Angela Cluley: Poetry, PeaceCorps, & Past

Kelsey May | September 18, 2017

Throughout your life, you meet people who stand apart from the crowd in their consistency and honesty. Angela Cluley and I became friends about two years ago and slowly realized that we have a lot in common, from struggling with anxiety to our shared experiences serving. We did this interview online, as Angela is living in Costa Rica, working for the PeaceCorps in child development, as part of her Masters in Social Work program through the University of Michigan. I hope you enjoy reading this interview and the poems that follow. 

Tell me about your childhood.

Favorite childhood memory is playing football with my dad. It was my younger brother and I and my dad would finger draw out football plays on his shirt and then I would execute exactly the play and always win against my brother. (since I was older) We would then play football video games on the Nintendo after so that we could have additional practice. I loved it!

Least favorite childhood memory is being in foster care from 7 to 9 years old. I lived with different families, some related to me and others not. One of the random families I lived with were horrible to me. They had many foster kids they were taking care of, and it was too much. The kids bullied us, and one actually slammed my head into my birthday cake to be funny. Luckily, we didn’t stay very long.

When did you begin writing? Why do you write?

I began writing when I was in high school. I had a teacher who introduced us to poetry and I started to like putting my life on paper. I write for my own personal reflection and healing. When I began writing, I did not write from a personal standpoint, which didn’t feel genuine. When I perform poetry now, I am able to express myself and heal with the audience.

Favorite interaction after a performance?

The best reaction was when one of the audience members came up to me after reading a very personal poem that I had broke down after reading and not only did they give me a hug, they told me that they had gone through that same experience and thanked me for putting it on the stage for the world to hear, since the subject is usually stigmatized.

What’s important to you?

Family and friends are really important to me but also serving others. I want to dedicate my life to making the world a better place which is why I am currently serving in the PeaceCorps and studying for my Master’s Degree in Social Work.


Imperfect Pictures

Why do we delete blurry photos? Hit the trashcan when we see red eye or an extra flab of skin? We should love mistook photographs. Undocumented moments. Moments that cannot be tamed by the lens.  The blurry laugh line of your grandpa’s smile as he sits back in his rocking chair telling stories of back in the day mischief and wander.

the camera knowing that this moment was too great to be staged. The grasp of your mother’s hand intertwined in yours as she takes her last breath. Tears uncaptured falling onto your hands.

A child dancing in the wind, dandelion seeds swirling around, their laughter touching your cheek. Daring you to put down your phone and dance. Children are more knowledgeable than adults. They know that technology cannot replace interaction. They understand how to live life, to enjoy the sunrise, soak in the scents of flowers of grass and earth. Imperfect photos remind us that the screen cannot replace people. The night sky cannot be felt in a Facebook post. Dreams and aspirations will not be contained in 140 characters or a hashtag. Fears and regrets cannot fully be expressed or heard in a 4 walled plexiglas solitary confinement. Love cannot be shared the same without the touch and hug of a friend. Active listening without distraction.

20623612_10214193117806986_1926574328_oDon’t be mistaken, photographs are beautiful, we are able to capture a percentage of a moment through a mechanical apparatus that soaks in  light… that is magnificent but realize that there’s always a place and time for everything and though the camera can be an amazing tool it can also be the knife that stabs us in the back as we lose moments with distraction. And if you must capture then don’t pose, don’t delete post the photos with the least amount of preparation. The ones with extra hazy laughlines, wrinkles and too much or too little makeup.

You never know when this moment will be captured and ruined.


Contemplation

I was 8 years old when I wrote my first suicide letter At 8, I wanted to die, found that life was too difficult and wished for a time machine

Shaking pen hand, trembling my goodbyes across construction paper, shouting silence to the world I don’t belong, never belonged. Tears smudging letters, creating thumbprints evidence of my existence. Existence I  want to wash away. Moments flood the mind, moments alone at this table with thoughts and a pen.

As a child I watched my family drown themselves with poison and addiction so they didn’t have to feel anymore. Everyone was slowly committing suicide so I decided to write mine.

