I would have a woman as real as death

by frank stanford

pain my star
of all times I remember
none of them
now I do
I notice the points
of light the shoes
the ballerina wore
though years ago
now I do
nothing like
the fish
swims in its sleep
the birds patrol that dark
ness that glows
in my shadow
look
back over the
years with you
I have
the final say
so of the kiss
which goes
so alone
which knows
its destination
so well
I
no sound
I
sang
with no
passages I give you
a real blue
song the mountains hold
under their foot
on the neck
of your voice
not mine
now I know
the echo
the two bodies no
sound at all

the books of march 2019

MADELEINE THIEN《DO NOT SAY WE HAVE NOTHING》

this is the book I have dreamed about writing. by which I mean this is a book one writes in honouring the legacy of one’s ancestry, country, stories passed by blood and scraps of fabric and brief touch, in place of language. it is ode to what language is capable of in a century of lost words. the lineage that renders the melodic narrative into symphony is breathtakingly present upon every page. in configuring a tale commemorating the generations of chinese people for whom the spoken and written truth were dreaded and lethal, madeleine thien has—redeemed is the wrong word, because there is no redemption in horror—somehow wrought a belated justice for the silenced. the kind of justice that is not synonymous with fairness, but exists wholly within the unjust reality, the justice that does not give voice back to the massacred, but delivers their message. it is a well-known historical anecdote that in china, any scrap of paper possessing language was considered sacred, and this totemic work of literature is the embodiment of that invulnerable quality. I am reminded of a segment from understory, by craig santos perez:

because you
will always

find shelter
in our 


stories, you
will always

belong in
our stories,

you will
always be

sacred in
our ocean

of stories

KEVIN YOUNG《FOR THE CONFEDERATE DEAD》

the first thing that strikes you in their poems is their musicality— they perform the dance of the living. the second is the poet’s consuming sight, in which attention is directed with brutal precision and intention: the signs of southern america, bruised eye that turns the light, hovering feet, blue, then green. the lines measure brief and track the pages like pioneering footpaths. in this volume is the elegy that turns its back on grief— not out of pain, but stemming from a refusal to be dissolved by mourning. there is mourning to be done, but in kevin young’s poems is the sterling knowledge that we mourn not with the vacuous sense of loss, but by vividly paying tribute to the brilliant living, the living that was done, despite.

if I did not know
better, I would think
we were living all along

a fault.

HANNAH ARENDT 《ON VIOLENCE》

this work is perhaps meant to be read in tandem with frantz fanon’s enthralling work, the wretched of the earth, in which violence is deemed necessary in the relocation of power from the colonizers to the colonized. fanon assigns to violence “a cleansing force. It rids the colonized of their inferiority complex, of their passive and despairing attitude.” arendt, however, is utterly disparaging of the notion that violence has the ability to empower; the most powerful statement from this brief treatise is that violence is only of an instrumental nature, and that any attempt to equate power and violence is ultimately fallible, as power necessitates a concerted mutuality between the governing and the governed. to delve into the psychology of the colonized is something fanon boldly achieves, and such is where arendt’s intellectualism may prove worthless in the overall application of violence— in the face of brutality the conceptual nature of power is pushed to the peripheral. on violence is a vital text in considering with clarity the use of violence as strategy: “… what needs justification by something else cannot be the essence of anything.”

YUKIO MISHIMA《THE TEMPLE OF THE GOLDEN PAVILION》

there is no one who writes about beauty the way mishima does— as a grotesque manifestation of humanity’s constant darkness, as a scornful construct bred by disgust and defilement. as a man infamous for his insatiable desire for physical perfection, mishima reveals to us in this work the seemingly degenerate psyche of one who craves beauty, yet there is something veracious or perhaps even noble about the act of revealing the corrupt system of beauty, as being equated with worth or absolution. discussing the moderation of human behaviour in japan is no longer so interesting to me, but there is little doubt that such rigorous abeyance plays a significant role in the creation of mizuguchi, in whose mind the entire novel takes place. the hierarchy of beauty has always been a tortuous one; there is no choice but to admit to desire, and when one finds oneself to be so estranged from it, the true toxicity of aesthetic worship is overwhelming. the act of radical elimination is a case of revolting against conscripted standards of degradation. mishima’s prose is absolutely magnificent in its craft, brought into its second life by ivan morris’s translation. the work of the artist colluding with the assurance of self-destruction is such a transfixing element of his oeuvre, and this novel is the distillation of his genius.

