(late) towards purple sky: A Conversation with danilo machado about This is your receipt and is not a ticket for travel — curated by Tiffany Troy

Born in Medellín, Colombia, danilo machado is a poet, curator, and critic living on occupied land interested in language’s potential for revealing tenderness, erasure, and relationships to power. A 2020-2021 Poetry Project Emerge-Surface-Be Fellow, their writing has been featured in Hyperallergic, Art in America, Art Papers, Poem-A-Day, The Recluse, GenderFail, No, Dear, Long River Review, TAYO Literary Magazine, among others. They are the author of the collection This is your receipt and is not a ticket for travel (Faint Line Press, 2023) and the chaplets wavy in its heat and to be elsewhere (Ghost City Press Summer Series, 2022/2023). This is your receipt and is not a ticket for travel cuts across subway, train, and bus lines across New York City and beyond. It listens attentively to how the announcements, police presence, and interactions on the ho-hum of commuting reflects our broader social and geopolitical stakes especially for queer, migrant, and racialized bodies.

Tiffany Troy: How does your first poem, “bdfm downtown,” set up the rest of the collection that follows? Some motifs I noticed are: the speaker being physically on the train but their mind is elsewhere (i.e. reading); waiting on a platform (noticing/ ignoring the vicinity); appearance and disappearance; and the central motif of travel on public transportation (MetroNorth/ Subway).

danilo machado: Thank you for this question! This poem is older, but its resonances with the whole collection continued to reveal themselves. I like the simultaneously specific (“orange”/6th avenue line going downtown) and vague (unclear which train the speaker boards between the B, D, F, and M) location the title evokes, an in-between that seeps through the whole collection.

Looking up from a book (both books being read and notebooks being written in) is a recurring motif that starts right from the first line of this poem. It is both a recording of what is literally happening when I am writing or witnessing the scenes in the poems and a more symbolic gesture interested in what we give our attention to and what we “read” in our surroundings.

The sky being not-quite black and the color of the cars being warped by the fluorescent of the subway set up my interest in the “not-yet” and in the many ways I feel that transit warps one’s sense of space, time, color, and light. In the poem, noting the ways the cars are positioned speaks to both a constant juggling of location, and of my interest in naming the power differentials that are always present (who is “above” whom?). “Unsettled” is perhaps the core mode of the collection, reflecting both the state of the transit machines between origin and destination, and also describing the way I see myself and the poems as inherently unresolved. Reflection is also a big part of the collection, both in the sense of reflecting back my/our transit(tory) realities, but also self-reflecting and highlighting how these systems are reflected in these small experiences.

TT: Can you describe the process in writing this collection, and about structuring the collection’s two sections?

dm: This collection started as an independent study I did right before I finished undergrad. I was motivated to revisit it almost two years ago after a virtual program at UC Berkeley I was invited to by my friend Alan Pelaez Lopez. I was paired with brilliant scholars, Angel Sutjipto and Keish Kim, who write about transit as fugitive space. In preparation for our conversation, I went back through my Google Drive archive and started reading some of those old poems again, along with the transit poems I have written since then. It felt right to collaborate with my friend Jason Lipeles who had a few months prior expressed interest in publishing my work, and we began a conversation about the project that lasted over a year until we released it.

The collection originally had more discrete numbered sections but I eventually made the breaks more subtle to emphasize the transitory nature of the poems. I think of “fare” as the center of the collection and the photos by Jenna Hamed as alluding to breaks between groupings of poems. I was interested in both capturing the stop-and-start nature of riding the train and reflecting a kind of blurred continuum that I feel is part of the experience as well.

TT: How does form inform your collection? I am particularly drawn to the staccato rhythm allowed by the caesura, the short lines, and the breaks between the quoted sounds (like announcements) versus your interior thoughts.

dm: There’s a few forms in the collection. The older ones are perhaps the loosest in structure. It was interesting to notice the way my sense of enjambment has evolved in the ten-plus years I’ve been writing poems. There are a few poems that are in a form I invented a few years ago that I call the 10×10. These poems are in ten line stanzas, where each line has ten syllables. I started writing in this form because I felt too lazy to write a sonnet, and it has become the primary form I write in. I’m not too worried if the reader realizes or doesn’t realize there’s an underlying structure—for me the most valuable part has been the way the form allows me to pace and contain a poem. I now have dozens of these and it’s fun to see them in relationship to each other. “Fare” originally started as a series of 10x10s until I realized I had more to say and started to feel like the constriction was cramping it. From that choice, I then became more interested in how the poem was going to look on the page. The stanzas are meant to look like windows of a train car, and I’m really happy with how it turned out.

In terms of the kinds of language throughout the book, I intentionally wanted to place the language of queer tenderness and desire among the violent language of the state and surveillance. The “voices” in the book are similarly intertwined, with the speaker, the reader/public, the conductor, and the State all jumbled.

TT: How does the idea of the political, social, and personal find themselves for you in the collection?

dm: For me, all three are always intertwined and all inform my work. I’m interested in how both I personally and us collectively interface in intimate ways with these larger political systems. It was important to balance the self-reflective or diaristic moments in the collection with moments of recognizing the broader political and social contexts (the ongoing pandemic, gentrification, underfunded infrastructure, the unrelenting police state, etc), all which impact the ways both I and the communities around me navigate the subway. The collection is very much about how in gestures big and small, transit is simultaneously a setting of queer desire, of class solidarity, and of state surveillance.

TT: What role does the naming of things (the time of day, the station, the train) play in your collection?

dm: Naming a thing can be a gesture towards locating and can be part of the way that the poem documents an experience, a time period, and a place. I’m interested in the ways that naming can simultaneously evoke something hyperspecific but can still contain an expansiveness that can be accessed in more than one way.

TT: Do you have any closing thoughts for your readers of the world?

dm: I want to express my gratitude and uplift the work of a few folks who contributed so meaningfully to this collection. First, my publisher Jason Lipeles who is such a sweet writer and friend. I’m so thankful for our collaboration on this project and am so looking forward to all of the magic he’ll continue to make with Faint Line Press and with his own work, too. Second, Jenna Hamed contributed beautiful photographs to the book and Rodrigo Moreira designed the cover—both artists you should follow and get excited by. I’ll also mention my friend Em Marie Kohl, who took my author picture in the book, and who I have the joy of co-hosting the queer reading series exquisites every first Thursday at Art Cafe + Bar.