work in progress: dialogues & poems
Following her poetry trilogy, (no, apologies, no secrets, no regrets), J.A. Carter-Winward’s newest collection, work in progress has been called her “magnum opus” by readers and fans, the best collection yet featuring her inimitable, gritty “poetry-cum-narrative” style.
Most notable within work in progress are the “God” dialogues.
Peppered throughout the entire collection, J.A. manages to take bite-sized fiction pieces and turn them into dialogues, brief "philosophical snapshots" starring Carter-Winward’s incarnation of “god,” a character, a being she doesn’t believe in, yet one she creates in her, and our, images.
With a distinct voice, and a slightly “Mormon” slant to her god, the fictionalized father of an unplanned world is an unmistakable foil for the rest of the poems within, as well as the human struggles we all face. With irreverent, hilarious, and unique perspectives, she addresses the most relevant and important theological questions of our—and all—time.
Controversial, salacious, sacrilegious, blasphemous, and at times, poignant, compassionate, and strangely logical, Carter-Winward’s acerbic critique on the world’s religions are bound to provoke—not only thought, but questions; questions to which work in progress’s poems demand an answer, and simultaneously, attempt to answer:
Who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going? And perhaps, the most important question for anyone to ask about anything: Why?
insult to insult
believers are insulted
when i tell them
i don't believe in god.
how is my lack of belief
a personal affront?
if i wanted to be insulting towards them,
i would say things like this:
you have no values.
you're a bad parent.
yes, i would say those things--
all of the things
those same believers say to me
when i tell them
i don't believe
my parents fought.
one of the more typical fights
occurred when my dad would start yelling at me,
railing on me.
my mom, in an effort to deflect his rage
would go after him.
i hated it,
but it felt like she was protecting me.
there was one thing that never happened
in our house, though:
i never got to mistreat my mom.
dad never sided with me against her
no matter what.
i don't know if there's any
coherent conclusions i can draw from this
was really fucked up.
but in those two disparate behaviors
from my parents,
i somehow got the message
that both of them loved me.
my dad was
a control freak.
he couldn't control himself,
so he tried to control
everyone around him.
even our bodies were not our own.
not that he molested us or anything,
but we all knew
how it felt to get hit.
if he wanted me to open the door to my room
and i was changing clothes,
he'd open the door
but leave it cracked
with his hand on it,
letting me know
he could come in at his whim.
if i dared lock the bathroom door so i could shower,
he'd pick the lock,
and smack on the shower curtain
just to let me know
how vulnerable i was.
once, when i was fourteen
he smacked me on the ass
while i wore a bathing suit.
i thought i could be honest,
so i told him that didn't feel right,
him smacking me like that
on my mostly-bare ass.
he responded by doubling
how much he smacked it,
smiling defiantly at me.
sometimes i wonder:
where was mom then?
little son's cat died
while he was at school today.
he died in his dad's lap.
i have to pick him up
and watch his eager smile
and the light in his eyes
i'll watch as his mouth struggles not to crumple,
watch his cheeks turn pink with emotion
as i tell him
his best buddy
i don't know how to tell him
that death leaves holes in the world,
holes that can't ever be filled again.
i don't know how to tell him
that the absence of his cat
won't make sense,
and that the things he will miss
will deepen the ache he feels in his chest
as he goes to bed at night
without his pet curled
around his head.
i can't make it okay.
and so this is one of the many ways
how life can turn on you
in a heartbeat.
my job is to help him see
that it turns back around, too.
but not today.
my son's cat died.
and that's all he'll
be able to hear.
my therapist asked me why i wasn’t angry.
i told him i can’t be angry at dead people.
my parents are dead, what harm can they do?
what harm did they do, he stated, not asked.
then i thought about getting angry.
but i can’t be angry at dead people.
there’s no way they can say, i’m sorry
and there’s no way i can say, me too.
Kurt and Melissa Cochran, London 2017
Side-note about this book.
On March 23rd, 2017, I learned that my friend and sound engineer, Kurt Cochran, was killed on a London bridge in a terrorist attack. We were more than half-way through recording work in progress when he died. He'd thrown himself in front of his wife, Melissa, and others, to save their lives.
In that moment Melissa knew, what she'd already known, something that was confirmed for us all when we learned of it: that is who Kurt Cochran was.
You do not stop to weigh the cost-benefit analysis in those split seconds. You are reduced, in that singular moment, to your very core-essence. In Kurt's case, that core element was revealed: he was a savior. At least to those he saved.
This book is dedicated to him as much as anyone because he was such an integral part of its creation: I sent him every "God" dialogue I wrote. We bonded over them--and this book--specifically.
work in progress, while a scathing examination of the very things that took Kurt's life--our beliefs, specifically w/r/t religion, coupled with zealotry, fundamentalism, and intolerance--societal cancers, all, is also aimed at forcibly challenging those beliefs. Because this "dis-ease" of humanity was, and still is, preventable, if we simply become aware, and then commit to change.
Through our own bigotry, fear, racism, sexism, hypocrisy, as well as the ultimate hubris: creating our "gods" in our own images, we must also take comfort in the fact that we have the same power to change our world.
But we can only do it together.
This work is an ultra-violet light on the blood covering the hands of every person on earth, no matter the color of your skin, your beliefs, or your culture, going back throughout Time.
Kurt would want the meaninglessness of his death to have meaning if it made the world a better place. That is what this work, through its satirical irreverence and magnitude, attempts to do.
