jesup, iowa | interviewed 3-7-2002
photo by Brandon Pollock
copyright © 2001 Julie Russell-Steuart | All Rights Reserved
LISTEN to poem audio (mp3):
The night before I fly
Sleep will not come
109 days after 3 planes went down in history,
5 days after the man on the plane was caught
With bombs in his shoes.
I think, "Am I ready to die?"
Fear spins a full and dangerous
Air current above my head.
My insecurities are there, weeping fresh tears.
My bluffs are calling themselves,
My courage is there, trying to grip a thread
Pretending to be a rope.
The bed heats up with my mental exertions.
And I take off my nightgown.
Naked, I lie in an unfamiliar room.
I reach through my body to calm my mind,
But the temporal spasm shakes no peace
Down around me,
No comforting blanket of sleep.
My bag, my coat, then the shoes
Pass through to the other side.
I join them in the search for a nation's peace.
Lifting my arms in a protective, yet submissive pose,
I allow my person to give up its secrets,
Thinking how much is really hidden.
A woman ahead of me retrieves her shoes,
Doesn't bother to put them on, racing up
The escalator in her stocking feet
To catch a plane, and be caught in air.
The news channel in the airport lounge
Speaks in circles of the hunt.
Most everyone waits with one wary eye
On the TV set, as if trying to pinpoint
The location of that face, lock it forever
In a box of recycled footage.
The other eye takes in the sunlight glinting
Off the wings of the planes as they land.
There is nothing like the rush you feel
When the plane ascends into the sky.
Within seconds your whole frame of reference
Is gone and anything seems possible.
The stands of trees follow the river,
Branch out in delicate lines across fields.
It looks like hair on a body.
"Maybe in the future our hair will be photosynthetic,
Creating oxygen for us to breathe." I say.
I watch the topography of the land
With the eye of an eagle,
Searching for the truth of its existence
In the way the river flows, has its way,
As it moves and renews itself,
Nearly regardless of human endeavor.
My eyes are full of this harmony
And maybe the woman behind me
Sees it too as she sleeps, hangs
Tight to the eagle's back, trusting,
I remember that night, after it happened.
I was at work, and I knew those prayer vigils
Would be going on all over the country.
At 8:30 PM, I dropped my head, clearing my mind.
It was like I stuck a toe into a swiftly moving river,
And was swept away by an energy,
So huge, so powerful, it could only be LOVE.
And I have to say that this love,
It was there for anybody to tap into.
I mean anybody, no questions asked.
The woman smiles in her sleep,
Her head bumping gently against the window,
As the wheels take on the ground.
copyright © 2001 Julie Russell-Steuart | All Rights Reserved
Communication is one of my pet ideas. I think because I have a hearing loss, my desire to communicate may be even stronger. And so I'm looking for ways to reach people that don't require just speaking to them, through art, through the senses, through the poetry shaping the senses.
As an artist, I'm trying to express how I see things, how information comes to me, and gets processed, and the meaning that I derive from it. Yet I find that very interesting to actually interact with people and ask them what they thought it meant to them. So, in my work, I would like to pursue the idea of many meanings at once, layering images and words so that there's, like, this whole soup of possible interpretations.
After Christmas, I had the opportunity to visit my Dad in Arkansas, and the best way to go was to fly on an airplane, and we decided to fly. But it sort of brought to a head all the things that I'd been feeling, which were kind of incubating in a way. I was fearful. There was just no way around it.
I literally got one hour of sleep the night before. I had to go downstairs and write. And then I continued to make notes to myself while I was on the plane, and I just used my eyes and observed things. The video that's in it was what we could get. I didn't want to be so obvious. So the video segments themselves are a little bit less important than the poem that I wrote laterafter I got back from Arkansas, I put all that together in a poem.
I have mixed emotions about the bombing. I'm not sure how much is the need to take action, and very forceful action, and what would really be best in the long run. I don't know that there's enough long-term thinking in this seemingly knee-jerk reaction that I felt was going on. But at the same time, it's very difficult to not have such a reaction, for many people. Personally, what I felt was a great sadness. I did not feel this kind of vengeful feeling that I seem to see other people having. I was mostly just sad.
I'm especially interested in the Americans that are from other cultures that are adapting themselves to be American. In a way, it's kind of forcing everyone to re-think what being an American is. There will be growth, because I think out of conflict, comes growth.
There's definitely a sense of the larger community in America, but also the sense that we need to step out of our shoes and see how the world sees us. That's something I've always felt, that we need to be able to look at our actions from the viewpoint of other cultures, so that we can understand the best way to move forward in our own country.
Julie Russell-Steuart was born in Rockledge, Florida in 1968. She grew up in Maryland and has one younger brother; her parents divorced when she was twelve.
She earned a B.F.A. from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, Maryland. She had an internship with Pyramid Atlantic Center for Book Arts and Papermaking, Riverdale, Maryland, where she fell in love with the letterpress. Her hope is to start her own press to publish her own poetry and artist books as well as that of others. Visit her Caveworks Press website.
While studying at the Maryland Institute College of Art, two fellow students who were studying abroad died in the Pan Am 103 bombing over Scotland. The emotional impact of that incident, shocking at the time, returned to her on September 11.
At the time of the interview, she was taking a poetry class at the University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, and was working at a professional photo lab.
She lives in Jesup, Iowa, with her husband.
What I felt on that day, September 11, was a great sadness and weariness. I did not feel in me the vengeful impulses that I was observing in others. It seemed to underscore the futility of improving relations between cultures and countries. That same night I had an experience that gave me hope and a feeling of community (it is detailed in my piece). Later on, I had the opportunity to fly. Suddenly I was faced with a very real fear and had to find some way of coming to terms with any repressed anger I had been ignoring. I remembered the experience I'd had, and that helped me. I observed those around me, checking in, going through security, waiting, flying, loved ones gratefully embracing them at the end of their journeys. I saw everything go on. I saw we were still a great country. I saw the necessity of trust and faith to hold all the pieces together. Anger and vengeance blow the pieces apart. How big an example do we need?