Category: Issue 11


In Revelations the angel commands John the Divine Rise and measure! And thus begins

a prophecy  a litany of calculations  40 and 2 months  2 witnesses  200 and 3-score days   


2 olive trees 2 candlesticks in a singe of data John like a physicist scavenges for God 3.5 days,

4 and 20 elders, 12 stars, for the prophets to measure is to signify and separate “Rise and measure


the temple of God” they told him “but do not measure the court outside” something or some-1

is always left out 7 heads, 10 horns, 7 crowns accounting is frequently an exercise of power


(we ticker we financial officer) as in the story of the Samurai who falsely accuses his servant

Okiku of stealing 1 of his 10 delft plates his words spreadsheet she inventories 1 2 3 must be


4 5 6 mistaken 7 8 9 counts again her master will spare her if she fucks him an equation

she refuses he throws her down a well            a well is a chamber of calculations an ear


a labyrinth of bone a darkness so seldom our habitat  whence Okiku endlessly counts 1 2

my genre is cross-cultural 3 4 epic ticker 5 6 and genres fall 7 8 from office buildings 9


Okiku screams like mid-level managers in the 1930s equations spool through us pool storm

drains confirm the season in Revelations the angel never specifies standard or index or weather


a portfolio of catastrophe spirals round in times of stress as before a fall or angel or robbery

we see in hyper-reality innumerable pixels (my god my 401K my billfold) at gunpoint


in the backseat of my airport taxi my epic is national precarity the poet said his mind burned

with numbers—arithmomania—John’s angel commanded Measure! gunman barked Give me


your wallet or I’ll fucking kill you! to submit to another’s accounting is to surrender is to actuary

in a taxi where I hand over my money (so financial adviser so market crashed) not counting





Susan Briante is the author of Pioneers in the Study of Motion (2007) and Utopia Minus (2011). For her forthcoming collection, The Market Wonders, Briante started recording the closing number of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. She let those numbers randomly guide her to texts: plugging them into Project Gutenberg, Bartlett’s quotations, online versions of Paradise Lost and Leaves of Grass as well as various search engines. She allowed those texts to exert their influence over a series of poems (sometimes very directly, sometimes more subtly) much in the same way the closing number of the Dow exerts an influence over our lives.

Artist Statement, Kirsten Nash

“The word plasticity thus unfolds its meaning between sculptural molding and deflagration, which is to say explosion. From this perspective, to talk about the plasticity of the brain means to see in not only the creation of form but also an agency of disobedience to every constituted form, a refusal to submit to a model”

-Catherine Malabou, “What Should We Do with Our Brain”

Given the cultural, economic, and political realities of our time, specifically the failure of a Globalized Capitalist structure to address our most pressing existential issues, I find it difficult to reconcile my art practice as a painter and image-maker to these realities. How do you create an image that can stand against the overwhelming flow of images and market fetishization that permeates our culture? How can an image embody the nuance and emotion associated with the complexities that surround things like flowers, which might arrive as a very sincere gesture of kindness and beauty, yet also produce a nagging discomfort against the backdrop of an increasingly visible precarity and concerns about labor conditions and ecological impacts.

I want to believe that ideas originate in art and creativity and that, it follows, to embrace creative joy and expression is an act of defiance and an act of liberty that has the potential to serve as a model for resistance and change.

Appropriating the reductive grid of American Minimal and Conceptual 
painting, while referencing objects, places, and patterns from everyday, I open myself up to possibilities that arise through destruction of these forms. Fracturing, reflecting, negating, and refining, I am aiming for a raw simplicity and directness that is in the moment and informed through memory. In the most successful pieces, a tension is created though the attempt to insert personal and quotidian references that mark lived experience. The viewer is made aware of the delicate balance of his or her reading of the oscillation between the formal properties of the work and personal reverie.

Introduction to the Poetics of Intervention, Issue Eleven

“The conversation . . . about politics and poetry has become so predictable that it is mostly a reflex down an algorithm already preset and pre-scripted. You want to talk about political poetry? Show me new questions about political poetry and I’ll show a political poem.”

—Fady Joudah


“What happens if we don’t territory?!”

—Danielle Pafunda and Reagan Louise


According to poet Todd Fredson, Issue 11 of Matter, on the poetics of intervention, seeks to explore what possibilities exist for poetry (in its most expansive sense) to challenge the neoliberal, Imperial project that “West” has come to signify.

