Speak, mem­ory

Pasatiempo - - NEWS -

Michael J. Wil­son

Michael J. Wil­son thinks it might have been the 2006 movie The Pres­tige that sparked his ob­ses­sion with Nikola Tesla. The film, which was about ma­gi­cians, fea­tured David Bowie in the mi­nor role of the ec­cen­tric Ser­bian in­ven­tor who was born in 1856 and died in 1943. “It’s the only thing, cul­tur­ally, that I can think of that would have given me Tesla, be­cause I didn’t know who he was be­fore that. Then I started read­ing about him, and the deeper you go, the weirder he gets,” Wil­son told Pasatiempo. His first book, A Child of Storm (Stalk­ing Horse Press, 2016), in­cludes nu­mer­ous po­ems that spec­u­late about Tesla’s in­ner life, his work and friend­ships, and his re­la­tion­ship with his fa­ther, an Ortho­dox priest who did not want his son to become a man of sci­ence.

Wil­son has an un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree from the Col­lege of Santa Fe. He wrote many of the book’s po­ems while liv­ing in Crown Heights, Brook­lyn, and earn­ing an MFA in po­etry at the New School for So­cial Re­search. In 2012, af­ter seven years in New York, he re­turned to New Mex­ico and now teaches as an ad­junct in­struc­tor at Santa Fe Univer­sity of Art and De­sign, works part­time at Back Road Pizza, and writes a food col­umn for the Santa Fe Re­porter. He was raised in and around Ox­ford­shire, Eng­land, un­til he was thir­teen and his fa­ther re­tired from the U.S. Air Force. Wil­son at­tended high school in a some­what ru­ral area of Penn­syl­va­nia be­fore “es­cap­ing to the desert for col­lege.”

Sept. 11, 2001, hap­pened dur­ing the first weeks of his ju­nior year, and po­ems about the ter­ror­ist at­tack and its aftermath are in­cluded in A Child of Storm — both from the per­spec­tive of a col­lege stu­dent and then later, as a res­i­dent of the city who senses the di­vide be­tween peo­ple who un­der­stand New York be­fore the tow­ers fell, and those who can never know it that way. “I think Septem­ber 11 was the first time I saw me­dia cloud­ing what was hap­pen­ing in real time,” he said. “We didn’t know that morn­ing if we were see­ing the planes hit the tow­ers live on TV, or if it was a replay. And the con­stant re-show­ing of the tow­ers com­ing down — I don’t know how to ex­plain it. It was like a fugue state.”

Much of A Child of Storm con­cerns the way mem­ory works in flashes to push a nar­ra­tive around in time, as well as the mem­ory of na­ture be­fore land was de­vel­oped. “To get back to na­ture now, you would have to vi­o­lently de­stroy what we’ve put on top of it. I’m also us­ing na­ture to talk about the loss of my child­hood — and the loss of both of my grand­moth­ers and my mother’s sis­ter, who all died from breast can­cer within 18 months, while I was in grad school. There was a time when I was on Am­trak a lot, go­ing back and forth from the city to fu­ner­als.” The push-pull be­tween the city and the coun­try re­curs in sev­eral po­ems and in­cludes the lure of the desert. “I grew up in the coun­try be­cause Air Force bases are al­ways in the

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