《THE SELECTED POETRY OF RAINER MARIA RILKE》

I turn to rilke on the occasions in which words begin to lose their radiance. there is always something to be plumbed from the splendor that holds deeply to his verse, and in stephen mitchell’s considerate and illustrious translation there is the true pleasure of seeing language thrive in the expanded borders of its subject. rilke wrote about poetry with painful sagacity. I quote here from to hölderlin:

From images that are full, the spirit
plunges on to others that suddenly must be filled;
there are no lakes till eternity. Here,
falling is best.

yes, falling is best. we lose ourselves in his lines. in the vital contours of his craft. I owe him a great debt, him, who commanded landscape, moonlight, the earthly and the eternal.

The great gesture, the selfless poetic act, is timeless, a moment outside history. With poetry we are still back in the cave, we still understand very little about the universe, we’re wondering, we’re astonished at the stars, everything is new everything is beautiful, complicated, myster­ious.
— charles simic, from a roadtrip with barry lopez

new on the asymptote blog

I wrote an essay on the chinese language in the act of poetry, the words that we know so well they come to mean nothing, and the indecisiveness and guesswork that take place within the process of translation — all exemplified by one of the most talented young poets writing in china today.

Poetry is a never-ending lesson in precision. The distillation of thirst, the evocation of experience, the cauterization of an open wound. Between the poets of the world and their various works there is a common acknowledgement of restraint—there is only so much we can do with words, and only so much words can mean. Claude Lévi-Strauss originated the term “floating signifier” to describe language that has only vague or contextual denotation, and in our contact with literature we gradually come to understand that such abstraction is the enemy of poetry. So we step gingerly around the words we know contain too much to unpack. Words like “hurt,” or “death,” or “love.”

Floating signifiers are especially insecure in translation, in which one often has to choose between music and intention, double meanings or single ones, visual effect or faithful retellings. They present a particular dilemma because a floating signifier in one language may not be one in the other. The Chinese language, painting with a full palette of the pictorial, the symbolic, the historical, and the literal, has a tangibility that does not lapse into the vague as easily as English does. Ernest Fenollosa, in his (flawed but admirable) studies, characterized Chinese characters as a medium for poetry. It is not that Chinese is inherently more possessive of the elusive idea of poetics, but rather that the facets of Chinese language that enchanted Fenollosa with their invocation of poetry are also what result in headaches for translators. We do not count our losses in translation. Instead, we admire the growth a poem may undergo as it leaves its writer’s hand and wanders onto the page, how it may cross oceans and national borders, how it lives, how it is alive, the way we know language to be.

continue reading on the asymptote blog

the books of february 2019

KAREN TEI YAMASHITA 《LETTERS TO MEMORY》
a sacred documentation of a family pulled through the wreckage of living, this book is not so much a biography as it is an epistolary exploration of philosophy, negotiation, interrogation. each page is cherished with the sense of having loved and being grateful for offered the chance to do so. in a literary generation populated with immigrant legacies (no complaints here), I am reassured that there remains innumerable paths to interlock with the stories that are inherited, yet still startling at every turn. though this book is officially a reckoning with the internment of japanese-americans during WWII, it discards the imprints of theme or genre in a starry attempt to understand the resonances of legacy. there is no end to knowing oneself or how one came to be. though it is the future that reaches on, we must not discount the past and its infinity, expanding alternately and constantly, with no end in sight.

ZADIE SMITH 《N-W》
to write a city as zadie smith does would be to walk its streets and see yourself in multiples. at different ages, angles, on different corners, with different friends, wearing whatever clothes you had at that time, listening to whatever music was playing that year. it would be to capture the fragrance upon the page, the light at various times of day, the measures of fruit trees outgrowing. the most riveting passages in N-W could take place nowhere else. london in its mesmerizing chaos escapes the paper in sound and vision and touch. we witness the growing-up and growing-into of women, the intersections of where-when-how you were born being wrapped around the bodies of the young and never letting go. it is the truth that only fiction achieves; a truth of others, and yourself among them.

