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  • Laura Villareal

“Remember that the little and the useless are what knit the visible world together.”: Interview with Marco Wilkinson on Madder: A Memoir in Weeds

Coffee House Press | October 12, 2021 | 208 pages | ISBN: 978-1-56689-618-4


Laura Villareal (LV): I want to set the scene a little bit for readers. You and I met at a 5-week interdisciplinary residency at Oak Spring Garden Foundation. The residency is housed on Peter and Bunny Mellon’s 700-acre property that has a farm and multiple gorgeous gardens. You asked a group of us how we each got into our respective craft one day after lunch while we sat in one of the gardens. You wanted to know what our spark point was— what triggered us to pursue our craft. I loved your story about how you came to writing. Could you tell it again?


Marco Wilkinson (MW): Well, one place to begin that story, is at the very end of 2010. I had been the farm manager for a regenerative-practice farm that was part of a larger non-profit. It had been an amazing and amazingly difficult year and I can honestly say I had engaged in wholehearted effort: 100% -- more than 100% of my life – had been devoted to my work. At the end of the growing season, the entire staff was unceremoniously laid off, and I was left with this gaping question of what to do next. My partner is a writer and he had heard me hemming and hawing about how I would like to also write “one day.” “Now’s your chance,” he told me as I was licking my wounds after losing my job. So, in my mid thirties, I applied to Stonecoast, the low-residency MFA program. The irony is that 12 years before I lost my job at that farm, I had been an English major who, in the midst of a personal crisis over not knowing who my father was, got my BA, turned my back on literature and academia, and apprenticed on an organic farm in rural Pennsylvania. That launched me on my career as a horticulturist and farmer, which culminated with me, if not turning my back on farming, then at least deciding to engage the world in a radically different way. My day job became teaching sustainable agriculture and English composition classes at the local community college and my nights were spent making my way through my MFA. The funny thing is that I went in thinking I would write essays on farming and ecology, and instead I found myself plunged right back into that initiating crisis of my missing father way back when. I tried to plant a nicely rowed field  but instead all the weeds burst forth.



LV: Your memoir primarily focuses on your search to know who your biological father was which became a well-kept family secret or a “willful forgetting.” Everyone told you his name was Donald Wilkinson. I think sometimes we try to understand family, especially parents, in order to better understand ourselves. I also think secrets reveal a lot about what’s being intentionally obscured. Did you learn anything about your family as you worked to find out who your father was?


MW: That’s a great question. While the book is about coming to terms with this overwhelmingly absent father, it’s also as much if not more really about the one who required/demanded/ensured his absence, my mother. She and I have never had what I would describe as a particularly “good” or “easy” relationship, precisely because of her denial that there ever was a father, and so as I began writing this memoir I had to reckon with how I would depict her. In my imagination, she reared up in my life like a monster, a kraken, a catastrophizing shadow. Part of the problem is that she is incredibly private, revealing even to me very little about her life before me.  When I started writing, I also went about “researching,” which in this case meant asking relatives the impertinent questions I’d held inside me a whole lifetime. They were incredibly generous, telling me story after story I’d never heard. I think the first thing I learned in the process of writing Madder: A Memoir in Weeds was that all I had to do was ask, that it was in fact possible to be in relationship with all these other people who my mother’s silences had closed me off from. The second thing I learned when I started to put some of these stories down in writing was empathy. My mother has through my writing of this book, despite her mortification and horror that this book exists, become human to me. A complex, hurt human worthy of love and care even in the midst of what I perceive as her grievously mistaken decisions.



LV: In the van on the way to Glenstone in Potomac, Maryland we talked a little bit about identity and our relationships to being Latinx. Your last name Wilkinson doesn’t automatically trigger recognition of your Uruguayan heritage. You described yourself as “cryptolatino.” Could you define that and talk a bit about what that means as you move through the world?


