Lake Michigan, Scene 5

The appraisers from the Chicago Police Department prod my body in the bathtub

They can’t stop coughing in my face

They want to know what street I come from

What code I speak

Who I bought my hair and skin from

What disease I hide in my veins

There are holes in my arm and the appraisers put their cigarettes in them

They don’t smoke their cigarettes

They just jam them into my arm

I have a faint idea of what it means to be alive

But almost all of my feelings have been extinguished

I feel my hand at the end of my arm

It is weightless

There are eyes floating in the air and the river won’t stop exploding

Earlier, when I was sleeping in the bathtub I looked up at the ceiling

The little hole of a window exposed a sky the color of blood

I cried into the water and I thought about a note I needed to send to my parents

I needed to tell them my key was with a neighbor

I needed to tell them the four-digit code to my bank account

I needed to tell them that if I died in the water, if I died in the warehouse, if I died in the mud, if I died at the hands of the appraisers, there were some things I needed

The city has disappeared into the privatized cellar of humanity

My street was obliterated from a love that could not be contained by mathematics or emotion

I could not sleep the night before my appointment to be deposited into the private sector

I stared out my bedroom window at 3 am on a night I could not sleep

I was startled by a police siren

And from my window I watched the police pull a young man out of a black sedan

The driver had long hair

He was gangly and underfed and they asked him to a walk a straight line

You could see hunger in his jawbones

He walked the line perfectly

They put a light to his eye

Follow the light with your eyes, the officer said

They made him stand on one leg

They made him walk on one leg

He walked perfectly on one leg

He stood perfectly on one leg

They made him do twenty pushups

Why do I have to do twenty pushups, he asked

Because you’re a decrepit, public body, the police officer said, and you do not own yourself

And the starving driver did the twenty pushups as gracefully as he could

I hid behind the blinds and I wanted to send a signal to the man who was being made to exert himself, to let him know that from here on out every institution he enters is going to be harsh, austere, inflexible

I went back to bed knowing they would put him in the privatized jail cell where he would wake up shrouded in a horrible halo of light

I went back to my bed and a voice kept shouting:

Do you speak English? Do you eat meat?  Do you rub meat on your body? Do you own your own body?  Do you like to eat raw organ with me?  Do you like your organ maggoty?  Do you want to know how you can get to the other side of the river?

The voice did not have a body

But it had a mouth

It was the biggest mouth I had ever seen

It opened its mouth and there were small animals inside of it

A dog with two heads was on its tongue and so was a newborn baby and the baby screamed:

Do you have a job? Do you have transferable skills?  Do you understand the implications of your inaction?  Would you prefer to be roasted or boiled?

I said: where are your eyes?

The mouth said: your city has disappeared, what are you still doing here?

I said: I work for the city.  I was responsible for supplying the youth with degrees of economic value

But this was another life

This was another story

Now I squirm with the other bodies and together we sleep and squirm in the giant bathtubs they cage us in and we do not belong to ourselves

When we are dry we swap bits of clothing, wrinkled up rags and we warm ourselves in towels filled with our partners’ sweat and dirt

The bureaucrats laugh at us when we talk to them

They slurp down raw oysters when we talk to them

They sink their feet into our mouths when we talk to them

They say: poet your favorite poet from now on is my boot

The poet-boot kicks one of my teeth and I feel it fall into my mouth

I swallow my tooth and wash it down with the bath water I’ve been sleeping in for the last few days

And when day inevitably breaks I watch the morning ritual:

They take away the horizon

They take away the sky and the streets

They take away the sewers and the beaches and the river and the trees and the birds and the cats and the raccoons and the garbage

And as usual I watch from the bathtub of dawn until someone one comes to conduct the daily appraisal of my body

I cost much less than my historical value and the bank has no choice but to deny the loan I need in order to buy myself back

My deflationary wounds

My privatized blood

My rotten carcass sinking into the privatized waters of dawn


Daniel Borzutzky’s books and chapbooks include, among others, In the Murmurs of the Rotten Carcass Economy (2015), Bedtime Stories For The End of the World! (2015), Data Bodies (2013), The Book of Interfering Bodies (2011), and The Ecstasy of Capitulation (2007). He has translated Raúl Zurita’s The Country of Planks (2015) and Song for his Disappeared Love (2010), and Jaime Luis Huenún’s Port Trakl (2008). His work has been supported by the Illinois Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Pen/Heim Translation Fund. He lives in Chicago.


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  1. Pingback: Issue Eleven, 2015 | Matter

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