JAMES BALDWIN 《IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK》
once within a james baldwin book i find it impossible to break with its captivity. a master of both internal and external dialogue and a immaculate composer of pace, the way baldwin conjures character is unrivalled and absolutely thrilling, and here, especially heartbreaking. love— this love— the love of this work— love that aspires to be otherworldly and fails— is vivid to the point that even in only language it is granted everlasting life. there is not a single page where the characters are not startlingly present, no sentence uttered that does not grant a truth from the self. a human thing. here the idea of love is taken and made a human thing.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI 《THESE ARE MY RIVERS》
ferlinghetti’s poems remind me of a time when american poetry revelled at its own existence. when people wrote lines on paper napkins unironically, when smoking inside was still a thing that everyone did, when books were kept inside jacket pockets and pulled out when you wanted to show your friend something beautiful you read earlier in the day. there is joy, unabashed, in these lines of dancing and california sunshine and exclamation, joy even of impossible situations, joy even in endurances of pain, joy at the ability to write something down on paper, and to call it a poem.

CLAUDIA RANKINE 《CITIZEN》
political poetry looks like this. here the power of language is harnessed in a way it so rarely is: fully.

XINRAN 《MESSAGE FROM AN UNKNOWN CHINESE MOTHER》
xinran is a writer that has been formative in my continued inquiries into the lives of chinese women— it is tempting to compare her to svetlana alexievich in her awe-inspiring quest to bring the humanity of a hidden country into light. though I find translations of her work to be lacking, the starkness of her message refutes any affectations and damages committed in the process of shedding its original language; these stories are unflinching, the incidences transcribed at once terrifying and devastating. china has a long history of ruining her daughters, and this heritage of trauma has left horrific scars on the country and the women within. though verging on the melodramatic, the stories xinran bring to us are ones seldom told and barely even admitted to oneself. to be a chinese woman today is to survive a terrorizing campaign of shame and bloodshed and ruination; our lives are records of strength, evidences of survival.

Among those who have everything, I have never seen a family go to the seashore just to celebrate a political decision, because for them politics changes almost nothing. This is something I realized when I went to live in Paris, far away from you: the ruling class may complain about a left-wing government, they may complain about a right-wing government, but no government ever ruins their digestion, no government ever breaks their backs, no government ever inspires a trip to the beach. Politics never changes their lives, at least not much. What’s strange, too, is that they’re the ones who engage in politics, though it has almost no effect on their lives. For the ruling class, in general, politics is a question of aesthetics: a way of seeing themselves, of seeing the world, of constructing a personality. For us it was life or death.
— édouard louis, "who killed my father"

ten love poems

JUNE JORDAN
Poem for Haruko

in which the memories of love become love, and the process of having loved becomes your body.

                        How easily you held
my hand
beside the low tide
of the world

FRANK O’HARA
Having a Coke with You

the very first poem I memorized, and which for me will always materialize in sunned-out afternoons smelling like sprigs of new-flower and hand-holding during a lunch hour.

I look
at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world
except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick
which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together for the first time

ANDRÉS NEUMAN
The Things We Don’t Do

the life you live with another becoming sweetly mysterious; possibilities turning to reality just by being thought. it is strange and wonderful to be with someone, when they turn all those spare moments into ideas.

I like the languages we wish we spoke and dream of learning next year, as we smile at each other in the shower. I hear from your lips those sweet, hypothetical languages: their words fill me with purpose.


REGINALD SHEPHERD
You, Therefore

the love poem is the writer’s way to test the limits of language. it is to reconcile the absolute with the daily, the supreme with the common. it is to rein in all the wonders our senses receive, all these splendid and pure totems of beauty from our real world, to celebrate them in conjunction with another, to give them away.

and you fall from the sky
with several flowers, words spill from your mouth
in waves, your lips taste like the sea, salt-sweet (trees   
and seas have flown away, I call it
loving you)

BEN JONSON
to Celia

the poem to be read aloud.

Or leave a kiss but in the cup, 
         And I’ll not look for wine. 

GARY SNYDER
Four Poems for Robin

the loneliest love poems are not to be pitied. they are a reckoning with the past, a reconciliation. they are to fold the gaps and failures of time, to bring the gone back into the arms of the present, and thereby, into oneself.

I dont mind   living this way   
Green hills   the long blue beach   
But sometimes   sleeping in the open
I think back   when I had you.

LI-YOUNG LEE
Adore

love as being always between.

You and I, eye
to eye, are born. 
But such refraction, multiplying gazes, strews
Love’s eye upon the objects of the world,
as upon the objects of our room. 


ADRIENNE RICH
Twenty-One Love Poems [Poem II]

the poem is to give beauty everlasting life.