The following writers—Joyelle McSweeney, Bhanu Kapil, Sarah Vap, Fady Joudah, Khadijah Queen, and others—answer, elliptically, the questions posed by Fredson at the outset:  is this project most adequately contested by those not yet swallowed in it, by “fringe” literature, as Ivorian poet Tanella Boni identifies such production that is marginalized in the marketplace? Do interventions such as genre defiance (think avant-gardists) or the inclusion of more voices (think translation) provide resistance, or are these simply gestures that ultimately demonstrate the appropriating efficiency of the global “free market” structure?

If global capitalism is characterized by smooth, uninterrupted elisions of power, repression of resistance, corporate and terroristic takeovers, and historical revisionings according to said colonial and imperial forces, are local expressions of precarity, as Fredson asks, bound to become complicit in the commodifying instinct?  According to Joudah “ . . . subjectivity has become posture and algorithm today, a Houdini act, but one that does not honor its illusory roots and goes on to believe its own lies. Still this return of poetry to a public shared realm, where ‘originality’ and ‘canon’ are questioned, is also troubled with reproduction. It’s inescapable.”

As inescapable, say, as the cultural construct of “the commons.”  Danielle Pafunda and Reagan Louise provide an epistolary commentary on the “commodifying instinct” as it relates to the desire not just to be, but have, in the domestic and transnational sense, from their book Bon Aire exploring kinship, radical love, polyamory, the couple state, sadness, security, and hilarity:  “That/this/ he/she/it/I is mine,” from land, to human capital, intellectual property, to spouses, to one’s own corporeal body:  “One of the ways in which nations, peoples, households, individuals secure themselves is through territory. Westward expansion, Stand Your Ground, the Soviet block, block parties, neighborhood watch, the high ground, walls, border patrol, wedding bands. This is the subprime myth of home ownership.”

A movement away from incorporation and consumption—struggle, intersectionality; the frissions of grassroots and guerilla movements; and the irreplaceable texture of locality, regionality, and place—is necessarily troubled, as well (a nostalgia or need for pre-foundational stability can easily become a fugue or post-traumatic state of mourning).

Pleasure is a component of aesthetics, something we can even demand of art,  according to Stevens, but what happens when our desire to be pleased—to say nothing of having our consciences eased and critical thinking obliterated by cheap gaffs, empty academic syllogisms, and pop culture soma—overrides our desire to engage, reflect, remember, as in individual or from within the autonomic nervous system of world body/mind?

“Were we charnel ground attendants in — a previous — life?

Were we loved?  Did we die next to the water?”

(Bhanul Kapil, “Mutations and Deletions:  Ban”)

In an age of large-scale involutions of sense, authority, and structure, when the Platonic charioteers are driven by the horses (or even, perhaps, in postmodernism, by the chariot itself), it is difficult to truly understand into what, or from what, paradigm, we write, think, see.  And, if there exists today no outside to capital, our task becomes that of creating an “outside” (or fractional other) to the prison house of language beyond even Derrida, Lacan, Kristeva, and other metaphors for double-consciousness (or double-speak), and to live and create within a “field of action,” or retain the aptitude, however bleak, for what Kapil haltingly calls “The courage./ To be alone.  As an artist.  To have the courage./  This kind of courage./  Despite./  Or within./  Communal aims.”

If a poetics exists that can confront the consequences of neoliberal expansion, globalized English, and the attempted graft of democratic ideals (Constitutional law and free-market principles) onto the world, it would necessitate the creation of a language in conversation with that of privilege and singularity, the monstrous One obliterating the differences of the many—a language whose emotional truth is understood by those who speak it, or believe that the narratives other people tell us about our humanity and history is not always “true,” as a constative utterance, or context-less, as a performative, nor, in the final frame, capable of defining who, or what, we are.

Issue Eleven, 2015

Ismania (A Conceptual Performance)

after Harry Gamboa, Jr.’s “Ismania” (1987)


“We begin with the free market system in which art is the commodity that is subject to the forces of supply and demand…Money is at the root of all eventualities…”

–Harry Gamboa, Jr.



Mickey “Give Me the Money” Mouse: “I don’t get it: what does neoliberalism have to do with you so-called ‘colon-ized’ minorities?”


Ismaniac: “The modern/colonial world emerged from particular nations and their colonizing of particular lands (for theorist Walter Mignolo, modernity and colonialism historically go hand in hand).  This early stage of modernity was transformed into global conquest and design at a particular moment in history.