MW: This feels so tricky to address. My last name, “Wilkinson,” comes from the name, “Donald Wilkinson,” my putative father all through my childhood. The few times I asked who my father was, that was the one and only name provided. The reality, as far as I know, is that my mother married Donald Wilkinson in order to secure citizenship, only for him to turn out to already have been married. Nevertheless, she kept his last name. (How much must she have hated her family to be happy to get rid of her family name? Or how xenophobic had she found the U.S. to be that she thought it prudent to hold on to a “white” name?) And so I too, was born a “Wilkinson.” That last name, the fact that I grew up like all my cousins speaking English in response to my mother’s and relatives’ Spanish and so have no accent inflected by mother’s native tongue, and that my heritage as a Uruguayan is completely (as far as I know) from Europe and so my skin is “white” all means that, in my experience, the casual observer does not read me as Latinx.  And yet I am. I drink maté, love a good asado and some morcillas dulces, grew up on a staple diet of milanesas and tortillas, speak Spanish fluently, have gone back to Uruguay many times to be with family. The rac(ial/ist) dynamics of American culture, though, mean that because my skin is light, my voice is bland, and my last name is blander, I must actively assert my Latinidad. This is undoubtedly a privilege with very real effects in my life, but it has also for me always felt like a curse.



LV: The memoir also focuses on your maternal family’s life in Uruguay and in the U.S. Growing up you spent time living with extended family like your Tí’Bibí and your madrina Teresa, her husband Andrés, and their son Andrés since your mother was often working. I guess this is a question of nature vs. nurture, but who in your life has had the most impact on who you grew up to be and the person you are now?


MW: Probably more of us than we know grew up in familial realities that explode nuclear stereotypes. Yes, from my earliest days to about five or six, my Tï’Bibí (short form mangling of “tía Bibí) was the primary figure in my life. I have vague but potent memories of being potty-trained – by her. I have memories of being put to bed in a crib and the glass animal figurines that lined a windowsill beside it – in her house. I remember her making tallarines caseras (homemade pasta) by hand, rolling out the dough and cutting it into thin strands with a knife and then opening all the cupboard doors of her kitchen and hanging the pasta to dry on them through the afternoon. Then, as a child up until about eleven or twelve, I would sleep over at my Ina Teresa’s (short form again for “madrina”) because my mom worked third-shifts at the chemical factory. I remember many hours watching TV, playing with their dogs, doing homework at their dining room table, mostly withdrawing into myself because by that age I felt the weight of the weirdness of being someone “extra” in the nuclear family of my madrina, her husband, and their son. When I think of the bright sides of my life and personality, these two women come to mind. They were the ones who were most present and nurturing. When I feel hopeful and alive, that is them in me. My mother, on the other hand, was in many ways my “father.” She was the provider who worked 12-hour shifts and took every opportunity for overtime and clean houses on the side on top of it all. Her sternness precluded questions, fostered silence. She is my shadow, the one who fed from an early age my tendencies to self-criticism, the negative, the doom-addled. But she is also someone who would give of herself selflessly if someone needed assistance without a second thought. Her simplicity – her simple silence, her simple work ethic, her simple generosity – is also my inheritance. Though I yearn for the light and though most of my childhood was spent there (even if feeling misplaced there), I would say that the shadows of my life are long and lasting.


LV: What I immediately loved about Madder is the formal flexibility of it—it’s rangy and fragmented. At times your prose is richly narrative, at other times it has all the sensibilities of a lyrical essay. You’ve invoked the metaphor of plants, most often “madder,” as a framework to guide the book. The structure feels alive and shapeshifts as your story unravels. It often renders surprising parallels between relationships with people and relationships among plants. For all these reasons, it's truly a memoir I know other poets will adore. What was the process behind choosing this structure and these— I guess I’d call them form(s)— to house your memoir? Were there any books that inspired this form?


MW: The first book I read that opened up the possibilities of creative non-fiction was Li-Young Lee’s The Winged Seed: A Remembrance. No surprise I suppose that it’s a poet’s memoir that caught my attention. I love how it opens with a ghostly visitation and wanders restlessly, lusciously, through Lee’s life. It carries a prosaic narrative thread but Lee feels completely at ease with embroidering the prosaic fabric with lyric language, sometimes language whose beauty seems to be there only for its own sake. There are whole paragraphs and pages of rhapsodic flights that, even after I’ve read and taught this book many times, I still can’t claim to understand.  That feels really fundamental to me when thinking about creative nonfiction. Yes, facts matter. But so do fantasies. So do (mis)perceptions. So does pleasure in language. If we’re ready to accept that the Enlightenment aspiration for total knowledge is no longer a possible project, then of course our lives (and memoir is, after all, about how we structure our lives through remembrance) will be haunted houses, crumbling houses, houses with drafty windows and slanted floorboards, houses that house not only our selves but also rats in the walls and roaches in the backs of the cupboards.

