American Journal

Writer Courtney Sina Meredith shares vivid, mesmerising fragments about the American Fall 2016

Form-bending writer and 2017 Ockham long-lister for Tail of the Taniwha, Courtney Sina Meredith opens her notebooks to us, from her prestigious 2016 residencies at the International Writing Program, University of Iowa, and at the Island Institute in Sitka Alaska.

Supermarket: Bread Garden Watering Hole: Fox Head Bookshop: Prairie Lights Café: Bluebird Diner Album: The National, High Violet Mood: Overcrowded Players: 2-4, 3+, small pieces may be hazardous Diet: Black tea, microwave dhal, boiled eggs

Iowa City September
Because she was so unlike moonlight
Because the night arranged itself according to height
Because everyone read the same books and said the same things
Because the buses were dependable
Because she settled like dust
Because the days were numbered according to weight
Because she was impatient
Because the horizon stuck around
Because there was no quality control
Because the summit mirrored the base
Because women of a certain education can say no
Because she had to keep herself new
Because it was filmic to mourn past lovers
Because black goes with everything
Because she had become a symbol

Cliff in Alaska

I don’t argue back. I turn my brain off and when their lips stop moving, I say, ah huh. Here’s what you gotta ask yourself: what world do you have experience in? How do you run your family? You run it like Trump runs his business? Naw. No. Ah huh.

I don’t want to live with people who have limits. What I do says who I am. You just watch what I do. Watch me on my boat. I work it real good. Restored it myself. Made it all over again. Painted it blue. Gave the sail a second life.

You got to ask yourself, where is my spiritual support? For me, dear, it’s up the mountain. I don’t get it with my family. I love my family. I see them, give their kids gifts. Then I go up the mountain and find my real brothers.

Ever lived off the grid?

Ever lived off the land?

I took my friend and his son out on the boat. The son, he’s a Republican. He loves Trump. Don’t ask me why. That’s not my son, that’s Tom’s son. And I just kept watching Tom. I watched him with his son. This young man, letting his mouth run, talking all sorts. Believing it too. He believed all that hate was love, can you see that? See how it works like that for some people?

I just kept watching Tom, I studied him. I learned he just wanted to be around his boy, no matter what. I thought of my own son. The idea of my son. I had a plan for him. Of course I had a plan for him. I asked myself out on the water, who is he really? I realised my son is just like Tom’s son.

There’s all these sons across America walking in the opposite direction of love.

But you got to love them anyway.

The River

He feels badly for me

'this is your room? My room is
much bigger'


but does your room circle the river?

At night, two wings release the walls as hounds and we (the TV and I) dance
beyond the margins
kick off our shoes
say goodbye to CNN
and that's us…

the stuff you look up to
muttering Venus, stars, elsewhere

'you're being silly now'


but it's your size, you could
fit into the dryer
for a quarter

you could
wrap your hands around my throat
break me in two

where I'm from, back home
men take me seriously

he laughs
he pretends
to read my face
in the pages, as though

this is the meat off my bones, as though
these are all the days I waited …

to be discovered
found uninhabited

'Oh America, my mirror, my everything I ever wanted to be'

he jokes
cradling my head in the crook of his arm
the whole of the dark sun

men don't pin me like this
back home, where I'm from

he says he understands
it's all a conversation
I'm having with myself

'this is where you pray? My abyss
is much bigger'

he lies
he peels me
like an apple

nobody tells you
the devil is an empath
nobody mentions
his silken voice

circling the river
who itself never knows
if it's coming or going

who itself never asks
if it ends where it begins.

To-do list

  • Insurance AP?
  • Gym AP – check date?
  • Give social security number to Anne. Find social security number. Obvs.
  • Do laundry.
  • Get quarters for laundry.
  • Problem solve story problems.
  • New songs.
  • Brown again – innovate.
  • Official fiction.
  • Work through presentation for music event.
  • Re-listen to music and choose.
  • ‘Broken arse and broken hearts’ – next book?
  • Lol.
  • New approach for work flow

Find the flow?

  • High, mid, low pressure.
  • Create a passive income?
  • Calendar return to AK.
  • The power of the imagination.
  • Bleach whites.
  • Insane red. Shocking red.
  • The angel in the bible is a pizza messenger.
  • Aspiration for eternity.
  • Pyramids: fear of death.
  • People are looking for eternity.
  • No one wants to end.

BFF at Bread Garden

A therapist has to be objective, yes, professional, yes, but I wish mine would contradict me sometimes.

About my mother? Well, she was very critical. She is very critical. I guess she unfolds situations.

I've taken this on. I deconstruct people. The things they say, I'm always reaching behind their words. Looking for a deeper meaning?

I unfold situations.

After sitting in the sun I emailed my therapist back. I read her email at the gym. It's a lie what they say about Americans, they're actually very kind.

I've met so many good Americans. So many nice ones!

This bike at the gym – the bike I was on – it stopped working. The guy next to me saw it all and cut his workout short. Wiped the handles because it was very sweaty – and he gave it to me.

Americans give things away all the time. They're so generous!