The grand narratives (what he calls macro-narratives) of Christianity, secular enlightenment all occurred during particular moments of history in the midst of colonialism.  These macro-narratives totalizing global history were formulated from the localized/particular perspective of, and this is key for Mignolo, those colonizing nation-states.  Moreover, he locates the invention of the later macro-narratives of neo-liberal capitalism and, its contrary ideology, Marxism, in those nation-states in the midst of colonization.  He writes, concerning capitalism and Marxism, “both models were put in place at the height of nation-state building in Europe, and some of these nation-states (England, France, and Germany) were at the same time involved in the second-wave of colonial expansion[1]”.  The particular European perspective these macro-narratives bear on each other, in Mignolo’s critique, comes from a space that does not account for those colonized peoples whose epistemologies and lives are fundamentally Other.  After all, “What do you do with Marx if you come from the perspective of the history and experiences of Indigenous populations in the Americas or Afro-Caribbean French or British (ex) colonies?[2]”.


Karl “the Conundrum” Marx: “Are you talking about me? What about me? I didn’t get a Valentines!”


Ismaniac: “And you aren’t going to get one! Remember, the indigenous populations experience of commodity production is experientially different from the European proletariat.  The indigenous communities experienced/suffered modernity from wholly different political, economic, ontological and epistemological perspectives.  Mignolo’s rhetorical question is apt.  He states:

You need to understand and imagine possible futures beyond the proletariat experiences of capitalism since victims of capitalistic exploitations were also the Indigenous and African slave, it was and is not the same as the experience of the European workers in the European factories[3].

The communities exploited in the colonized periphery experienced modernity from wholly unique perspectives than those who suffered in Europe.  Many, in some cases most, of the colonized peoples of Africa and the Americas saw their peoples, societies, and histories completely eliminated by the colonizers.  This is vastly different from the experience of a proletariat in London at the rise of the industrial revolution.  In Mignolo’s decolonial[4] critical perspective there is theoretical deficiency in Marxism in its inability to account for the epistemologies of the colonized.


Mickey “The Conceptual” Mouse: “Decolonial-Schmalonial…The way you talk, you never gonna get the cheese…money ain’t got nothing to do with poetry and language.”


Ismaniac: “Mickey, wake up, Marc Shell in Money, Language, and Thought, an exhaustive study of the interaction of linguistic and economic production, states, “the apparently diabolical interplay of money and mere writing [comes] to a point where the two become confused [and] involves a general ideological development: the tendency of paper money to distort our ‘natural’ understanding of the relationship between symbols and things” (7).  This distortion of the “natural” understanding between symbols and things should sound vaguely familiar to even the most basic of post-structural mice.


Harry “the Prophet” Gamboa, Jr.: “I’m certain that it’s the Isms that’s causing all these problems.  The Ism makes it too definite, locking it into space and time[5]


Ismaniac: “The Ism is the business of the critic.  The poem, in and on and of the other hand, acts as the signature of a particular historical moment.  The poem achieves this through its emphatic focus on the particular.  Adorno writes, “the collective undercurrent in the lyric surfaces in the most diverse places:…as the ferment of the individual expression and then…as an anticipation of a situation that transcends mere individuality in a positive way[6]”.  The focus on the particular, through this individuality of the lyric, raises the lyric above individual expression into the realm of (1) positing utopian vision and (2) being the signature marking and critiquing the particular inequities of its epoch.


Mickey “I’m the Mac” Mouse: “That’s just a bunch of fancy talk getting all daffy! Keep your utopia, Cube had it right “Gangsta, Gangsta”: ‘life ain’t nothing but bitches and money!”


Ismaniac: “Mickey, you sexist rat, listen up: literature, in its dissembling of the writing subject, also communicates something consequential about the physical subject within their world.  The subject, the writer or “speaker,” communicates their conception of how they, as beings in the world, organize their sensibility.  The poem’s singularity communicates its formal conceits/constraints, the language in which it is written, the semantic content alongside its singular notion of community.  These posit not only the singularity of the creating individual but, in structuring such a view, also organize how that creating individual communicates to the reader.  In other words, the poem is a communal event, an event structured out of particular geopolitical sensibilities.  You gotta be conscious that even poems colonize!”


Mickey: “I think you’ve ruptured my colon.”