At 14 I took razor blades to my arms trying to cut the hurt off, trying to get rid of the evidence of my failures. I took scissors to my legs and stomach trying to cut my fat away. Shaking scissors interlaced in defiant fingers, cutting the moments away, ridding my body of ugly of laughing, pointing children mooing in the hallway

Hoping to be my own lipo-surgeon

At 15 I found my uncle’s suicide letter, written on canvas so elegantly, telling everyone it wasn’t their fault and not to blame themselves. I spent hours at my uncle’s grave, contemplating why, justifying his reasons then justifying mine. I imagined his moment-
Staring down the black hole barrel of a gun, the smell of dumpster death lingering, contemplating the moments that came to this.

Counting the bullets in the chamber, 1, 2, 3.

Each a different tragedy leading to this. One click into position-raise the black hole where an outstretched  hand should be, a heart should be. He goes unnoticed, he leaves like the silence of a tree in the woods that nobody hears. With one click.

At 23, I wrapped a belt around my neck. The belt a noose to end the nuisance of breathing. I pulled, playing tug of war with my breath. before collapsing to the floor and clutching the dying inside me. wheezing in and out of a self induced asthmatic attack. Each belt notch marking a tragedy, a devastating moment coming to where the belt loop meets the strap.

At 25, I learned that my brother drove his truck at a tree. 20623250_10214193117886988_1237800995_oKey burning in ignition, foot on the pedal revving the engine to life, he never felt so alive. Shifter in park, just two shifts down and the moment of adrenaline

the moment of impact. Fingers caress the button contemplating the moments
2 shifts down, engine charges ahead

tree in sight as he closes his eyes. My brother wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t gotten stuck in the mud right before the crash.

That’s when I stopped dreaming of my own death, when I realized that someone I cared about was dreaming of theirs.


Apologies

Dear Friend,

I got accepted into grad school! I’m so excited…don’t I sound excited?

I guess I’m not as excited as I should be because I only have 3 months to say I’m sorry, I apologize.

3 months to make amends to take back all the words that I said that slithered through your ear canal, leaving remnants of poison in your cranial cavity, acidifying your blood stream and finally sucking the blood out of your heart…leaving it cold. Colder than bitter frostbit ankles on long winter hikes through Antarctica. I left it below freezing.

And now I have 3 months to unthaw freezer burn, to defibrillate your heart from cardiac arrest, repair puncture wounds and warm your soul with hot cocoa. I’ll let you have the marshmallows.

I’m sorry that’s not enough, not enough time because I caused more than 3 months worth of damage and instead of healing your wounds I’ve been blanketing them in bleach, whitewashing them to agonizing thresholds, digging into your skin deeper and deeper beyond what any skin graft could repair. 20628961_10214193117086968_808854416_o

I apologize for not being genuine, for pretending everything was Alice in Wonderland shoveling all the pain down the rabbit hole and now…Where’s Alice? Searching for her in a Where’s Waldo portrait. And finding that she doesn’t exist, or maybe she’s in costume.

I apologize for sounding condescending, when I said I was proud of you, I meant it. I am so fucking proud of you. I hope that sounded heartfelt
it was, it is.

I apologize for taking jokes too far, not understanding boundaries or understanding but still crossing the line. Every time. Treating you as a finish line in a marathon race, I shouldn’t have crossed. But I did. Life’s not a competition but sometimes we still treat it like it is.

And now I have 3 months to shred the tears on pages in your book of pain, turning them into confetti pieces thrown on your birthday. Each becoming a wish for the future that could come true after you blow out the candles.

I wish you happiness, I wish you love. I wish you healed wounds. Scabbed over turned to scars that I can only hope go away eventually.

You’ve always meant the world to me and I still love you. Take out that piece of paper that I gave you..  I still love you.

20623379_10214193126247197_1988855172_oThese next three months I will help craft our resentment into paper airplanes named X and O and we can fly them in our spare time. Every Time they crash will be the last line in a goodbye letter XOXO from me to you.
P.S. I’m sorry that I wrote this into a poem but this was my only way of knowing that you’d hear my apology.

Sincerely, I hope you forgive me.


What advice would you give to other creative people who feel insecure / stuck in their art?

Keep writing, be in spaces where creativity and writing happens, practice makes perfect and if you get stuck…change your environment or people around you. Share your work with different places and avenues, with schools, publications, and open mics.


Interview and poems edited for grammar, clarity, and aesthetic / spacing.

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