1) What is something not known or obvious about your book Travelers With No Ticket Home?
Many of the poems in my book Travelers With No Ticket Home contain references to the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé, an ancient, mystical, form of worship which involves drumming and trance-induced states. In Candomblé rituals, worshipers do not simply pray to the gods; they become the gods and speak in their voices.
A worshipper dressed as the Afro-Brazilian Goddess Iemanjá
A number of the poems in Travelers also mention hallucinogenic plants that grow in the rainforests of the Amazon. I know a lot about these, because when I was an undergraduate at Harvard, I worked for Professor Richard Evans Schultes, the world’s foremost expert on hallucinogens. Professor Schultes founded the science of Ethnobotany and was the first European to discover ayahuasca (the shamans of the amazon had known about ayahuasca’s effects for thousands of years).
2) Please share some responses to your book that’s surprised you, or made you happy or disappointed. If your book is relatively new, share some of your hopes for how readers might respond or how the book finds its way in the world.
The one response that has meant the most to me came from a therapist who told me that she used my poems to comfort people whose family members had died. She said that the beauty and mystical quality of the poems and the vision of other worlds they lead the reader into have been a solace to those who are grieving.
I’ve also been surprised—and pleased—by the reactions of young women who have repeatedly told me that my poems make them feel stronger as if—as one said—they “could plunge into life without fear and do anything.” I’ve also been more than a little embarrassed to hear that they consider me a role model because of all the dangerous things I’ve done in the jungles of Central and South America, many of which are captured in my poems. Actually, I would have thought they’d be more likely to take them as a warning not to do the crazy things Mary Mackey did; but I’ve survived, and in the end, that’s all that counts.
3) If you had to choose a favorite poem or a poem to highlight from the book, which one would you choose and why?
Choosing a favorite poem is a lot like choosing a favorite child; that is to say: impossible. However, if I had to highlight a poem in Travelers With No Ticket Home, I’d pick “In Those Days Rivers Could Not Cool Me” for several reasons: I like the energy; I like the rhythm; I like the symbolism; I like the images, and I like the way it straddles the border between ordinary reality and ecstatic reality. The last verse is one of my favorites of all time. You might say it’s my credo.
In Those Days Rivers Could Not Cool Me
I once lived in places
where volcanoes erupted the water was poison
and the night swarmed with termites
that tasted like glue
there were rooms where I lay so wrapped
in fever that the fans overhead seemed ecstatic
in their whirling
rooms where I saw light the color of blood and bruised
plums had hallucinations dreams terrors so great
they set me shrieking
once for 4 hours straight I spoke in rhymed couplets
and no one could make me shut up
until I threw off the sheets and ran into the tropical night
like a woman on fire
in those days rivers could not cool me
threats could not subdue me I burned
and burned with illness lust and fear
and your lightest touch seemed like a blow
later I cooked a monkey in cream sauce
and we ate it as jungle rats ran the rafters
over our heads the next afternoon I nearly
stepped on a nine foot fer-de-lance
only a mad woman could have loved such a life
but I did I do loved the strangeness of it
the non-humanness of it the sure knowledge that death
was so small and close it could buzz in my ear
From Travelers With No Ticket Home
Marsh Hawk Press, 2014