–J. Michael Martinez received the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of

American Poets and he is a Ph.D. Candidate in Literature at the University of

Colorado at Boulder. His latest book, from the University of Arizona Press, is “In

the Garden of the Bridehouse.” He is the Poetry Editor of NOEMI Press and his

poetry has been anthologized in Ahsahta Press’ “The Arcadia Project: North

American Postmodern Pastoral,” Rescue Press’s “The New Census: 40

American Poets,” and Counterpath Press’ “Angels of the Americlypse: New

Latin@ Writing.”


[1] Ibid, Pp. 8.

[2] Ibid, Pp. 9.

[3] Ibid, Pp. 9.

[4] Mignolo takes issue with the conception of the postcolonial for he finds a new manifestation of colonial ideology (what he calls the “coloniality of power”) in neo-liberal capitalism; he writes, “it is the market that is becoming the global design of a new form of colonialism, a global coloniality, that is being analyzed as ‘the network society’ (Castells), ‘globalcentrism’ (Coronil), and ‘Empire’ (Hardt and Negri) (Delgado 8).

[5] Gamboa, Jr., Harry. Urban Exile. ED Chon A. Noriega. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1998, pp. 253

[6] Adorno, Theodor. Notes to Literature. Columbia University Press, NY, 1991, Pp. 46

Black Farmers / New Deal

The whole country was ravaged by a broken economy in the 1930s. President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, designed to bring relief to the poor, provided only measured assistance to black farmers. Beginning in 1933, Roosevelt’s Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) made subsidy payments available to large Southern farms. However these subsidies were siphoned off by white landowners who never got around to distributing disbursements among their sharecroppers and tenants.

Also in 1933, Roosevelt created the $500 million Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) to help poor, rural Americans. Black farmers applied for relief but did not receive it as often as whites. In June 1934, for example, there were 84 applications from blacks and 49 from whites. The FERA accepted 24, all from white farmers. The average total relief for whites was $19.51 and for blacks, $15.17. Preferential treatment of white farmers was endemic throughout the South; the rationale was that blacks could survive on less.

In 1935, in response to the unfair practices of the AAA and FERA, black and white tenant farmers and sharecroppers joined forces to form the Southern Tenant Farmers Union, which, at its height, numbered could tolerate neither unions nor cooperation between poor whites and blacks, targeted the group with violence and divisive tactics that stirred up old racial prejudices among members.

Finally, in a small window of opportunity from 1937-1942, the Farm Security Administration (FSA) was created with one-fifth of AAA’s holdings, to make loans to tenant farmers . This was the first widespread government assistance to black farmers since the Freedmen’s Bureau during Reconstruction. It allowed thousands of blacks , like Charlene Gilbert’s grandfather Fred Mathis, to purchase small farms . GrpwLegal Loopholes For

widespread widespread every acre gained by black farmers under FSA, thousands more were lost to a new threat – heir and property laws – as blacks continued to vacate the South in the 1940s and 50s. Many black landowners chose not to leave wills , so ownership of hard-earned property was often distributed among generations of family members no longer living on the land . Lawyers, large landowners and developers used tax and property laws as their new weapon to return black land to white control. If one portion, then the sale of entire property could be forced , since it had not been legally apportioned to the other heirs.
This practice has continued to the present.




Khadijah Queen is the author of Conduit (Black Goat/Akashic Books 2008), Black Peculiar (Noemi Press 2011), and Fearful Beloved, due out from Argos Books in fall 2015. Her chapbooks include I’m So Fine: A List of Famous Men & What I Had On (Sibling Rivalry 2013) and Exercises in Painting (Bloof Books 2016). Individual poems and prose appear or are forthcoming in Fencejubilat, Best American Nonrequired Reading, Memoir, Tupelo Quarterly and widely elsewhere. She is the winner of the 2014 Leslie Scalapino Award for Innovative Women Performance Writers for her verse play Non-Sequitur, with full production to be staged by NYC theater company The Relationship in late 2015. Visit her website:


Mutations and Deletions: Ban

— for Kate Zambreno

On January 6th, 2015, Nightboat Books published a set of notes – rough,
overlapping arcs – that constituted: Ban. A durational or smashed work,
something resembling a crumpled-up bit of aluminium foil. A novel in
another form: Ban en Banlieue. And if the novel is the cosmopolitan
unit, the thing that can be bought and sold, then what was this and what
was it for? What I noticed, when the book arrived one morning and I
held it in my grubby paws, was that 97% of it remained: dormant/real:
unseen but felt: felt but never seen. On the blog. Or in the wire cages.
Of the butcher’s block. In the Portuguese alcove. Of my home. What is a
home? I thought I should make a list of the sentences I did not write. Or
that were written. But, unhomed, as they say: did not – could not – be
written down. In that other real form. What the book turned out to be.
What the book was in those final moments. Before the wall came down.
Or the glass came down. Or the sky came down. And someone I never
met before. Said click.

