The Lightning Room With Cari Luna

Dramatic entrances and exits in Cari Luna’s “Gone to Water,” from our September issue.

1. Wilderness is as much a character in this story as Karen or Nicki or Alex, the dark force that takes us over. Are we really just animals? At what points does the lizard brain kick in?

The lizard brain kicks in when the needs of the body take precedence over the preoccupations of the mind. It keeps us alive. Karen isn’t taken over by the lizard brain; she’s taken over by her grief, her jealousy, her aloneness in the face of her loss. That’s all elevated shit that kicks in after the basic needs of survival are met. Nicki’s, on the other hand- her pain sinks her down into the terrifying lizard-brain present. The lizard doesn’t care about loss because loss is in the past or the future. The lizard just wants the pain to stop. The lizard just wants to not die.

2. Describe the keening in as precise terms as possible.

3. What is the most vicious predator?

I don’t know what it is but it probably lives in Australia. The idea of Australia terrifies me: the sheer number of things that could kill you there.

4. We race for the water: why?

In the first draft of this story I had Karen heading out into the Oregon desert and the story got stuck and I couldn’t move it forward. It needed the water. That shift was a gut feeling, not something I puzzled out with logic. Maybe there’s a feeling of safety that comes from being near water, because we begin in water, surrounded by it in the womb. Or maybe I’m grasping for connections that aren’t there. Truth be told, I’m more from the climb-the-tree-before-the-tiger-eats-you school of anxiety.

5. This story seems to brim with a ferocious sense of motherhood, carried out in a visceral and occasionally brutal way. How did you draw out the intensity of these emotions?

My understanding of motherhood is a visceral one, and my understanding of childbirth is brutality. Birth is wrapped in pastel pinks and blues in our culture and it’s easy to ignore the violence of it until you’re in the throes. Birth is a brutal, deadly business. We ignore that as a culture and so a woman going through childbirth for the first time–or the loss of a pregnancy– often finds herself shocked and unprepared for the reality of it. I was in labor with my son- my first child- for four days. On the fourth day I had an emergency c-section. C-section: such a common thing it has a nickname. In reality it is major abdominal surgery, and I now bear a six-inch scar. In another time or place my son and I likely would have both died. And that would have been a natural thing-one of the possible natural outcomes of birth. Birth is natural. So is death. They’re closely tied.

6. In this story, we see the beginnings of life, screaming and bloody. Tell us about a dramatic exit. 

Birth is as much exit as entrance. Yes, yes, beautiful, wondrous thing, birth. It is, truly. But it’s also an expulsion of a baby from a warm, dark, weightless space into a world of bright lights and loud sounds and sharp edges, cold drafts, hunger, fear. And it changes the mother, for better and for worse, irreparably.