by Emily Pinkerton
Emily Pinkerton (EP): Let’s start somewhere broad and full of possibility: imagine an alternate universe or existence. What would that look like? (I like to imagine life in outer space, without a need for space suits or shuttles or artificial gravity. I also like to imagine war becoming obsolete.)
Gala Mukomolova (GM): This question delights and puzzles me, perhaps because I am always imagining and slipping through universes. For starters, I think we all have innumerable alternate universes inside us. Private universes. Like when I am in a hotel room with my love, feeling the physical relief of being near her after a month apart, my heart is a planet spinning slowly in a universe that no one sees. She is in her own universe of sleep and I don’t know what else. When I feel her body too far from mine in the bed, I imagine her arm falling across my waist. I imagine so hard that it happens and now my universe of desire has shifted the orbit of her secret one.
Then there is the alternate universe that exists in the public sphere. Some of it, I imagine, is a symptom of American existence. Just being alive in this country, waking up into a private room with the sun streaming over all the plants I tend to, and on the other side of the world—unimaginable (to me) war and devastation. And, I don’t mean to be abstract about this. There is a veil. What some mystics call the gauzy fog between life and death but what I want to talk about is the veil between life and life. And, for whatever reason will suit you, I am thinking about Adrienne Rich’s “The Burning of Paper instead of Children”: In America we have only the present tense. I am in danger. You are in danger.
I’m sure this answer wasn’t what you intended to find. Let me say then, as a gesture of intention to understand: If there is universe that exists out there that is not coded in the language of oppression, if there is universe where power is defined by a tree withstanding a storm or a bud opening rather than the subjugation and exploitation of people, if there is a universe where I can walk down any street at any hour with the woman I love, who is black, who defies this universe’s idea of gender, without fear for her life or for ours—with only softness of love streaming through us—take me to that universe.
EP: What is a problem you’ve been trying to solve recently?
GM: I’ve been trying to solve the problem of not being employed. It’s a really big problem and it’s the only one I seem set up to solve myself (unlike, say, the problem of my mother’s homophobia or Trump’s impending dictatorship). I’m one of those over-qualified, under-experienced millennials that people keep writing about but I got mixed up somewhere because, due to coming out in high school and a great deal of social punishment, most of my social circles are made up of queer dropouts I found in the dark corners of trash nightlife. So, I didn’t develop those helpful millennial tech abilities, although I know how to grow a companion-planted garden, make a liver tincture, read your tarot cards, and fashion you a duct tape dildo harness—your general self-taught dyke skills. It’s not hopeless for me, I’ll admit, I have a lot of experience in (warning, buzzword) community outreach, education, and editing—and I’m good at Squarespace, Instagram, etcetera—selling oneself—it’s just that I’ve been too busy building relationships instead of a “brand.” You see, I’m using this interview as a cover letter; I’m trying to solve the problem.
EP: Like you, I’ve lost a parent, and I’m interested in the ways that we as writers grapple with loss in our art. I’ve noticed that when you write about your father’s death, you often write about time—what happened on various anniversaries (Sukkot), or “[your] first birthday without a living father.” How would you say grief has changed your experience or perception of time?
GM: Grief shattered time. Not for a while but forever because I began again. When my father died, my friend Francine told me she thinks something intrinsic to our very sense of self dies with our parents. I’ve felt that way for a long time. Not just psychically but physically. My scent changed, my ambitions melted away, my relationship to my future self. Grief is one thing but it’s not ordinary grief. When something we are made from, when someone we exist in relation to in the most fundamental way possible is gone, there is a tear in the fabric and we fall through it. Time before and after split because I had to begin again as if I were brand new. But, none of us are brand new and that’s my trouble.
EP: What is your favorite act of self-care?
GM: My first thought is remembering to eat. Mainly because anxiety makes me forget and then I’m more anxious and starved but also depressed so, like, not moved to feed myself. So, I must eat real food and it should have nutritional value. That being said, my real favorite act of self-care is taking a bus to my best friend Marina’s house and sitting on her green couch weeping under a jasmine plant while she combines kombucha and ice cream together for us, a recipe we fondly refer to as “sadness floats.”
EP: In “Rethinking Sukkot on the Anniversary of my Father’s Death,” you talk about sacrifice becoming habitual for your family, so routine as to be unacknowledged. What role does sacrifice play in your writing?
GM: O, I’m not sure how to answer this question without morphing into an image of a creature of sorrow tip-tapping on the keys of immortal midnight. I think there is a woman out there who is also me that might venture to say her sacrifice is whatever loyalty she might possesses to her family and the repercussions of disavowal when she writes her story as one that survives not because of but despite that family. I want to tell you, instead, how very painful it can be for me to be near my mother, how it evokes my child self—who has no language, who has never felt known enough to be loved—and yet, how I go to my mother every week and eat dinner across from her. The two us, her monologue of disappointments, my acknowledging silent nods, until an hour or an eternity has passed and I take my leave. She needs me, I know and there is no peace with her or without her. The weight of her suffering is more painful to me than my own. Writing is like that too, the mining of and tending to a scar.