Notes for a novel never written. 

A novel of the race riot: BAN:

1.  I glimpse Ban through a dense indigo London fog.

2. Even as I attempt the next stage of writing — which is not a stage — a line comes right down — and that is Ban — and it shatters — the founding materials — of the stage.

I assess the line.

It is a meteor in the form of a human being.

Something alien and cobalt, like a vector, about Ban.

The soot crystallizes and that is the cobalt.  It is like hard, shiny glue that has a weight you would not have predicted it to have.

I studied physics until I was 18.

The word for that is — atomic mass?

Gold, cadmium, vanadium, argon, carbon, silver, europium.

Ban goes right through and out the other side, with the force and animal “grace” of lava.

Meteorite Ban.  Is not interested in the new book.

In bodywork, in the space where the table is set up, there is a moment when the energies that accompany or hold a person’s life make eye contact with you, the person holding that person’s — feet — let’s say — or shoulder, or arm.  And you continue to work with a sense of being in agreement, of working together.

Something like this happens in writing.

A way that the energies orient to the person writing them.

Ban’s orbital is like a cobra, rearing up — and swaying — as I type.


But it’s time to go to sleep now, so let us put aside the bassoon/sex novel of the mid nineties — and agree — that tomorrow — we will continue with our  — particular work.

Were we charnel ground attendants in — a previous — life?

Were we loved?  Did we die next to the water?

Praseodymium, tin.

3.  Copies of cells.

Objects are attracted to a secret, central place in the roadside reliquary — bits of cloth, a collage of feathers.  Sometimes, the reliquary is re-built in a room lit with Danish modern lamps.  I liked lying down on that dank, non-violent sofa: Ban.  I tried to learn from that part of life, its triangular formations and bleak dark avenue beyond the pale white net curtains.  Was it that obvious?  The light-dark contrasts that resembled an airport, airport culture?

Today I saw a white horse and in the mud beneath it was a sentence written in gold ink.

4. Having exhausted Ban.

Having completed Ban.

Having made the animal in Ban.

Before cutting Ban up.

On the butcher’s table that a desk always is.

That the butcher’s table is.

No desk.

I have never written at a desk.

And as the rhythms of life unfold.

And as unguents are released.

And as the days increase in their sensitivity to each other.



A newborn in my arms.  Or other arms.  Other human factors.  This is life.  Stop complaining about life.

As life unfolds.

I write anyway.


That I can only write here.

When I am faced with my notebook, I am like a baby myself.



Holding the pen like a fork.

How can it be that this is my notebook now?

And that only here.

Can I think.


I must become Cesar Aira with creamy paper and ink pen in cafe in Argentina.


Very hard to become a South American man when you are a British-Indian woman with spikes.

Trans-global life is spiky.

When Laynie wrote with her questions about Ban, the poet’s novel — and so on — I would normally — have taken myself off.

To the cafe.

To write.


As I did that.

To write myself out of one life.

And into another.

But this time.

I could only do it here and save it as “Draft.”

I notice that a lot of writing is happening like this, that I never publish — but which.

Holds the valence of.


That writing life.

And so, only here.

Can I write to Laynie.

Then cut and paste my response.

Into an email.

To her.

I wanted to cut and paste it here.

But I have written.

Too much.

And want to.


Now that it is morning.

And I have my tea.

To return to bed.

And write.

In my notebook.


It is time to begin.

The day with all its.


And company.  Define: company.

Having exhausted Ban.

As a topic.

As the thing that can be written.

I wanted this.

So that I.

Could begin.

The real work.

Of —

No, what happens next.

Is as yet.

Unknown to me.

Genet-like, Ban.

Has opened.

Her eyes.

In the after-life of the scene.

The scene.

That is always the body.

I will never win a prize.

I will never eat turkey drumsticks in Switzerland.

But I can tell you.

That I will always.

Find my way back.

To life.

Like this.

No matter what happens.

Which is.

As I said to my students.

And which I say to myself.

The courage.

To be alone.

As an artist.  To have the courage.

This kind of courage.


Or within.

Communal aims.


