Unresolvable Questions

At the release party for Yonnas Getahun’s book of poems I Hung Myself on the Moon at Vermillion last month, the entire crowd looked post-breakup, post-funeral—that look of people who would still be crying if any moisture was left in their bodies. It was soon enough after the Trump election that I was still looking around frantically for someone to tell me it was all a horrible joke. The event, called A Slow Dance to Poetry, was also a fundraiser for the NW Immigrant Rights Project. “In the face of what our communities (people of color, LGBTQIA, immigrant, and more) are confronted with,” promotional copy read, “you are invited to come out of the rain and enjoy an evening of poetry and music, and if inspired, to slow dance with a friend, a lover or a stranger.”

An impressive array of these communities were present at the release—all of us frightened, pissed, vulnerable, looking for comfort. Every poem read by Robert Lashley, Omar Willey, Chelsea Jean Werner-Jatzke and Getahun himself (disclosure: I read that night, too) was a reminder that we are strong, capable adults who are here for each other. I cried during every reading (rehydrating frequently). Getahun is as effective a curator as he is a poet.

He’s also a charismatic and witty MC who made the back room of Vermillion as comfortable as a friend’s living room. He dominates the stage admirably when need be, but has an excellent sense of when someone else should shine and also of how to facilitate that. Born in Ethiopia and raised in Spokane, Getahun works as an account manager at Zillow while writing poetry and producing various art projects, like 2015’s #CapHillPSA poster campaign, which he created with Courtney Sheehan of the Northwest Film Forum to address the changing nature of Capitol Hill.

The release party’s memorable readings concluded with live marimba music, plenty of good conversation and actual slow-dancing. I picked up a slender, chap-size copy of I Hung Myself on the Moon and found the poetry to be as eloquent and understated as Getahun’s reading style. Romance and longing are common themes in these poems, whose quiet lyricism has a fittingly lunar quality.

Somewhere toward the middle of the book is this gem, which represents the emotional tenor and quality of the collection:

The Way She Forgets

The way she forgets
her earrings, nylons
and Vaseline.

The train station is empty.
It is the crack of dawn
and my voice
is a fresh baked bread.

I sing to her
for all the times
I have been mute and for the
aching moments to come.

Throughout I Hung Myself on the Moon, the poems are columns as slender as the book itself, not a word wasted. I’m a firm believer in Alan Grossman’s assertion that art is “about” things the way a cat is about the house, and while these poems offer the graceful, complex interplay of meanings one wants from a poem, I couldn’t help wondering midway through, Who is this woman who forgets? It’s perhaps the kind of thought more poems should inspire—I felt the writer’s emotional stake in the poems that made me curious about his life.

“You know that whole thing about what do you do when you meet Buddha on the road?” Getahun asked me recently. “Well, this book addresses the unresolved question of, what do you do when you meet a muse? It’s a consequence of attempting to persuade someone I was smitten by.” He laughed. “Oh man, it was a disaster. That’s the backstory of the book. It’s what happens when you try to possess someone who ignites you and in my case are humiliated and embarrassed through it all. Maybe I should’ve left that alone. Maybe I shouldn’t have.”

Resolvable questions are not the project of poetry, though reading I Hung Myself on the Moon, you may wish for the speaker’s sake that they were. But more than likely, you’ll be thankful they’re not—and remember your own fleeting brushes with the moon.

A poem from I Hung Myself on the Moon appears in the February 2017 issue of City Arts. Read it here. Digital downloads of the book are available here