Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: In “Infinity,” we find the speaker’s suffering during the hurricane echoes with the pain experienced at Catholic school. What compelled you to link the two together?

Michael McCarthy: In short, I have no idea. I could hypothesize all day long about the subliminal connection between extreme weather and my Catholic upbringing, but any notion I invent would be utterly conjectural and rather airy. They created an interesting harmonic, so I kept them in. I leave it to the interested reader to reverse-engineer my strange comparison.

RR: Memories seem to almost blur together in this poem while remaining distinct. How did you approach creating several scenes while maintaining continuity?

MM: I’m not sure I did maintain continuity. It’s essential for me when writing fiction or nonfiction, but with poetry, I feel the liberty to combine elements that don’t seem to belong together. I think this mishmash of sensations is how memory works, and certainly, this poem concerns memory.

RR: There is a subtle yet visceral depiction of trauma in this poem and it feels like that comes from an intimate place. How do you think poetry has a place in processing pain?

MM: Here, I can only speak for myself. Poetry is like breathing. No matter what I may be doing, poetry is never far from mind. When a painful experience occurs, poetry can come to the fore as a coping mechanism. It doesn’t always do this. It’s just there if I should need it. Sometimes I do.

RR: We are interested in the recurring theme of being queer in a Catholic community. How does this vulnerability play out more broadly in your writing?

MM: I think your use of the word “vulnerability” can be understood in two ways. First, there is vulnerability in the sense of laying bare emotions. Though this can fuel a poetic practice, I don’t think it alone constitutes poetry. Second, there is vulnerability in the more literal sense, as in being vulnerable to affronts, threats, or even violence. Poetry is no shield, but it can help clarify the direction from which those aggressions come. It’s hard to combat something you don’t understand.

RR: Your bio says that you have a forthcoming debut poetry book, Steve: A Gift. Exciting! Can you tell us more about it?

MM: Yes! It’s my first poetry chapbook, a COVID product. My uncle Steve passed away of brain cancer at the height of the pandemic. Local hospice care facilities had no available beds for him, so my family administered that care in our home. He was an isolated man whose lovely wife, my aunt Celeste, had died some years before. I figured there wouldn’t be too many people outside the family who would remember him, a good honest man who lived a good honest life which deserved to be mourned, remembered, and celebrated. So I wrote the book.


Read “Infinity” by Michael McCarthy in Issue 11.1.