So, although this book is meant to provoke, it's also meant to enlighten. A not-so-gentle "push" out of our zones of comfort, no matter who or what you worship. It takes unimaginable courage to do this. But my readers--they are bold and fierce. They like having their mind's blown sideways.
But this book is not just dedicated to Kurt, who embodied all that's good within the human spirit; it's dedicated to all of humanity, our darkest and lightest attributes.
And Kurt would want me to find the good in, and from, what he and so many others were forced to sacrifice.
I know all this because I knew Kurt.
He was my friend.
(aka "the God dialogues")
The archangel Bob
is doing a crossword
does the Sudoku
in the London Times.
Bob is reading the NY Times.
Bob looks up.
"Did you see page 27?"
"No," God says, irritated. Bob's interrupting
"Hate crime," says Bob.
"Gay kid got beaten to death."
"Aw shit. don't tell me that."
"Well you should know.
I mean, it's a little unclear and
you always dodge the question:
did you make them that way or not?"
God puts down his pen, (he's God, so he does
the Sudoku in ink) and says, "Human beings have sexual desire hard-wired into them. I didn't really know it could change into men wanting men
and women wanting women. But, I mean, whatever, right? Evolution and shit. Whatever it morphed into
I started it, so yeah, I guess it's on me."
Bob glares at him.
"What about Leviticus?"
God stares at Bob sternly.
"Oh for fuck's sake, that wasn't me talking.
You know that."
"Okay, so what are you going to do
about all of this bullshit hatred and fear
surrounding the gays, huh?"
"What I usually do," God mumbles.
"So, nothing, is that it?"
God shrugs, murmuring, "It's just one of the many ways I'm mysterious."
Bob shakes his head.
"You're an asshole."
"Hey! You try communicating with them,
Me-dammit! Every time I try and 'inspire them'"--
he uses his fingers to do air quotes--"with love and acceptance they think Lucifer's doing it."
"So you're just going to give up?"
"Do you mind? I've got this Sudoku and it's a bitch this week. And no one listens to me. That's my point."
he'd already left
Lucifer walks in on
God and Jesus making tally marks
on dry-erase boards.
The dry erase boards stretch as far
as his eyes can see, which is pretty fucking far.
"So what's going on?" Lucifer asks.
"We got a bet," says Jesus.
God's hand is moving so fast, it's a blur.
"And I'm going to win 'cause I've got
two-thousand years on you."
"I've got the world-population spike on you,"
Jesus says, speed-tallying himself.
"Okay, stop for a second," says Lucifer.
"What's the bet?"
They both stop and turn.
God rolls his eyes, as if explaining stuff to Lucifer
is all he ever does.
"We're seeing how many people have killed in the name of me, and how many have killed
in the name of him," pointing to Jesus.
Jesus looks at God, "It's going to be close, but I think I'm gonna win."
"I don't think so," God says.
"I've got all of these other names,
Mithra, Allah, Zeus, Bochica—"
"No fair!" Jesus shakes his head.
"Fine, I get all of the female deities, then."
"Fine by me," God shrugs.
Lucifer snags a couple of blank dry-erase boards and starts to tally. He finishes quickly.
"Killings done in my name," Lucifer says.
He walks away.
God calls after him, "No, it's who's had the most—ugh, never mind." God shakes his head. "He doesn't get the bet."
"I know, Jesus says. "Duh."
They both continue to make black marks,
moving from board
Elvis saw an opening at the driving range.
God was practicing his long drive,
clearly unsettled at the worm-burners he was hitting.
“You, uh, should try your three wood,”
Elvis said, chewing on long piece of grass.
“You know, when I started this game,
I was freakishly good.”
“Yeah, that happens.
Then you get into bad-form habits.”
“You're one to talk,” God said,
raising an eyebrow.
“Funny,” Elvis said. “Look, I been, uh, up here a while
and no one seems to know what to call you.
They all just say 'God,' ya know? Same thing
with those people down there. What's your name?”
“I have lots of names. I’ve been called everything from
Mithras to Zeus to Elohim to Krishna—"
Elvis interjected, “See, I know that. But what do you
want us to call you?”
God smiled, “Well aren't you a tricky son-of-a-gun.”
“What?” Elvis shrugged.
God leaned on his club.
“If I tell you what I prefer to be called,
I’m essentially telling you who’s right.”
“That wasn't my intention—"
“Yeah, yeah,” God said. “Who put you up to this?
Moses? Ezekiel? Lemme guess, Christopher?”
“Hitchens?” Elvis said, laughing.
“He doesn't even think you exist.”
“He's right. I don't.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m just here practicing my swing.”
“But you're The Creator, the father of us all, you're—"
“No, you got that wrong. I made one choice,
a long time ago, and this is what happened. This,” he said, sweeping his hand around, “all this. All I did
was take a ball of chaos and drop it.
It was tickling my hand, see.”
“So, so…why are we here?”
“Your guess is as good as mine. People call you
'God' long enough, other people catch on, start believing it. Kind of like calling you 'The King.' See, personally, I think Goree Carter should have been 'The King.'”
“Who's Goree Carter?”
“So there's someone who came before you?”
“Yeah. He's the one who gave me the ball
of chaos. He didn't know what to do with it either.”
“So basically, the reason for everything, all of us,
the world, all the suffering, our existence,
torment and war and…and shit in the world
is literally because you dropped the ball?”
“Bless you, my son. Now if you'll excuse me.”
God started moving his hips in a circle, loosening
them up for his next drive.
Elvis walked away, perplexed. He was also out
twenty bucks to that fucking guy, Hitchens.