Side A Poem: “A Power or Ability of the Kind Possessed by Superheroes” by Kathleen Rooney

A Power or Ability of the Kind Possessed by Superheroes

If death is a specter that devours everything, then making friends with death would be a good superpower.

What if you had a superpower but it was really banal, like the ability to beat anybody in the world at checkers?

My meditation teacher, June, probably has several superpowers, but most apparent is her ability to tell without a watch when 20 minutes have elapsed.

Remember when the United States and the Soviet Union were superpowers?

You can’t shame power into changing because power can’t be shamed. Is America a hell-bound train even Superman can’t stop?

A signature look can be a superpower of sorts. Imagine Salvador Dali without his 10-past-10 mustache. Diane von Furstenberg without her wrap dress. Malcom X without his specs.

Who would I be now if I hadn’t grown up watching She-Ra: Princess of Power?

The 11 Best Superpowers of All Time Ranked: X-Ray Vision, Shapeshifting, Regeneration, Invisibility, Flight, Strength, Speed, Teleportation, Telekinesis, Telepathy, Elemental Control.

Alternate List: Dark Optimism, Excelling at Small Talk, Not Sweating the Small Stuff, Jay Walking, Shattering the Tyranny of Gender, Convincing Everyone on the Planet that Black Lives Matter, Smashing the Patriarchy, Defeating Capitalism, Reversing Climate Change, Compassion, Forgiveness. 

All I want is to be a tragi-comic hero. Is that so wrong? 

There are many heads I’d like to see tossed into a basket.

In the window of a Martial Arts studio on Sheridan road—a prayer? A credo?—What exists physically exists first in thought and feeling. There is no other rule. I am the creator of my experience. I am the living picture of myself. I am great. Even obstacles have a reason for being.

Just to live in a worldwide community of kindness.

I’m still a regular embarrassing person, but if you need me, I’ll be over here trying to organize the chaos.

Mini-interview with Kathleen Rooney

HFR: Can you share a moment that has shaped you as a writer (or continues to)?

KR: There are so many moments! Almost every time I read anything, it shapes me. Yesterday, I read the obituary of the pioneering sleep scientist Rosalind Cartwright, the “Queen of Dreams.” According to the write-up: “At Cornell, she was an early researcher of empathy. She conducted the first tests to measure it and challenged the prevailing wisdom that it was an imaginative projection. Instead, she said in a paper, empathy was the ability to ‘accurately transpose oneself’ into the experiences of another.” I keep thinking about how that idea relates to literature—the connection between dreams and literature, fiction especially. I don’t know if I’ll write anything about it, but just knowing that she did that, that this happened, has shaped me in a way that I hadn’t been shaped before I read it.

HFR: What are you reading?

KR: Evan S. Connell’s Son of the Morning Star: Custer and the Little Bighorn. Earlier this year, I read his remarkable novel Mrs. Bridge, then the sequel, Mr. Bridge, and I wanted to see if he was as brilliant at nonfiction as he is at fiction. He is.

HFR: Can you tell us what prompted “A Power or Ability of the Kind Possessed by Superheroes”?

KR: Kimberly Southwick-Thompson, editor of the gorgeous literary magazine Gigantic Sequins, ran a poem-a-day group for National Poetry Month in April of 2020, and it was a life-saving experience. Having the assignment of producing one poem every day for 30 days in a community with other writers all over the country got me through what was maybe the hardest, most chaotic, and confusing part of the pandemic, and I’ll be grateful to her forever for putting that opportunity together.

HFR: What’s next? What are you working on?

KR: A novel about the silent era of Hollywood and one of the greatest forgotten comediennes of all time.

HFR: Take the floor. Be political. Be fanatical. Be anything. What do you want to share?

KR: I want to share the feminist literary magazine They Call Us

I teach at DePaul University here in Chicago, and They Call Us is run by alums. Their mission statement— “to diversify the messages we see online and change the dialogue to give credibility to all of us womxn”—is as vital as the work they publish.

Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a nonprofit publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, as well as a founding member of Poems While You Wait. Her most recent books include the novel Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk (St. Martin’s Press, 2017) and The Listening Room: A Novel of Georgette and Loulou Magritte (Spork Press, 2018). Her World War I novel Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey was published by Penguin in August, and her criticism appears in The New York Times, The Poetry Foundation website, The Chicago TribuneThe Brooklyn Rail, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere. She lives in Chicago.

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