Bhanu Kapil is a post-colonial writer who holds to the maxim: “Shame may be fatal.”  Nevertheless, her books enact a not-writing or never-writing as much as they do: an arrival of monstrous form.  Her most recent book is centered upon the riot and how the body receives [emits] the energy of the riot: “Ban en Banlieue” (Nightboat Books, 2015).

Lake Michigan, Scene 6

We were dancing too fast and the music was playing too slow

The music the lights it was all too slow and we couldn’t stop moving

We were going so fast and the authoritative white bodies were commanding us to dance faster

We were dancing in front of the mannequins in the window of the store the authoritative white bodies made us burn down

The city was not the same after they made us burn down the department store

They made us burn down the department store and then they told us to leave the state but I could not get my papers

They told me to leave the state but they would not let me go to my house to get my papers

My passport, my certificate of national authenticity

The same people who told me to leave the country did not allow me to get my papers in order to leave the state and to cross into the rotten carcass heartlands of Indiana or Michigan or Iowa

The border gets smaller as the state gets bigger

We burned down the department store and now there are no more sweaters shoes underwear

I remember the mothers making the boys try their sweaters on

I remember one day how a beige soldier jammed a pistol in my mouth as I was looking for sweaters

He took me to the fitting room and made me suck on the pistol and he threatened to blow my brains out if I didn’t suck harder

Mother why did you send me to this school mother

Why did you send me to this school

Don’t you know mother the white bodies they beat me at this school

I am beaten mother by the beige bodies and also the brown bodies the white the brown the beige they all beat me mother

They came to take my blood mother

The white boys stabbed my leg mother

I was wearing the trousers you bought for me in the department store they made me burn down mother

They were khaki trousers mother

I did not have any other trousers mother

I had to wear them with my blue blazer mother but now I don’t have any pants to wear but it doesn’t matter because I am stuck here in my cage on the beach at the northern end of Chicago

There is a word mother for when a boy kills his mother

It is called matricide

And there is a word mother for when a mother kills her boy

It is called filicide

But there is not a word for when a mother oversees a gang of white boys stabbing into the leg of her own son

Stabbing her son’s leg

Shredding her son’s pants

Blade flesh piercing blood puddling the white boys collecting the blood in jelly jars mother they sealed up the blood they cut off bits of my hair they even plucked my nose hair mother they scraped residue off my tongue mother they put the Q-tip they used to scrape my tongue in a plastic bag and they sealed the bag and took it to an undisclosed location

They sealed the plastic bag with my mucus mother and my hair and my membranes and my dried skin and my nose hair and the parasites in the parasites in my body

Mother why did you let them take my blood

Why did you let them make me into a specimen

Mother I know you know that I know the answer to this question

It has to do with data, mother

It has to do with the collection of large amounts of data, mother

They want the blood of South American bodies of Jewish bodies olive bodies trashy bodies

They want my blood mother but they do not want your blood

They do not want to punish you in the same way they punish me

They came to the house last week mother and I protected you

I protected you when they came to interview me

Porque piensas en mi sangre madre porque vives en mi sangre mother

I don’t write to save anyone’s life I write because the authoritative bodies make me write

In the beginning there was a knock on our door and they asked me my name and I said call me Daniel and they asked me to name names mother

They asked me for your name mother

They asked me where they could find you mother because they wanted to do a side-by-side comparison of my skin against your skin mother

I told them: I have a relationship with my mother but it is voluntary

She did not force me to be her child

They did not care about the nuclear structure

All they wanted to know was what my body looked like in relationship to your body mother

How did I get such a dark body when you mother have such a light body

I chose to have a dark body, I told them

It was voluntary

I wanted to be darker

I told them this to save you mother

I never wanted to look like you mother, I told them

I was trying to protect you mother

I did not want them to know what they already knew mother

Which is that you sleep with bodies that are much darker than you

But why didn’t you tell me mother that I would grow up to have my blood drained by the bodies who wanted to know what lives in South American blood

They won’t let me cross the border into Michigan or Indiana or Iowa even though they know I have papers

Mother mother why won’t you let them verify my authenticity

It’s like this when I stick it in my arm in my leg in my neck I often feel like I cannot verify my own authenticity

We need proof of the boy’s authenticity, say the authoritative bodies, we need proof that his blood is our blood and not their blood

We need proof that the blood on his pants is not the blood of a dead man or woman or boy or girl or even a domesticated mammal