You’ve kissed my hair
to wake me. I dreamed you were a poem,
I say, a poem I wanted to show someone . . .
and I laugh and fall dreaming again
of the desire to show you to everyone I love,


GWENDOLYN BROOKS
when you have forgotten Sunday: the love story

of the day infinite sprawled at the bed’s ends.

And how we finally undressed and whipped out the light and flowed into bed,
And lay loose-limbed for a moment in the week-end
Bright bedclothes,
Then gently folded into each other—


WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS
Asphodel, that Greeny Flower

there is nothing hyperbolic when I say that this poem taught me the vital, primary lessons about love.

It was the love of love,
the love that swallows up all else,
a grateful love,


a love of nature, of people,
of animals,
a love engendering


gentleness and goodness
that moved me
and that I saw in you.

in a time of peace

by ilya kaminski

Inhabitant of earth for fortysomething years
I once found myself in a peaceful country. I watch neighbors open

their phones to watch
a cop demanding a man’s driver’s license. When a man reaches for his wallet, the cop
shoots. Into the car window. Shoots.

It is a peaceful country.

We pocket our phones and go.
To the dentist,
to pick up the kids from school,
to buy shampoo
and basil.

Ours is a country in which a boy shot by police lies on the pavement for hours.

We see in his open mouth
the nakedness
of the whole nation.

We watch. Watch
others watch.

The body of a boy lies on the pavement exactly like the body of a boy—

It is a peaceful country.

And it clips our citizens’ bodies
effortlessly, the way the President’s wife trims her toenails.

All of us
still have to do the hard work of dentist appointments,
of remembering to make
a summer salad: basil, tomatoes, it is a joy, tomatoes, add a little salt.

This is a time of peace.

I do not hear gunshots,
but watch birds splash over the back yards of the suburbs. How bright is the sky
as the avenue spins on its axis.
How bright is the sky (forgive me) how bright.

the books of january 2019

DORIS LESSING 《The Golden Notebook》
my much postponed read of this totemic classic turned out to be a blessing; the world of these women would have seemed impossibly chaotic, their minds hyperbolic and personalities impossible, in my past of having loved literature but not knowing enough to be challenged by it. doris lessing has created, here, a legacy for women once thought impossible, who will themselves into reality and unreality, who are variant, difficult, brilliant. the feminism of today will seem foreign to those fighting then, yet the ever-persistent notion of self-doubt and contradiction rages for as long as there are battles to fight. and there is something that remains unchanged: to be, as women, we must know ourselves beyond the standards held by our society. we must be unflinching in self-examination, in scrutinizing our hypocrisies, our expectations, our fragments. in this, lessing is unafraid. the golden notebook is a book worthy of women. yesterday, today, tomorrow.

GEORGE OPPEN 《Selected Poems》
george oppen, a master of the line break, of patience, of the sky in increments. it has been a wonder to see his poems in different forms, how the infamous of being numerous mutated and grew and became glorious. to start days with a coffee and these light-footed, tender-hearted lines of noticing, gives such sweetness to the state of being wakeful.

AKIYUKI NOSAKA 《The Cake Tree in the Ruins》
if I didn’t know better I would call it heartless. in these japanese stories from the last days of WWII, there is no mercy. yet in these stories of war and murder and starvation there is no bitterness, either. how is this possible? nosaka ascribes to his characters the status of myth; we are not wrecked from these stories because, despite that they are incredibly painful, they take on the form of tales told to the child, so that the child may learn, may do better. a mother floats away because she has turned into a balloon. a soldier starves to death without ever realizing the war has ended. a whale falls in love with a submarine, and it is this love that tears him to pieces.

VIET THANH NGUYEN 《The Refugees》
the portrait never coheres. for refugees, immigrants, expatriates— in a world we define by nationhood there is no knowing a place still enough for our many selves to become one. in these subtly brilliant stories we live inside and beside memory, as people who reckon with multitudes of identity, some more shameful, some more vacant, some further and further away.

SAKUTARŌ HAGIWARA 《Cat Town》
the father of japanese modernist poetry is attractive in the way many moody, quiet men are attractive. there is the intense suspicion and expectation that behind the sullen facade there lies a universe of tumult and depth. enclosed in these poems there is, here and there, that universe.