            Because of all that, and because my memoir was predicated on accurately (in some way truly “factual” at some deep level) depicting my experience growing up in the absence of a father and the shadow of a mother, and because that absence and that shadow came alive in my life through withholding and secrecy, it felt like the fragment and the vignette were the most appropriate form to tell this story in. (And maybe the only way to tell it, in the manner of reliving trauma in small manageable bites.) Because my life (still) doesn’t make sense to me when I look back on it, it also felt like it was completely appropriate to write a memoir that in many ways is a collection of essays. They don’t all fit together neatly because that’s just how I experience my life. When I re-member it, it’s in pieces. So there is a through-line of three main chapters, but sprouting up around them like weeds are all these other pieces (a foraging list, an erotic encounter with a masseur in southern India, mushroom hunting with a mentor in the Catskills, a retelling of Cenicienta’s (Cinderella’s) story). How else could it be? You might call it being experimental or rangy or eclectic, but really I want to make a claim for this being non-fiction in a really deep way, for it being accurate not only in content but in form.


LV: Your background as a horticulturalist informs much of your memoir. Bunny Mellon who was also a horticulturalist, once wrote, “gardening is a way of thinking.” Michael Pollan said something along the same lines in his book Botany of Desire and that the “seeds” of his book were planted as he was sowing seeds. I wonder, how much of this book began as you worked in gardens and on farms?


MW: It’s funny. When I think about the trajectory of my career/life with plants, you could say it has been one deepening mistake. Of course, I mean that a bit tongue-in-cheek. After my stint on the Pennsylvania farm, I committed formally to working with plants by training as a horticulturist at Brooklyn Botanic Garden for a year and then continuing that training at a school for horticulture in the Hudson Valley called Stonecrop Gardens. This is where I learned botany, and the practical skills of pruning and planting, and long lists of scientific plant names like a doctor learning the names of all the bones in the body. At Stonecrop, without warning one day we’d be led into a room filled with forty small glass vases each with a twig or a leaf or a flower if you were lucky. From scant evidence and without any preparation we were expected to give the common name, scientific name, plant family, and place of origin for each of them. Scoring a 30% on these exams could be considered a worthy effort. Regularly, at least once a week, one of us students could be found weeping after a long day or week. It was grueling and immensely satisfying to distill into one’s body and mind this essence of crafting beauty from plants via this discipline of ornamental horticulture.

            I worked for the next six years or so in gardens both private and public, eventually working as a horticulturist at The Cloisters, where I first encountered my book’s namesake “madder.” But right from the beginning there had always been this nagging feeling that perhaps there was something immoral, decadent, privileged, about growing plants for beauty’s sake alone. That’s when I found myself returning to farming after a move to northern Ohio and for three years or so, I worked raising vegetables in rows and beds, hacking down lettuces with field knives, tearing kale and chard leaves off one or two from a plant down rows hundreds of plants long, running harvests through the wash bin stations and the industrial-size salad spinners, driving them to our local farmer’s market, putting them in the hands of my neighbors. Such satisfying work!

            But some time at a permaculture center in the Argentine Andes and later a certification in permaculture design, as well as a long-time interest in foraging made me feel like there was something not quite right about this large-scale model of growing foods (I say “large-scale” when the farm I worked at was only a few acres. How much more so, conventional monoculture farming of thousands of acres!) by focusing on them as resources or units or pounds. I found myself increasingly wanting to understand what was available to me in my environment, what was being offered to me by the world, rather than laboring (and what labor farm work is!) away at the imaginary idea that food comes only from my own hands. So I really started investigating wild edible foods and foraging. At that point, I was relishing all that the weeds I had hitherto been battling had to offer and what it might mean to live a life of relationship with them.

            This all a really long way of saying that I find myself now gardening my yard in San Diego as a garden/farm/foraging space, planting primarily edible or otherwise useful plants in ways that I find beautiful (not so my neighbor with his astro-turf lawn. I am the anti-Christ as far as he is concerned), and also giving space and appreciation over to those plants that grow there without any intention of mine. The mallows, the sweet alyssum, the goosefoot, the nasturtiums, the chickweed. All of these weeds have their place, their beauty, and their uses as food.

