Category: Issue 11

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)

I.

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.

 

II

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.

 

III

 

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.

 

IV

 

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.

 

V

 

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.

 

 

VI

 

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

 

VII

 

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?

 

VIII

 

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.

 

IX

 

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.

X

 

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).

 

 

from understory

 

            ~      

for my wife, nālani

and our unborn daughter, kaikainaliʻi

 

~

 

We cannot think of a time that is oceanless

Or of an ocean not littered with wastage

 

—T.S. Eliot from “The Dry Salvages”

 

~

 

nālani is

drinking a

 

glass of

filtered tap                           Brita Pitcher Plastic Water Filtration $24.99

                                                           4-pack replacement filters $24.99

water when

she first

 

feels kaikainali’i

kicking—plastic

 

from fukushima

litters the

 

beaches of

o’ahu—gathering

 

place—nālani

is watching

 

an online

documentary about

 

home birth—

part of

 

a comb,

corner of

 

a crate,

piece of

 

bottle cap—

nālani is

 

craving raw

fish eat                                 ʻahi pokē : $17.99 per lb at Safeway in Mānoa

 

fish that

eat plastic

 

derived from

oil, absorbed

 

into tissue—

the doctors

 

recommend we

schedule a

 

c-section—if

you cut

 

open the

bellies of

 

large fish

and birds

 

you will

find the

 

bristles of

[our] tooth-

 

brushes—every

body births

 

plastic never

completely dissolves—

 

because amniotic

fluid is

 

ninety percent

water hanom

 

hanom hanom

 

***

 

Craig Santos Perez is a native Chamoru from the Pacific Island of Guåhan (Guam). He is the co-founder of Ala Press, co-star of the poetry album Undercurrent (2011), and author of three collections of poetry: from unincorporated territory [hacha] (2008) from unincorporated territory [saina] (2010), and from unincorporated territory [guma’] (2014). He is an Associate Professor and the Director of the Creative Writing Program in the English Department at the University of Hawai’i, Mānoa.

 

 

 

 

The Rose

the rose

 

 

***

 

Kirsten Nash was born in Erie, PA. She received her MFA from The Milton Avery School

of Visual Arts, at Bard College in 1998, and a New York Foundation for the Arts

Fellowship in Drawing in 2011. She has participated in numerous exhibitions, including

the upcoming exhibition After Image: Contemporary Artists & Photography, April 3-May

29, at Art House Productions in Jersey City, NJ. She currently lives and maintains a

studio practice in Queens, NY.

Faded Flowers

faded flowers

 

 

***

Kirsten Nash was born in Erie, PA. She received her MFA from The Milton Avery School

of Visual Arts, at Bard College in 1998, and a New York Foundation for the Arts

Fellowship in Drawing in 2011. She has participated in numerous exhibitions, including

the upcoming exhibition After Image: Contemporary Artists & Photography, April 3-May

29, at Art House Productions in Jersey City, NJ. She currently lives and maintains a

studio practice in Queens, NY.

 

Bouquet

Bouquet

 

 

***

 

Kirsten Nash was born in Erie, PA. She received her MFA from The Milton Avery School

of Visual Arts, at Bard College in 1998, and a New York Foundation for the Arts

Fellowship in Drawing in 2011. She has participated in numerous exhibitions, including

the upcoming exhibition After Image: Contemporary Artists & Photography, April 3-May

29, at Art House Productions in Jersey City, NJ. She currently lives and maintains a

studio practice in Queens, NY.