Buffet of Air
I was fixing to sing a poem about
the multiverse so green, the stars
just fanning away from each other—
I couldn't hack it. Chipped my tooth&
ran away. In the form of a Llhasa Apso
called Poldie, I wandered
the city streets, listening to what the people
were saying. I really wanted
to chime in. In time the impulse
faded. Maybe the new revolt is
not to reveal a damn thing.
* * *
But enough about me. Let's talk about you. You dream you're standing in front of a large assembly of firefighters. Someone had died a controversial death, and you're called up to expand on it, grieve loudly, incite. You climb the red stage. You wait for the dream-energy to bring you some words: the right ones, or even just their impression, the word-effect that would satisfy the righteous crowd of dream men gathered before you, and coax forth a roar of hearts sated. But you can think of nothing to say. You just stand there. After two minutes of silence, you climb off the stage. Mutterings rise from the crowd, small at first, then louder, louder with outrage and discontent. I failed them, you think – I didn't do the one thing a poet could. In the next instant, though, it comes to you: the sweaty shame-filled silence you performed for those two minutes was in fact the right and only thing to say. It was the correct response, and yet they were right to be angry: rightly, you failed them, and they had the right to tear you to pieces. This is another thing a poet can do. It's thrilling.
Myth: when Eurydice dies, for a long time Orpheus refuses to play and sing.
Fact: the opera singer Marian Anderson, who married a man named Orpheus, refused to sing for segregated audiences.
The first time you go down to Zuccotti Park, you feel really normal. "That's new," you muse. A low-level cultural depression that stuck to you ever since the big move to the US just sort of rises up and away. "This country is OK," you think as you step in between the little trees, sniffing out echoes of Philip Whalen & Eileen Myles walking and talking of the "grove of academe." It's your birthday and you stand there among the human mic, repeating others' words. You write later to a few poets involved with what's happening downtown: you ask what the movement means to them, and what the place for poetry is in this grove, in America. They say that
it's the SWEET SPIRIT that draws me... for me it's the most important thing that it emanates, and it is also how it attracts. (Ariana Reines), and
We're all the language standing, mulling, accumulating there. We accept the print of the people and push it back out full of holes. (Eileen Myles), and
WE WOULD PREFER NOT TO.
-Liberty the Scrivener (Filip Marinovich), and
The occupations, then, give many Americans a poetic reality - a reality that has yet to happen, that can only be imagined. … Imagined realities are only separated from authentic realities to one degree. (Debrah Morkun), and
Our excess energies convert into our poetries. We document our feelings about the movement with our words that take us out of bounds. We find great music in real feelings expressed in the commons. (Brenda Iijima), and
Some poets, like Kristin Prevallet and a performer who calls herself Gypsy Margarita, have even started writing poems especially for the human microphone, anticipating the desired effects of certain repetitions and sound patterns. A Steinian, Hip-Hop-ish insistence is often the result. (Thom Donovan), and
We're there not simply to demand for democracy, but to perform it. (Travis Holloway).
The open gestures of democracy are what makes you feel so normal. The mood is that of a pagan church; also socialism. It smells of your childhood, where you all called each other comrade. You press back tears of recognition, smother every skeptic in the neighborhood with the news that this is the only, the most important thing happening in the country that other countries pay so much attention to. For the past year, you'd been making this book, Rise in the Fall, and in the fall of 2010 you wrote We'll rise/ next fall, when they can no longer deport me. You wrote "War on a Lunchbreak" and "A Poem for You." Other poets also tell of a weird sense of prescience. You read through Filip Marinovich's and Anne Boyer's radiant books, and marvel. For your part, you never thought you'd see Amerikan people gather en masse, with purity, and ask for their due – own the architecture of their cities with the grace of creatures in the habitat they were born for.
Soon, everyone notices: the park's finally on the news, words pour over it like froth. Come arrests, mace, the repeated destruction of the library. Though the park is forcibly emptied and the movement prepares for its wintering, at St. Marks Poetry Project on New Year's the mood palpates—Anne Waldman sings of how downtown they "go to sleep on concrete/ wake up on consecrated soil," and CA Conrad reads about fags and guns. Diane di Prima sends you copies of Revolutionary Letters for the phoenix library. And as you wait for the words to explain what your place is in this grove, in America, silence occupies your throat, and you just stand there.
Fact: a revolutionary's power is proportional to her gift for ad-hoc oration to crowds, and her ability to stay silent when questioned by authorities.
Law: to remain silent is a right.