You collected my blood for them mother

My little face is breaking into pieces mother

I’m heading for the foamy hole mother

Porque piensas en mi piel no hay nada aqui para comer mother

We don’t eat anymore I don’t even eat alone I eat foam or rocks they took my blood to the laboratory to see who I was when I was not being myself mother

The grass the weeds the things I eat mother

I dance too fast mother

I dance too fast and the other broken bodies dance too slow mother

The beach is rotten mother

The obscenity of the rotten beach

There will be everything and we will break the wind and melt into the variegated data mother

The aggregated data the segregated data the flagellated data

I am a slender series of attached cells mother

My data-mother is thrashing in spume and fungi at the bottom of the lake mother

At the bottom of a rotten carcass lake mother where my face my skin my bones my data my will disappear

First my face will disappear

Then my neck my chest my hips my thighs my knees my feet my toes my hybrid blood my faceless face this lust mother this emptiness this hollow cave in my ribs sporangia ventricles my death rattle the disappearance of my rotten carcass flesh mother


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.

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.

“We Have Left Our Broken Home in Ecstasy”— (Harryman/Hejinian)


Emmanuel Levinas wrote extensively about what he referred to as an ethical contact with the other. He wrote of “…our effort… in maintaining, within anonymous community, the society of the I with the Other—language and goodness.” Inextricable to an ethical contact, he says, is facing one another, turning our actual faces toward one another, and doing so with vulnerability. Within his considerations of contact are the longstanding mysteries of subjectivity, of authority, of language, of community, of society. Contact, in other words, is complex. Contact is very small—it is just those two faces looking at each other. And contact is also incomprehensibly large—every single moment and every degree of contact within all of culture and all of society and all of history. Derek Jensen, in Language Older Than Words, similarly asks us to put ourselves in vulnerable relationship with, not primarily other people necessarily, but with earth, with trees, with animals. We all speak, he says, a common language that is based on mutual vulnerability and relationship—not a language made of words, and especially not our English words. He writes extensively of human culture as the problem that separates us from a natural communion, participation, and membership that is rightfully ours as entities alive on earth. And Nicholas Mirzoeff, more recently, continues some of these same discussions when he suggests that in order to overthrow tyranny, to disempower an illegitimate authority or a totalizing culture, and to actually “democratize democracy”—we must also be in a relationship with others in such a way that we mutually, imaginatively, and within our own unique subjectivities, create the other at the same moment that as she, he, (I would add they, I would add it) creates us.



These sets of thoughts I came to after the long period of travel that is the basis of my recent book, Arco Iris. About nine years ago my partner and I travelled for several months through South America. Across those months, across that continent, I wrote in my journals. We also wrote a collaborative, lyrical, essayistic, strange travel piece that was published serial-style by an online journal as we travelled. And after we returned pieces of those journals and the collaborative writings, plus many other notes, turned into something else. Which turned into something else. In order to arrive at the final version of the book, across eight years, I wrote a series of not-just-drafts, but arguably completely distinct manuscripts with some of the same words in them. The book (this is what I am saying) was trouble to write. The book was a problem. As was the travel, for me. As had become all travel, for me. And I am a traveler—many years of my life I have spent in hard travel, in living abroad, on road trips, in making visits, in pilgrimage, and on vacation. In short, during the travel in South America, upon which this book is based, and in the years and the travels that followed it, all I knew was that I didn’t want to be, as a friend of mine so aptly worded it, just another white person traveling to a brown place in order to have my meaningful experience. My revelation, my book, my ayauasca (hallucinogenic) trip guided by a “real Indian”. I also didn’t want to analyze South America for its problems— social, environmental, historical—that oftentimes shocked me or made me despair—because my own continent could do that already. And because my own continent, and perhaps by extension, myself, had clearly caused much of the devastation I saw in South America. I didn’t want to ignore the shocking and the despairing, however, and blithely write about the beautiful or, dare I say, the sublime, which I experienced alongside the devastation. I also didn’t want the book to, as we have come to say, be “just about me.” But to pretend it wasn’t, to pretend to be able to write “about South America,” felt like even more of a problem.




In trying to figure out how to place the entire travel experience, how to place the entire book, and all the “revelations” I thought that I had had, I knew the problem was with the narrator. I knew the problem was one of tone. The problem was one of movement and stillness. How does one travel without the action being inherently violent, especially when one is from a violent place—economically, politically, historically, culturally—. Worse, how does one write about that travel when to write (even if the writing is critical of the culture it proceeds from) is also to create more of that culture. When to write is to be, quickly or eventually, subsumed into that same massive culture and muted or altered. And what to do with the muffling sheet of culture, of which one is a thread, that is seeking to cover the entire globe—globe of earth, globe of one’s mind, etc. How to make art after neoliberal-America.




