At least blood puts some color into my braid.
Each weed I pluck out produces two more in its place, until I’ve been bleached,
The brown and burgundy shades replaced
by signs of premature age.
I have been blotted out by your betrayal.
As all my pastels go pale, the hues and blues of my mood cinder to a cool ice cube void of color.
My fingers beg for baldness and
Trichotillomania takes over.
Each yank is like its own small surgery:
A tumor taken out, the shoot of the chemo syringe
up the tender vein.
Each pull is the whip against my Puritan skin.
Once a Repunzel in the making,
Sloping her hair down the tower, entreating you to climb,
With a shining head of hair, thickly-braided and quite fine.
I have severed the staircase—
Step by step and strand by strand.
Once I had a mane of glory.
Now I wear a wig.
"A Poem for Uncle"
The inseam of uncle’s jacket
matches the inseam of his coffin:
satin, periwinkle-purple…such soft words,
such softness inside the dense wood,
like some tough fruit, a pineapple perhaps,
its skin callused hard and impervious around its mushy pulp.
When the heat permeates the ground, it lasers through the oak-wood, sears the skin and pits out the rot, like when we eat Concord Grapes, our teeth splitting the skin
from the flavor.
Is that what the worms do?
Eat through the sins and leave the seeds for God?
The bones left there idly planted in the ground to grow trees
My uncle’s baby fine hair, combed over the bald spot.
Covering up the bad spot.
We bury the bad things.
We leave the worms to seed out the secrets, the bare bones,
and leave them there for God.
We, we can’t see that much, we need to keep them covert.
In a coffin.
We need some spirit guide to bear it away and
so dig it deep inside the swelter of Earth.
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