            All three of those experiences – gardening, farming, foraging – culminating in the last informed my writing process. My horticulture training and practice gave me the deep fund of knowledge to weave botany and mycology and plant folklore into Madder: A Memoir in Weeds. Farming and foraging gave me the experiences and the insights to draw from to think on the page, even if obliquely, about how humans relate to the more-than-human world. My hope is that this book is read not only as a literary work where weeds and plants and fungus appear as metaphors for human experience, but also as a work in which human (my) experience is read as a metaphor for better understanding the world around us. I sincerely hope readers learn something not only about me but maybe more importantly about plants and foraging and “weeds,” that their relationship to “weeds” shifts in some positive way and that maybe they even take some of the foraging instructions in one of the pieces in book and try them out.


LV: You write,


“For much of my adult life I have worked my mind through folklore and Latin names, soil and air; worked myself into this semblance of a garden, staving off the weeds.


But the more I garden the less I weed.”


As someone who loves folklore, I enjoyed the inclusion of plant lore like that of Our Lady’s bedstraw. In the library at Oak Spring, there’s a section of books on weeds. It’s amazing to read how many are edible or medicinal. Weeds usually carry a negative connotation in our culture—they’re something to be removed or destroyed. This viewpoint is not shared elsewhere in the world. In your memoir it feels as if you’re in the weeds so to speak of family history and you’re balancing the concept that weeds can be at once bothersome but also beneficial. You write, “A weed is of no use to one who has no use for it.” How did you decide which weeds to highlight as a framework for the book? What use did you have for weeds in this book?


MW: It started with two images, one that made it into the book and another that didn’t. One of my earliest memories was playing with my two older cousins, the children of Ti’Bibí and Ina. We half-stepped half-slid our way down what seemed an immense hill to me as a young child and on the way down burrs from burdock plants stuck on my clothes. When I was a little older and in Cub Scouts, the other boys and I played in a homemade fort under a thicket of bushes and balls would be made of collected burrs from burdock plants and hurled at each other. It also happens that burdock, known in Japanese as gobo, is one of my favorite vegetables, and one day I was in a grocery store picking some up and these two memories flooded into my mind as I realized that in this story I was trying to write I was a burr myself, this hanger-on, this pest, and that the burr and burdock might help to explain my mother’s own childhood and migration to the US.

            Once burdock offered me the specific metaphor and the more general conceit of the weed, I started thinking about what other weeds might prove useful metaphors. Though I am a Zen Buddhist, I was raised Catholic and I kept finding myself returning to the mythology/cosmology of Christianity. At the same time I remembered growing madder in the gardens at The Cloisters in New York City and researching the folklore associated with it and its close relative, bedstraw. I also immediately was drawn to the sonic/homophonic orbit of “madder-mater-matter.” By this point I found that the weeds began to take over, impelling the kinds of stories I might tell, offering structure.

            The last major weed, shepherd’s purse, is one I’d often read about in foraging guides as a worthy green for salads or stir-fries, but I’d never seen one before. Then, one day, walking back to my car after teaching classes at the local community college, there was one solitary shepherd’s purse plant growing at the edge of the lawn by the concrete walkway. In full flower and with its beautiful lobed foliage, it felt like it was a messenger waiting for me. The next time I came to campus and looked for it, it was gone, dutifully ripped out as just a “weed” by the grounds crew. I had been stuck on how to write into my adolescence and early adulthood, where I knew I wanted Madder: A Memoir in Weeds to end, but this experience with the shepherd’s purse made me lean into the name of the plant and the image of the seedpods, the so-called “purses” or bags that also look so much like hearts. Imagining shepherds wandering the hills with just a bag, their heart, to carry gave me the structure of travel and desire and searching for that chapter of the book.

            I did indeed have a use for weeds. They helped me make sense of my life. But also they are useless, that is, they have a life apart from usefulness or uselessness. And that’s my life, too. I hope that readers find in this memoir a lesson in finding a way to see people and the more-than-human world around them – be it plants or animals or landscapes – as valuable simply for existing, for simply altogether making up the world as it is. In the opening of the book, I write, “Remember that the little and the useless are what knit the visible world together.” That for me feels like the central point of the whole book, whether thinking of my life or the life of that shepherd’s purse plant quietly blooming by a walkway or a bedstraw plant scratching its way up through some shrubs or a burdock plant’s burrs catching a ride on the hem of a shirt.



LV: Writing memoir must be tricky. Besides revealing your own life, everyone else in your orbit—friends and especially family—are open to speculation and examination. Our stories are inextricably bound to the stories of other people. In your book the narrative is often interrupted by parentheticals where your family interrupts to say, “You’ve got it all wrong.” Also, these interruptions are visually offset from the body of the text through centering like this:


(“You’ve got it all wrong.