When I go back to Europe, I’m going to tell everyone that Americans aren’t the enemy. They aren’t the answer, either. It’s just another place. A place where you can dream with your eyes open.

Prairie Lights

Do you know where the poetry books are?

Yes. No. Actually, just follow me.

Here are the pages that survived the flood. Read them all quickly, before the waters rise again

Like windows into a past we can't leave.

Sort of.

And sunlight? Do you know where the sunlight is?

Here, shimmering, in the bowls of my hips –


All sorts, really.

Should I read it in one go or take it a bite at a time?

Why not, may as well. Read how you eat.

Just follow me. I know the way, even the way home. The way to all the good stuff, every poem –

is aching for a place among the stars?


I keep my own hours

I write on the side

I take it easy on myself

I make excuses

I follow the rules

The law of nature

The loss of appetite

I come undone

Just like you

I sit in the long grass

I take my time

I take notes

In lectures

At readings

In lieu of feeling

I take notes

I cite wars

Just like you

I open my arms

I follow through

I know the script

We are reading from

I sit by the river

I pick every petal

The river loves me

The river doesn’t love me

Just like you

Tai Chi at Dey House on Clinton Street

Begin with your arms wrapped around absence. You are hugging a tree. Bend forward slowly, let your arms fall. Gather the chi at your ankles. Do it gently. Don't make eyes with the professor taking the class. Keep to your space. Pull the chi up towards the heavens slowly. This is what the dragon does to replenish itself. Look at the chi in your cupped hands; hold your fingers out. Put your hands behind your back. Keep cupping the chi. Contemplate. Don’t think about the heat. Roll your hands over the ridge of your hips. Here are all the decisions, made day after day. The bounty. Bring the chi to your chest. The treasure. Raise the chi out towards the world. Open your hands. Release.

November in New York

I hear the term ‘liberal elite,’ and the bird inside my chest stops singing. Goes quiet. Plays dead.

I wonder when the music will come back?

Meanwhile, the clothes need washing and there’s two girls at the door wanting to eat something like what they’ve seen in the movies.

Hotdogs, pizza, burgers as big as your head. They want to drink cosmopolitans like Carrie and her girlfriends, fuck strangers and stay up all night high on life.

I let them in and we read together, in silence, while the small sun goes to bed, folding itself into the side of a skyscraper.

Harbor Books, Sitka

She’s reading herself in the coffee shop
Turning the pages of herself in public

One guy slaps his knee
That’s so funny

The fireman coughs
The barista says

It’s the same people in power
Over and over again

More coughs

More strangers laughing

She’s taking in the fine print
How did these words come to mind?

How did they win out?

Holding herself up to the light
Touching the paper of her skin.

Today was Thanksgiving, I lay in bed feeling crappy, picturing the moon, beaming in some other part of the world, calling my womb home. I thought about leaving the house but I couldn’t move, there was nothing about my body that made any more or any less sense than usual. I wanted to see my mother and cry into her shadow. I wanted to be some place warm and free of longing. I wanted to buy sea salt and hot sauce. I wanted to bench press spiritual cargo. I wanted all my questions answered by a higher power. The quilt got cooler, my legs stopped paddling. I gave up for an hour. Later in the day when the darkness took a blue tinge and the mountains made up for the quiet (because, you know, your voice can only carry so far), I ate frozen berries in bed. My body got cooler. I pictured the sun, beaming in some other part of the world.

Iowa House Hotel

In a dream last night we agreed on a course of action. Here is our true north, said the actors playing you and me. They shook hands.

One cooked for the other, one did the dishes, they measured their freedom by square metres.

In another dream to a soundscape of elevator jazz, they found each other in a bar overseas.

You looked so much like you, so much as I remember.

The bartender said, what’ll it be? You asked for wine, the person playing me asked for gin, typical.

Outside, because it was kind of London and kind of Jerusalem and sort of Chicago, the sky was a mash-up of glitter constellations.

Whoever you almost were in the dream – some voice inside a code of scents – tricked my mind.

You looked so much like you, so much as I remember.


On the ninth day
Ravens swoop above the church
Their dark feathers cast huge tattoos
On the face of the sky


On the ninth day I eat a blackberry scone and I meet Shannon, she introduces herself by the coffee machine. I sit down with my Earl Grey, ruminate over the women in my phone: one who says we need a clean slate, one who says I’m the one. They’re both wrong. I know now. Watching Shannon eat the last of her muffin. She puts on her coat and scarf, we talk about the landslide, you can see the slide from seven points in town.

When the volcano blew, it covered everything in ash and then dust covered the ash. Shannon gestures to the ground, tells me it’s unstable, soft in places. Arcade Fire comes through the speakers, Deep Blue, god I love the lyrics but I don’t know. I don’t know about any clean slate, if it’s even a true thing, if I want to forget, if I even know how to, how to build over my own ashes.

All images taken by the author; header image taken in Times Square, New York.

Courtney Sina Meredith performs with Tourettes at Golden Dawn in Auckland 5:30pm 26 February 2017

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The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

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