Lore: silence is sexy. Silence is golden. Silence is a war crime.
This is where talking about you gets tricky. In 1993, you were a drunk teen stumbling onto the frontline barricades in a suburb of Zagreb, sent back into safety by bemused soldiers. You never told anyone about it. You watched a whole Atlantis of street names, brands and cultural references – the community you were born to – disappear into a "sinkhole of war and nationalisms" – (don't it sound furrin' when you say "of"?) – and someone else's community, mostly men's, took over. You didn't say a thing. It took you a long time to voice that you don't care to sleep with men. "Normal" and "community" were two things you trusted least. When you came to New York, the ugliest place you'd ever seen, you chose to love it and took jobs and fed your artist lovers and platonic boos who couldn't handle sitting in an office. You could.
Nothing human would be foreign to you, and as you thought of Kafka's desk, Bruno Schulz's classroom, the failures of Unica Zürn, your one resolution became to be common, to be personne. You would stand in the hair of the person from the provinces. If you were to write for people, about things, then you should be the people and thing. It's not that you didn't believe in yourself; you never bought that there was a you in the first place. The atomic ephemera of flesh, cities, and movements finally didn't hold true purchase. You stood in amazement of determined folks, willful dogs: how did they know what they wished? You experienced pleasant mortification when your immateriality was mistaken for cowardice – this was another thing a poet could do. And each day had to fight to prove itself worth continuing in; each poem, whose very existence, as a product of personne, seemed superfluous, had to invent an ancient poetics it would manifest fealty to – and it had to contain everything. Including the silence.
Bartelby preferred not to. Daniil Kharms said he was only interested in nonsense, "only in that which has no practical meaning," and died for this interest mistaken for disinterest. To produce positive content, to speak an essential lyric of "your voice" and "self-expression" in the face of the alien and alienating, patriarchal, racist, violent context of the America you inhabited seemed simply inadequate. And for a person born in an other country to sing out in her foreign inflection the words "war" and "revolution" and "queer" was to delineate herself quite clearly against her context—to enter the marketplace, and expose the boobs of her ideals—and cease to be everyone and everything, cease to be personne. A fortune cookie tells you: "You cannot be anything if you want to be everything." You don't want to play the good little diasporic maker.
One way out is echo. In Buddhism, to repress the self is to let the ten thousand things come forward – and not just the voices of people. Marguerite Yourcenar wrote somewhere—perhaps in Alexis—that a truly sophisticated writer might be beyond words. Because you are not that fine, you write, Maybe the new revolt is/ not to reveal a damn thing, and then you squint toward another way into the abject sublime of being this nothing-thing. Can an unfinished work, a failed work, a poetry only imagined finally offer a chance to "dwell in Possibility"? Could it be—"the fairest—/For Occupation—This—"? An incomplete articulation can sign any song. Vanessa Place says somewhere, perhaps in an interview, that for such a work "possibilities are endless, infinite, they become the negation of negation." Then she laughs. She reads the accounts of violent crimes out loud and calls them poetry. Perhaps this is the only true optimism: when you shut up, everything else is heard. Notice you're not bringing in the theorists here, just pointing to the scars you've dealt yourself. Me? I am so sad, so happy, so outraged, that I don't want to talk. In the face of trauma, isn't "I refuse" as loud as "j'accuse"? To refuse is also to recycle, to offer yourself as repository; to transcribe, faithless and faithfully, the Word of the world. There is only one thing standing in the way of the author ready to commit suicide by world clamoring to tear you to pieces:
funnily it, somehow, includes "you"—
so that you may transcribe yourself when you are context, "because of your great emptiness":
I woke up one day and I was the world and Ana was all around me
I'm told that we're at an end of poems.
No more blue indented tears. I mean
They thought that after Shakespeare but now
Since Eliot, genocide and web it's for real and too late
Even for post-poem, unpoem, we just can't
Even gesture (or not) at Po without scooping
Up a bunch of roses galleries & dudes, but hey
Let's end this sigh once and for all:
You're full of it. For a long
Time it might've been early but now
It's time. Now that it doesn't make sense. Now you're too tired
To work, and so you have to sing—
It's ok, beauty's a crown of essays
Proving that beauty doesn't exist and
Now during Amy King it's just the right time for.
Now at the time of Brolaski it's ripe
For Kocot, pre-late Starkweather
At the dawn of the Metta Sama, and you—
After many years of writing
PR copy + haikus on Nas,
Step up and with the globe's breath lapping
Your face, trace the movements
Of flocks and armies across your