This is not how any of this happened,”

my mother says.)


In this way you’ve given agency back to your family to dispute the narrative you’re crafting. Were the voices of your family in your mind as you were writing? How did you make peace with the inevitably that memory is flawed?


MW: Their voices were and weren’t present. I did worry about how to write a book all about not knowing the facts of my life and about those facts being actively withheld. Given that this was the thing that must never be spoken (at least according to my mother), how would she and others receive it? “Madder” refers not only to mothers and the dye plant, but also to anger. This book was born out of anger at this secrecy, and so I decided when I started writing that I wouldn’t speak to my mother about it, knowing that her response would likely be to try and shut it down and that regardless of her response it would warp and deform my own ability to recover my story. I also decided that I was not going to worry about this issue of disputed truths or the potential for hurt feelings until I had completed the whole thing. My hope was that by the time I had finished a solution might magically appear, but the whole way through the worry gnawed at the back of my mind.

            One day, sitting there worrying, I heard my mother’s voice clearly in my head: “You’ve got it all wrong. This is not how any of this happened.” It suddenly seemed obvious that this antagonism to my narrative, my reality, rather than requiring a response and rebuttal, might simply be given space and presence. Like the weeds, why not appreciate and encompass that which is unwanted, and in giving it voice undo its power to silence?

            I never approached this memoir from a place of articulating and defending a series of true events. What events? I hardly knew any of the events that drew me into being. Rather this was about searching through the fog of memory for bits and pieces, more blind exploration than surveying and map-making. So the flawed nature of memory as a recording device wasn’t a problem to be solved or skirted. Instead it was that “flawed” nature I wanted to explore, letting fantasies and hypotheses and theories and the pleasure of language serve as real and true “facts,” landmarks toward a map of “the little and the useless.”



LV: It seems as if most of what you learned about your father was hard won. At one point you write, “My father’s presence at my birth is something I only learn about well into my thirties. This story is still unfinished, dripping and spilling across decades of my life.” How long did it take for you to get the answers you were looking for?


MW: Lol, I’m still looking. It was conversations with relatives, particularly my madrina and my cousins, that revealed so much to me, once I was able to get over the hurdle of feeling like asking anyone any questions at all would be a betrayal of my mother. Every time I broached the topic another morsel of information would be revealed. I don’t think any of them were trying to conceal anything. Far from it. I think my madrina especially was wondering why it took me so long. But it took many separate discussions for each new memory to surface. I learned that my tío Julio (Ti’Bibí’s husband) had been good friends with my father. I learned that my father had left my pregnant mother, returned for my birth, and then left months later on Christmas day. And then, years after this process of conversations started, I learned something detailed at the very end of the book that reoriented everything I thought I knew about my childhood.

            Even within the past year, I’ve learned major new things about my father, but that’s a story for another time.



LV: I absolutely loved the essay/section on fungi/mushrooms which weaves your experience of learning to forage and Jae Rhim Lee’s green burial project (a mushroom shroud/suit) with a contemplation on death and the afterlife. Of the afterlife, you beautifully put it as, “Smoke, spores, this swinging door, this future life.” It’s moving to read about how fungi are excellent stewards of the earth. Admittedly, this essay/section felt like an outlier in terms of its image system and topic. For writers who are grappling with what to include in their manuscripts, could you tell us about how you decided what essays/fragments/verses would go into the final draft of Madder?


MW: I’m not sure if this book would look this way if it hadn’t been begun as my MFA thesis. It was a time of a lot of experimentation and roving about for writing material. I was trying lots of things and, as someone in the CNF track of my program, that meant writing about all sorts of experiences in my life. I have to credit my partner, a poet, for encouraging me to think capaciously about what might “fit” into this book. I knew this was a book about my mother and my father, and once I knew I wanted to alternate and give space to expressing this absence of my father in my life, it made sense to think about all the places where his absence either distorted my life or was filled in by substitute fathers. Thus an essay originally published as a lyric set of foraging instructions can become a searching plea to not be left behind. An essay about getting a shave from a barber in Kerala and another about a man showing me how to find mushrooms in New York can both absolutely be about my father, the one who never taught me how to be a man like these two incidental figures did.

            I think it’s completely fair to be adventurous in understanding one’s life as a whole indivisible thing, contradictions, ellipses, and all. What can be important is the skeleton, the overall structure and frame you give to a project as a whole. Then part of the pleasure for a reader can be to puzzle out how to think about the pieces hanging off this skeleton.