I found myself, in remembering the trip and in the poems that came from the trip, returning constantly to the “earth” parts of South America. We were in many cities and towns, but we were also on many hikes and were camping near and on and in bodies of water and in the mountains and jungles. And those were the moments I was least agonized about my presence there. These bodies of water, these mountains, these jungles were almost always the location of my sublime and, I’ll say it, transcendent moments—they were where this white person went to a brown place and had a revelation. But my “revelations” in the “wilderness” were in no way separate from the cultures, the languages, and the histories surrounding each moment of the trip. My sublime and soul-altering moments, some of which are still in the book—haltingly—only complicated my problem of positioning myself as not-violent, as not-extension of all that I knew and felt I represented, throughout the months that we were there. I didn’t want this to be, as we began calling it, some brand of emotional-or-experiential-colonialism.




The problem, I have come to think more recently, was related to aestheticization— a problem of making art, a problem of making even more culture—when “my culture” was one of the primary sources of so many of the sorrowful things I was seeing. The problem of “making beautiful” or “making seem beautiful” or, more specifically, making seem good or valid my own perspective when what I really wanted was a dissolution of my own perspective. And so, relatedly, I knew I had a problem of looking. And again, relatedly, I knew I had a problem of subjectivity. Those problems, I understood (sometimes vaguely, sometimes clearly), were some combination of post-colonialism plus globalization plus environmental devastation plus history and plus instantaneousness of digital technology plus the quality (or quantity) of the mind/ subjectivity/ citizen/ individual that moved itself or was moved from place to place on these travels.





And by problems, what I mean is that these are the things I kept moving toward, toward, toward.




What I might be saying is that the fundamental question I had while writing this book is the question I also have, at this point, about every piece of writing about every single thing: how does one write (read, etc.) and yet also avoid creating culture when the culture that one helps to create is—a total force—. When even a so-called “counter-culture” or “sub-culture” or “parallel culture,” such as ecopoetics, is quickly subsumed into the Culture, into its institutions, into its universities. And the related question: Does the subsumption of something like ecopoetics make the totalizing culture better?—And if so, is that our best-case-scenario?




The question I have is: can one avoid being functionally identical to one’s own totalizing culture when one travels outside of it? And especially, can one avoid being functionally identical to one’s own totalizing culture later, when one “makes art” about that travel. Can one avoid this when meeting, contacting, facing, other people on earth or when facing the earth, itself. And then what does it mean to return home and attempt to make one’s experience of it…—that word—aesthetic. To, as Mirzoeff would say, authorize my own authority by aestheticizing academically, poetically, critically, via publications, public readings, panels, etc.— my own perception. Does this now-aestheticized perception become, ultimately, another product of the totalizing culture from whence I come. Or is there actual ethical contact, is there relationship inherent within the act of making art, of sharing art—is there a counterhistory or a countervision or a more legitimate collectivity that can dethrone a totalizing culture that continually, continually seeks to authorize its own authority. Is someone making me as I make them, in a manner of Levinas’s ethical contact, in the process of writing the book, or in the fact of the book’s existence? Is anyone out there looking at me as I look at them. Is someone imagining me as I imagine them. And if one’s own culture is instantaneously extending itself anywhere on earth or beyond earth in this, our digital age, where light is the equivalent of electricity and information—then is there anything that qualifies as not-totalizing. Are even all of earth and some of outer space subsumed.




The very first words of Nick Mirzoeff’s Right to Look are: “I want to claim the right to look. This claim is, not for the first or the last time, for a right to the real.” He proposes a counterhistory in which countervisualities work to undermine, expose, destroy the totalizing visuality and thus, as he says, to actually “democratize democracy.” Says Mirzoeff: “The right to look is not about seeing. It begins at a personal level with the look into someone else’s eyes to express friendship, solidarity, or love. That look must be mutual, each person inventing the other, or it fails. As such, it is unrepresentable.” And that word, unrepresentable, for me, is the least-painful word of his book.



Which is most unrepresentable: to face someone else, or to rip off my own face.




Sarah Vap is the author of five collections of poetry and poetics. She is a recipient of a National Endowment of the Arts Grant for Literature, and her sixth collection, Viability, was selected for the National Poetry Series prize and is forthcoming from Penguin (2015).