SEI SHONAGON 《The Pillow Book》
and here is a woman who sees. with the delicacy and grace the heian period demanded, the woman of this work collects herself from the world around her. at a time when poetry was so revered it gives such pleasure to see an artist and a thinker escape the rigidity of a canonized craft, and sei shonagon does so with a self-assuredness that renders her beauty irrelevant.

PANKAJ MISHRA 《Age of Anger》
today, if you are not angry, you are not looking. mishra’s ambitious text links back centuries of philosophy to culminate in an inevitable outburst of rage: today. page after page it appears that we have locked ourselves in this world with our legacies and our learnings, that we build smaller cages for ourselves based on the preceding lectures and manifestos. for lessons that ranged with malleable ideas in history (Voltaire’s love for commerce, Rousseau’s intense belief in revolution), when applied by the rigorous standards of a perplexing and multi-dimensional present, can indeed be twisted to indicate anything; the ideas aren’t new, but have used their place in the timeline to multiply dangerously. within the hierarchy that relies on powerlessness and inferiority, we invent our own enemies.

MASUJI IBUSE 《Black Rain》
the inability to read japanese is especially irritating when it comes to books like these— in certain cases translations must apologize for the inexpressible. in ibuse’s book on hiroshima after the a-bomb, much (like one has come to expect from japan) goes unsaid (a seemingly insignificant passage in the middle of the book suddenly informers the reader that our narrator has died by the end). so it is that such books are always characterized as “restrained”, and one is left wondering if such restraint is merely a symptom of a language that depends on implication. nevertheless, ibuse is profoundly effective at detailing the aftermath of a literary earth-shattering moment in japanese history, and of all the continuations that live on in a world that no longer seems to understand them.

NOÉMI LEFEBVRE 《Blue Self-Portrait》
a slim volume of tremendous will and perspacity combines the categorical values of painting, music, and literature. it is difficult to believe that in few pages one may bore so keenly into the historical inheritance of trauma, and what that effect has on creation. in the ways that nazism continues to haunt the works of german creators, self-interrogation is such a constant companion to the point of grazing, then embracing, absurdity. this book has the pace, the unpredictability, and the urgency of symphony. “it’s a novel without any fiction,” lefebvre has said.

A great book involves the assertion of a world. Authors loath to betray the dictates of a fiction must submit to its characters. The best women in books take on the ballast of life. Irrepressible Isabel Archer must have bettered her creator. Long-suffering Tess d’Urberville, savagely raped by a man masquerading as her cousin, stars in by far the best of Thomas Hardy’s novels. Sometimes a writer’s genius qua writer amounts to moral salvation. His own inability to betray the demands of his work secures his compassionate treatment of his female characters, thus his deliverance.

But then, I am not convinced that it is not the woman’s doing: that it was not Isabel Archer and Tess d’Urberville themselves who endowed their male creators with so much immensity. The woman with their totemic, transformative suffering. The women who can redeem even the most loathsome lothario by weeping over him—or writing about him. Whatever appeal he ever appeared to have was no more than a trick of the lighting. Men have only ever borrowed their beauty from the women they hurt.
— becca rothfeld, "a gender study"

in reading the article on the war correspondent marie colvin one encounters the supposed notion that she was drawn to scenarios of catastrophe and cataclysm by something broken within her. some is mentioned about her unfruitful love affairs, her detachment to the civilian war, and her loyalty to the battlefield, the quality that eventually cost her everything. much is made, of course, of her femininity. I can’t help but wonder why we construct this narrative of instability for women who refuse traditional forms of labour to take on something that is not only (almost solely) precedented by men, but also undesired by people in general. what we construe as unusual and disarming brazenness and seeming disregard for the sanctity of safety is a trait contributed to people whose supposed strangeness stems from their inability to function in roles that do not provide constant spikes of adrenaline, because we tend to think our urge for self-preservation is a vital one for a complete checklist of mental sanity. yet it does not seem to me strange or the least bit inhuman that one like marie colvin would be willing to brave horrors for the moral agenda of anti-cruelty, and I do not find it a symptom of mental illness if she had valued this ideology to the point of disregarding her own safety. at times it occurs to me that if one values one’s own life more than their ideas or sense of ethics then one would only be a partially complete person. not to say that all anti-war activists must go to the extent that marie did, or even say, a fifth of that— I of course hold an anti-war position, and can find within myself (sadly? perhaps) no urge to witness the devastation at frontlines in the hopes that information, and greater depth of it, would eventually transmit a movement towards peace. yet I find myself moved, and indeed grateful, that people of such strength and resolve do exist, and I would be unwilling to categorize them as less mentally fit, because of that. our humanity takes multitudinous forms with plenty of space here and there to spare for inconsistencies and the extraordinary. we should be stunned that such extraordinariness, such as that found in marie colvin, is a manifestation of her humanity. 

