Author Note: Zefyr Lisowski

As part of our ongoing Author Note series, Zefyr Lisowski shares the inspiration behind her poems in The Puritan Issue 50: Summer 2020.

1.

I’m fascinated by Kesha, née Ke$ha, and her ubiquity in the mid-2000s. “Tik Tok,” with its wobbly bass, drunk-white-girl rapping and trebly keyboard, was truly inescapable; I loved singing along to it. But Kesha’s work from that entire period was deeply tied to her rapist, producer and co-writer Lukasz Gottwald—a man who still owns the distribution rights to her music and has continued to profit off every song she releases. That foundational violence is baked into the very fabric of Ke$ha’s person, and therein entered one of the questions of the poems. There’s a rough moral consensus towards boycotting art created by abusers—but what do we do with the co-writer, the producer, the executive, the publisher?

These poems started off asking the ways one becomes complicit in various systems of sexual and cultural subordination, using my own life as a jumping off point. Both “Girl Works” are interested in expanding gendered conversations around rape culture, the way in which rape is perpetuated by people across a wide range of genders. And, perhaps too quietly, the poems are also staring spite-eyed at the construct of the American suburb and the whiteness therein—which contains the same calculated blandness, insatiable theft, and violence at its core as Kesha’s music with Gottwald.

*

2.

My mother, who grew up in the ’50s to a house full of siblings and absent of money, eventually settled into the middle class; her class trajectory, of course, was one almost exclusively available to white people. Because of this, after I graduated from college, I barely set foot in a suburb until she moved to one, and I hated it when I visited. The place was alien, uncomfortable, and violent to me, a desert of money and supremacy. But I can’t imagine what her experience moving there was like, either—as a high school dropout, teacher, and teen mom who never had a room of her own before her second husband, my father, died. 

Visiting her in the aftermath of that death, I was struck by the impossibility of knowing what she went through—but also, walking the quiet streets by the house, how the architectures surrounding us reminded me of nothing but my experiences with sexual violence. My first rapists were from the suburbs. That’s perhaps too easy a metaphor, but it’s true. The way they acted was tied up with veneers of propriety, and because of that it took me years to realize I had even been violated. It was all in tandem. I doubt the same was true of my mother, but I tried to write into the synchronicity of our lives nonetheless.

All these poems were written from a place of confrontation, looking into where language failed me, and speaking again and again until I felt at home. This isn’t traditionally thought of as “love,” but I think it is; for me writing became a form of survival, a way to keep showing up for myself and others. The poems reckon, hold, and work against—a pop song, the suburbs, the ways family can fail. But, for years after the incident this poem is about, I’d still meet up with my mother, eat vegan sandwiches with her, and walk in the woods away from her (new) neighborhood. It’s quiet there; people are rarely out and about. I hate it, but when I look at my life, I’m in love with it all. 

Zefyr Lisowski is a trans poet from the South. She's the author of the short poetry collection Blood Box (Black Lawrence Press, 2019) and a poetry co-editor at Apogee; her poems and essays have appeared in Waxwing, The Offing, Literary Hub, and elsewhere. She's received support from Tin House Summer Writers Workshop, Blue Mountain Center, and the Center for Book Arts; Zef's also the recipient of a 2020 Center for the Humanities Adjunct Incubator Grant for Wolf Inventory, a collaborative film about ghost stories and sexual violence. She lives in Brooklyn.

Back to blog Next