Inside the amazing brains of
Brady Peterson & Renuka Raghavan
BRADY PETERSON lives near Belton, Texas where for much of the past thirty years he worked building Houses or teaching rhetoric and literature at a local university. He once worked a fork lift in a lumber yard in East Austin, tried to teach eighth graders the importance of using language, worked briefly as a technical writer, and helped raise five daughters. He has run one marathon, fought in one karate tournament, climbed one mountain, failed to make the UT baseball team as a walk on, and took tango lessons with his wife. He is the author of Glued to the Earth, Between Stations, Dust, From an Upstairs Window, and García Lorca Is Somewhere in Produce
"These are visionary poems wherein ordinary objects and events of everyday life shimmer and shine in all their earthy beauty."
~ Angela Alaimo O’Donnell, Love in the Time of Coronavirus: A Pandemic Pilgrimage
BLM: Are we alone in the universe?
BP: The universe is very big. Billions of galaxies or more. Then there’s talk about the metaverse. I assume your question is about other intelligent life in the universe. I don’t know. What we currently know about matter, energy, time, and the speed of light, I’m not sure it would matter. I could suggest, for all practical purposes, we are alone. But then I can imagine someone else or something else being there. I can imagine looking at the earth and seeing only a tiny point of light. I can even imagine being on a different planet in a different galaxy, a planet with a binary star system. Then I am sucked back into my body, trapped in my leathery skin. One could just as easily ask, are we alone here? Sometimes it feels that way. Sometimes it doesn’t.
BLM: Most useful criticism in your writing or life in general?
BP: Strunk and White sums it up as well as anyone: omit needless words. Cleatus Ratan was the one who told me to delete the last two lines of every poem I wrote. I think he stole the advice from someone else. I have found that very useful. I have even deleted lines of my poems after they have been published. Then there is Anne Lamott’s “every first draft is a shitty first draft.” So you begin with a sentence, any sentence will do. Not everything you write has to end up in your final draft. Nor does there necessarily have to be a final draft. Neil Gaiman has said something like that too. It’s good advice for writing. I think it can drift over into life in general. You have the option of rethinking something. I have found it to be one of the most liberating things a person can do. Then there’s Stephen Stills’s “Love the One You’re With.” One could go on and on with this question.
BLM: What do you consider your best poem, and why?
BP: I’ve never been able to answer this question. See Stephen Stills’s “Love the One You’re With.” Truth is, I like reading my poetry, and my favorite poem is usually the one I am reading. I have several poet friends who confess to a similar tendency. I will suggest that since there is no money in poetry, if you didn’t like your own poetry, you should be doing something else. That being said, let me offer my poem “He Checks His Luggage.” It was written a couple of years after my oldest daughter died, so it carries with it a certain emotional weight for me. The notion that the ordinary clings is both frustrating and comforting. I like the way the poem jumps from second to third to first and then back the third person. There’s a reason for it, but I don’t tend to explain the underlying current of my poems. How I read my own poems have little to do with how someone else should read them. Also, in the offering below, I have deleted the final line that appeared when the poem was first published:
He Checks His Luggage
How the ordinary clings, even in the midst of disaster—
the hospital parking attendant takes your money. My child
just died, you explain as if it meant the natural order
of collecting parking fees should change, as if the sky
should be green—you drive the speed limit, because
you always have.
The house is the way you left it, the toothbrush
still in its holder, the coffee pot, socks on the floor.
Something more should happen, he mutters to himself—
music perhaps, a tango playing the backdrop
if this were a film, but the rooms hum an ordinary
silence. This is no film.
The last time I saw you, he writes in his notebook,
the sun was shining. You smile at me, always enough.
We talk as if we would talk again in a few days
about your family being home for Thanksgiving,
about mine—how nice to run into each other
in a grocery store parking lot.
Someone passes us pushing a cart. I should know
this person, he thinks. We part. It’s been a year
or two. I look for you, but the synchrony is missing.
I open a bag of Cheetos, something to munch on
as I drive back to my house—the toothbrush
has been replaced with an electric one,
something my oral surgeon gave me after implanting
a screw into my jaw. Titanium, he tells me.
That should last the duration. Suddenly it stops—
the ordinary. That’s how you know, he says
to the women checking his bag at the counter.
~ from García Lorca is Somewhere in Produce
A Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fictions nominee, RENUKA RAGHAVAN, is an Indian-American author who writes short-form prose and poetry. She is the author of Out of the Blue (Big Table Publishing, 2017) and The Face I Desire (Nixes Mate, 2019). Her third collection of flash fiction is forthcoming by Cervena Barva Press. Find a complete list of all her previous publications below. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @RenukaRag.
"Renuka Raghavan’s words create a life that we recognize, that makes us weep, pray, and love."
~ Jennifer Martelli,
The Uncanny Valley
BLM: What role does grief play in your writing?
RR: To quote a TV show, “What is grief, if not love persevering?” I think grief is an important component of our lives, and we experience it in various degrees on a daily basis. I try to mirror those experiences in most of my stories.
BLM: Favorite TV show of all time?
RR: It changes, but right now it’s Ted Lasso. In the past it's been Three's Company, Gilligan's Island, Seinfeld, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Gilmore Girls, and almost ALL British murder mysteries ever made.
BLM: What do you consider your best poem or short fiction, and why?
RR: There’s a story in my new collection Nothing Resplendent Lives Here called “Looking for Sagittarius,” that deals with grieving loved ones, climate change, loss of self, monsoons, and mangoes. It’s got it all! I like this piece because it reflects different snapshots of our lives, similar to finding an old disposable camera and developing each exposure into a narrative.
Looking for Sagittarius
Now? Well, nowadays there have been more mice than people in my life. I heard on the news that mice have increased in population. They seek the indoors where food is plentiful and where they can reproduce repeatedly. As flat mates go, they haven’t been too bad. The one I usually see in the kitchen has all but claimed the wall near the range. It’s fine with me, I hardly cook. Just as long as he stays away from the fridge and microwave. The gray one that haunts the hallway outside my bathroom is a little bastard. He loves scaring me at night when I get up to pee.
The Delhi air is so polluted that the once temporary orange haze that hovered over us from dawn until dusk, is now a thick plume of red, mirroring the clay dirt, blotting out nearly all the stars. Outside the city, the night is so dark, it’s easy to forget which way you’re going. I wish I lived out there. That one night of the big storm, awakened by sporadic flashes of binding light, I stood out on the veranda, face upturned to the sky, grinning. Vishnu was probably taking screenshots of Earth, to show Brahma and Shiva later, so they can all share a laugh over our pathetic frailty.
Some nights I wake up because I run out of air to breathe. The hollow apartment echoes like an empty jukebox and aches like my Nani’s fading memory. I’ve tried sleeping pills, it only makes things exponentially worse.
I dyed my hair purple and gave myself a pixie cut with rusted scissors, and I think I look fabulous, but no one else seemed to like it as much as I did. Most nights, I go to the rooftop to look for Sagittarius in the sky. I think if I find him, maybe I’d also find Baba, but I haven’t found either of them yet. Sometimes I can hear the grandpa in the adjacent building singing Hindi love songs from the 60s to his dead wife’s picture. I think her favorites were Asha Bhosle and Mohammed Rafi.
It’s almost monsoon season, it seems to come earlier and last longer with each passing year. I can taste the rain in the air as early as May. The last of the mango crop is finally ripe enough to eat. The fruit vendor sold out his cart in minutes, everyone clamoring for something good, something delicious. Maybe that’s why when I cut into one, a mouse scurried away with a quarter of my mango. He needed something sweet, too.