That’s how it always is. People would sooner weave their dreams deep into the linens than let them grow up next to them into a life without enough sun for them to ripen. When you near your end, you leave your dreams behind in small and seemingly worthless, old-fashioned things, which betray no secrets before they perish in turn. And not because they keep quiet, but because they sing their sentimental songs in a language which no one left alive can understand, for which there is no dictionary and no teacher. So even the ivory-inlaid spinning wheel of my virtuous ancestor Josepha Christin von Goldberg does a poor job of helping me understand the girls matured at the distaffs in the small towns and tiny villages of my homeland.
— rainer maria rilke, "interiors"

In fact, most claims of cultural ownership and charges of appropriation are bogus. While sometimes they provide an instrumental basis for tortious claims, as in pursuit of restitution for Nazi and other imperialists’ looting of artifacts, more often they posit a dead-end conflation of fixed and impermeable racial identity with cultural expression. As Michaels has argued for more than twenty-five years, the discourse of cultural ownership stems from the pluralist mindset that treats “culture” as a key marker of social groups and thereby inscribes it as racial essentialism.
— adolph reed, "the trouble with uplift"

the difficulty in talking about cultural appropriation lies here, in how we decide what is and what isn’t integral to our selves, in how we define ourselves by property, in how commercial doctrine has invaded the cultural sphere, and forced us to measure our identities in commodities. in a discussion that really has no latitude for complexity, we are forced into opposing sides of the room, putting tape and writing our names on things like items of clothing or decorative motifs. pain is divided into what we are and are not allowed to feel.

it’s frustrating because the urge to take the correct side is so overwhelming, to fight for those who have been wronged, to listen to those voices that are giving space to allow the celebration of their creations, but more importantly, the power instilled in cultural products today is counter-productive to the ultimate cause of mutual admiration and understanding. it makes so much sense that one would want to deprive their oppressors of the privilege to shop freely from the cultural market, especially to further their gain, and yet this concept fails to allow for movement and evolution within ethnic identities, whose individuals are not, of course, rooted in those cultural symbols, yet somehow are morally imposed to consistently honour and uphold them. what reed states is so crucial to this dialogue; the idea that there is no spokesperson, and no preordained agenda of thought that is circumscribed to a race.

cultural products are not definitive, but supportive. they exist as markers of those who came before us, and of stories that should be told with pride. they are evidence of what has happened, but they are not what happened. they are not chips we cash in to get through the gates of our communities. they are not strikes to make you more or less. the concept of ownership, extended to this degree, leans towards isolationism. there is no denying that appropriation is a source of aggression against minority populations, but it is a crime against the cultural pinnacles that cannot be marketed, or sold, or reproduced. it is a crime against histories, or values, or truths. what it falls short of covering, perhaps, is a dress-pattern.

museums

by dan beachy-quick

Must I, in this question I am asking, include myself
Asking it? Must I include my face—
My face that I cannot see—through which I speak
This question about my eyes, about the field
Of vision, in which my hands press down these letters
Unattached to my arms? The sunlight
Comes in the window and lights up my hands
As they work. The world is not being kind
But there is the sensation of kindness. 
There is an appeal to a rule when we realize a term
Behaves uncomfortably. God falls down 
Into grammar and says I am but the words are spoken
From a bush on fire. God is included in this grammar 
Philosophy offers to the fly stuck in the bottle—
There it is on the table, walking in circles within the empty
Bottle, pausing only to rub its forelegs together,
In anticipation or prayer. I remember
Walking into the glass-walled museum and seeing myself 
Reflected in the head and in the belly of the metal rabbit’s
Mirror-like skin. This was not long ago, this experience
Of the ancient world, reason simultaneous with appetite,
Watching myself think, seeing my eyes thinking,
My body a body that contained this thinking 
That I write in the margins of the books I read, a script
That over time appears less legible, a form 
Of cuneiform I cannot read myself what I wrote 
In the margins. There is a fragment that floats in the air
Floating in my mind, spoken by a voice not mine:
To study circumcises the heart and calms,
The book steadies the heart [many words are missing
Or illegible
] if not, to turn away,
Fire courses through the veins [many words are
Missing or illegible
] then
Anger, anger. Leaning back in the tall grass,
Putting my book aside, my toe covers the sun.
I am imagining this world but I’m inviting you in
So I can join you. In the old language, the language
No one ever spoke, the language whose words
In the scholarly papers are marked by stars,
Asterisks that say this word exists by not existing,
The imaginary root pushing down from the sky
Into our heads, the root of the tongue;
In this language “I” meant “here,” it did not mean “me,”
It meant a location in which this body I am
Was not an expression of love but a word of
Presence. Here I am. Voice in a boundary.
In this place I am I once had a dream. 
Cylindrical seals rolled across the earth 
Printing in the mud the image of a woman braiding 
Her hair was loose and then her hair was bound.
These roads end at the horizon where I also end,
Present in this world as the alphabet is present
In this poem. *I. *I. Sometimes *I like to stutter.
*I like to think the sky is blue. *I see sometimes it’s red.
More soon on the nature of impossible constructions.  
The man in the moon. The sea rose. The living room. 