LV: I’d like to hear more about one of the final parts of your book titled “Succession.” For that sequence the pages are split into a white half with black text and a black half with white text. The language is fragmented so at first I wanted to read it as an erasure because I felt like I was hearing echoes of the book’s earlier pages, but then I wondered if it was more of a palimpsest. Could you talk about “Succession?” 


MW: That piece initially appeared in a different form in Seneca Review’s “Beyond Categories” issue. It was printed as one long scroll as part of an amazing box of material text-objects that was a supplement to the issue’s traditional journal form. “Succession” is still up online at Seneca Review’s website where it can be downloaded ( When printed it is approximately three feet long. I knew that this piece would be super-important to include in the book as part of the concluding movements of the memoir as a whole, but it just wasn’t possible to include it as the fold-out I imagined, much to my chagrin. (I’ve since learned that even today, fold-outs have to be individually hand tipped into books at the printers, a cost that would have been exorbitant.)

            After feeling sad for a little bit about the impossibility of including it in its original form, I took on the challenge of rethinking how it might be presented. This meant reimagining and revising the piece into two iterations. The first tinkers with the formatting so discreet pieces of the sideways scroll could inhabit each page. From verso to recto there is continuity but then the page flips. I had always thought of the original piece as being divided between conscious expression “above ground” and subconscious fragments composting “underground.” Reworking it for the book opened up the possibility of using that stark division between the black and white parts of the page to emphasize this aspect that was already there in the original. In the original, one could read each level of the piece as a single sentence. The codex format of a book prevented that continuous flow, so in the second iteration in the memoir, what were first read as fragments are coalesced into clear sentences, letting whatever glimpses of meaning a reader might find in the first iteration be confirmed or challenged or complicated in the second. I’m really happy with the way it turned out and now think of it as a blessing that I had to re-approach this piece for the book.

            “Succession” began as a visual exploration of the ecological idea that one landscape or environment and its suite of organisms sets the stage and makes possible another and then another and then another. Literally, succession is about how bare rock can be a home for lichen which can set the stage for mosses which can be a nursery for seedlings which can then end up sheltering shrubs and then trees. Life can move from bare rock to forest (or savannah or wetland or some other ecosystem), and underneath it all at each step the soil is growing and becoming deeper and thus able to support more and more complex life-forms. But “succession” is also about sons coming after and inheriting from their fathers. And it’s also got the notion of “success” haunting it in the shadows. I tried to take my family history and play with those ideas while visually imagining an ever-growing landscape and the kind of underground currents girding the whole thing.



LV: Can you tell us about your next project? What have you been working on?


MW: In the past year I’ve learned a whole bunch of new information about my father. I always imagined the story of Madder: A Memoir in Weeds, which ends more or less somewhere in my twenties, would continue, but I wasn’t sure how. Now, with the new information I have, I feel new energy for the task of writing not about the absence of my father but about the search and the discovery of his presence scattered across continents and families’ lives. So that’s one project I am working toward.

            The other is, in a way, the kind of book I thought I would write in my MFA, a book of essays about farming, foraging, environmental practice, Buddhism, queerness. I’ve spent the past twenty-plus years on this evolving plant-worker journey of wanting to find a way to live in/with/as the world, and I’d like to share some of the thoughts I’ve had and experiments I’ve engaged in along the way. One of those experiments, as you know because you saw the process unfolding when we were together at Oak Spring, was to hand –cut my overgrown postage stamp lawn in San Diego and bring it with me to Oak Spring where I taught myself some basic basket-weaving techniques in order to construct a basket, a pair of sandals, and a hat from that grass. I want to think deeply about how to live in/with/as the world around me.


Marco Wilkinson is the author of the lyric memoir, Madder: A Memoir in Weeds (Coffee House Press, 2021). His work has appeared in Ecotone, Kenyon Review, DIAGRAM, Seneca Review, and elsewhere. He is an assistant professor of Literary Arts in the Literature Department at University of California San Diego.

Laura Villareal is a poet and book critic. Her debut poetry collection, Girl’s Guide to Leaving, (University of Wisconsin Press 2022) was awarded Texas Institute of Letters' John A. Robert Johnson Award for a First Book of Poetry and the Writers' League of Texas Book Award for Poetry. Her writing has appeared in Shenandoah, Sho Poetry Journal, AGNI, among others.


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