EP: In “I Know the Truth, Forget All Other Truths” you end the collaborative piece with a line attributed to a mother figure, “no one loves an anxious woman.” I loved this piece so much, but that line in particular stuck with me because I think it taps into a widely-held belief of “complicated,” neurotic women being less worthy of love than their male counterparts. In the context of the piece, I thought the line was hilarious and I laughed a lot at it, but I wonder how often you’ve encountered that sentiment in your life and what your response to it is.
GM: Well first off, I’m always encouraging my straight-leaning friends to get rid of their neurotic boyfriends, so maybe I’m a bad guy here, but I just think neurotic boys get a lot of love. You know, they’re just modest-mousing around the house, leaving it smelling like stale beer and the tense air of mediocrity. I also think a lot of people love “complicated” women until they realize what complicated means. People want to behold a thunderstorm but they don’t want to get struck by lightning. Well, some people want to get struck by lightning but then their point of interest isn’t thunder at all—it’s darkness. I’ve loved complicated women all my life, I think they make much more sense to me—because the world is complicated and who we are in relation to each other is not easy. What I’ve found, however, is that in order to be two complicated women together, you must have a shared language. Complicated women get lost in oceans of meaning, so we need lovers’ rocks to hold on to. That’s a Sade reference, in case you’re curious. I think she’s taught many generations of women about complicated love.
EP: Who have you been reading recently?
GM: Let’s see. I’m always reading Jeanette Winterson. I mean re-reading, going back to that lighthouse and that tightrope. Susan Sontag’s Reborn journals ruined me and I’m always reading Adrienne Rich—especially now. But, those are the big dyke lovers’ rocks of language. So, I’m also always reading the poets out there who challenge me and astound me: Wendy Xu, francine j. harris, Rachel McKibbens and Ari Banias, to name a few. Not to mention the pleasure of cultural liminality with the Russian Witch Coven, Alina Pleskova & Sonya Vatomsky. I’m very glad I found them and they me.
Then there’s Claire Skinner. We do a lot of emailing poetry and prose back and forth—that particular kind of reading is intimate and not forged through mediums of consumption—her eyes and her words are my creative salvation. I’m also always reading Dawn Lundy Martin’s work and holding it in mind, but how could I not?
EP: You once wrote, “It is better, at times, to not speak about pain—lest in speaking it, we give it a long life.” In your experience, is this true? Has speaking pain typically prolonged it for you, or has it provided release and comfort? Must the two be mutually exclusive?
GM: Well, nothing is mutually exclusive, though I will say, every pain I have ever felt stays with me. When I write toward it, I am in conversation with it. I don’t change it; it changes me and then I am different. Some of us will be in conversation with what brings us pain our whole lives. Can you tell this is a Scorpio speaking? I have never met anyone for whom writing pain has brought comfort, only company. The words pulled from the mind and onto a page or screen change shape and become their own entities. They have a life without you, they are not released, they’re organized and transformed. There are some of us for whom this kind of company is vital to our survival. It is a signal-fire. Sometimes, that fire will alert others to your pain and they’ll bring provisions, a sandwich, a book to read, an ill-advised romantic endeavor. But, other times, that fire will burn down whatever resources you had left. That’s a risk we take.
EP: Here at Fourteen Hills, we’re big fans of the work you do with your horoscopes on Galactic Rabbit. The careful prose you bring to your poetry shines through in your astrological readings—how does each practice inform the other?
GM: Here’s one way: To cope with my anxiety and avoidance issues, that flare up when writing pages of prose every month meant to be applicable and wise to the lives of others, I often write poems alongside. And, here’s another: writing Galactic Rabbit keeps me accountable to my writer mind, makes me write when I don’t have emotional energy to write, makes me realize that in writing I generate the energy I need. Also, Galactic Rabbit forces me to be more generous with people around me, more wide in my reading (because I like to promote writers by quoting them), and more imaginative in my language so as to be precise in my intention and not to repeat myself.
EP: We’re also curious: what do rabbits symbolize to you?
GM: My short answer is: I was born in the year of the Fire Rabbit. A rabbit is a moonlight creature but, imbued with the element of fire, a rabbit is intimate with the qualities of the Sun. This duality is valuable to me and empowering. Another answer is, in Russian, the rainbow a prism casts when refracting light is called little rabbit or зайчик (zi-yetz). And, little rabbit is an endearment in Russian, like baby or sweetheart. And, I am your little rabbit in a way, if you want, because I offer myself to you in writing. Which is a kind of body, an opening.
Gala was nominated for the 2017 Pushcart Prize by Fourteen Hills for her poem "When the cop car pulls up behind us..."
Gala Mukomolova received her MFA from the Helen Zell Writers’ Program. You can find her poetry in numerous publications including the Indiana Review, Muzzle, Nailed Magazine, Vinyl, James Franco Review, and PANK. Monthly, she transforms into an astrologer called Galactic Rabbit. Lots of people believe in her.