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the land in reverence to the snowfall, opens toward the evening. the sky has not yet begun its dimmed blue, taking on the same powder-white as the papered windows, cleared of dust by an anonymous hand just a few hours ago. it’s been a warm winter, and the rooftops and branches, in softened silhouettes, will soon resume their edges. the kakuma river can be heard speaking a joyous language, rushed to the edges of the delta by great crackling plates of ice, and it is along here that you walk, swept by a mountain wind, emboldened by its silken cold, its rising continuum, its music harnessed and conducted in tandem with the water. chorus, the kind to be remembered later, at the curves of other rivers. there is a sense of being a piece of something, your shape along the road leaving an impression only you will be able to fill. the solid air holding still. so many houses in this town seem empty until someone emerges from them, windows are lifeless until you dare to look into them, and witness the tea sets of well-used china lined in human formation on the floor, faucet left running as if only for a moment, in the darkness of the next room something stirring. still, you are, in the many ways we consider, alone. stunned by landscape, by the world realized in such clarity that it seems to have first been imagined. 

margaret

by spencer reece

I remember she rented a room on the second floor from Jenny Holtzerman, an Austrian widow. The two women lived on Girard Avenue South, in Kenwood, an elegant suburb of Minneapolis. Any promise of husbands had disappeared long ago. From the kitchen I often remember the jelly smell of a linzer torte. I was in high school and often I eavesdropped. Once, quietly, she said to my mother, “I never knew the love of a man.” She had mentioned having a husband, but during the war they were separated in the chaos of Budapest, and later she lost track of him. Once she showed me her room: the walls were bare with cracks. Her daybed was narrow, barely slept-in. Her room resembled hundreds of scant little rooms around the world, the way it accepted blue and purple-violet detail—on her bureau, no family photographs, instead, playbills autographed by cast members, a calendar tattered, crossed, marked, no jewelry, some coins. Her window sashes warped, her wires shorted and the paint around her doorframe kept chipping off—“like in The Cherry Orchard,” she said, “by Chekhov.” She told a joke in Hungarian to Hannah Tamasek and even I, not knowing a word, laughed. She bowed gently in a mannerism distinctly Viennese and spoke on occasion of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. She loved the Guthrie Theater, where curtains rose on miniature worlds, preferring memorized dialogue and costumes to something truer. Five feet tall in orthopedic shoes, she limped. Time has a way of rearranging things and I could have most details wrong now, but there was this: during the war, she met a man, whom she gave money to, she did not know the man well, but had trusted him to smuggle her father across the border, the man pocketed the money, bought chocolates for his mistress from Belgium, and placed Margaret’s father on a train to Auschwitz. So it makes sense to me now that simple decisions baffled Margaret. It makes sense to me now that when news reached us of Primo Levi’s suicide, Margaret did not blink. It makes sense to me now that when Dr. Sikorski spoke of fighting in the Warsaw sewers, Margaret said, “I do not believe in God.” Those who saw what they saw grow fewer. Margaret has been dead a long time now. But perhaps you will understand why I chose her, why I have smudged the slow waltz of her smile and added only a few modest blue strokes—here and here. As you leave Margaret behind and turn the page, listen as the page falls back and your hand gently buries her. This is what the past sounds like.