THIS VICE I CANNOT HAVE ESCAPED*
Sometimes in our lives we are given access to the equivalency
of a Hyatt Regency, you know, just for a night or two. And that is that.
A decorative pastel melon ball bestowed upon our pillow one morning
to be followed only by the crushed orbital residues of its mushy pith
on all those thereafter.
And still, etiquette prescribes that the bulk of our transactions be carried out
as if born strictly from complex personal indiscretions, pursued via means
of a long series of courtesy removal forms, generally accompanied
by disingenuous requests for feedback on services rendered.
Every ninety days, our status is reviewed. And the results of this review
are always the same. Postponed release. Prolonged confinement.
Another three-month statutory hit.
The arm of justice is long. We grant you that. It may not be just,
but its length is exemplary. A grandiose show of extension and dexterity.
The eyes of the security apparatus and staff are open. We grant you that.
They may be neither reliable nor discerning, but they are open, and firmly so.
Oh brother, are they firm! As if lenses could box and bloody, as well as box in.
In turn, every measure of our health and welfare has been registered,
we grant you that. It has not been cared for, but it has been counted.
Tallied over and over and over again, even if never rallied for.
BECAUSE WE CAN ALL BUT LOVE THE DEAD
She’s only the one idea in her head these days, but she sticks to it.
“I want to become more dangerous to the state,” she relays,
“and less dangerous to myself, my friends, my lovers, and my community.”
Within every plutocratic landscape of capitalist repression there are those people
who manage to escape by outright leaving and those who manage to do so
by going deeper in, laying hold to its innermost “useless” “unleveraged” “zones”
the swamp, the dump, the desert, the alley, the abandoned factory,
the half-constructed tract home, the iridescent tailing ponds.
There’s something beyond the overwhelming pressure of offgassing that can conjure
forth strange hatchings, producing something rangier than the usual mop-up
operations, reaching past regimentation into sponginess.
When Michel de Montaigne notes, in the 16th century, how “our modern seamen
have already all but discovered that it is not an island,” the all but in his construction
is not a peripheral gesture. It is a qualification of consequence. In other words,
the seamen, in their majority, still do believe themselves to be surrounded by water,
lapped at on all sides.
I.e. We had all but won that round. We had all but come to our senses,
all but defensively capitulating to a state of permanent negation.
You had all but risen to the occasion. The two of them
had all but seen eye to eye. They had all but tried.
Meanwhile, there he stood before you, all but smiling.
Trying to, dying to, but all but smiling.
NOW THE WILDEBEAST IS NOT RUNNING**
They see in this system their death and so there simply has to be something beyond it.
They’re alive after all. They’re stressed out and messed up perhaps, but they’re definitely
breathing. “Remember,” someone offers, “that veritable chorus of countless things
which you were repeatedly told were marginal, deserving little note.”
“And now recall how often those selfsame elements were your very life, a symbolic cypher
of overpowering meaning and importance – how there was nothing negligible there,
nothing to be narrowly dismissed or treated carelessly.
In other words, it’s not marginal to those women.
It’s not marginal to those who were planning to eat that.
It’s not marginal to those that are caged inside, or to those now wholly
defined by hundreds of pending and enterprise-driven legal entanglements.
It’s not marginal to you or to me or to any three of our nearest neighbors.
Sound travels best, we are told, through thick materials. A person hears better
underwater than they do in air. And better still when swept under the scalding
runnels of molten lava. And yet, are there not potentially legitimate reasons
as to why we do not tend to meet and listen and love whilst trapped below
the hard, fiery volcanic drubbing of an active eruption?
Distortion is a versatile creature. It exists in any influence relationship,
in any total institution. It doesn’t require a whip or even a lick of intuition
to pick up that Stop & Frisk can act as a dispersal agent, not unlike tear gas,
producing its own asthmatic conditions and crippling toxicities.
We grew up just up the street.
We grew up doubled up in our clamor to move up the ladder.
We grew up upchucking in overdosed patterns.
We grew up up up and then we splattered.
*This section title is drawn from an essay on poetics by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Hopkins writes: “No doubt my poetry errs on the side of oddness… Now it is the virtue of design, pattern, or inscape to be distinctive and it is the vice of distinctiveness to become queer. This vice I cannot have escaped.”
**A phrase uttered by activist Malik Rahim (of the Louisiana-based community organization Common Ground) as he describes the first organized refusal on the part of his New Orleans neighborhood to yield to police violence in the 1970s.
]Exclosures[ from Ahsahta Press and The Instead (a collaboration with fiction writer Miranda Mellis) from Carville Annex Press. She is an active organizer with Decarcerate PA (a grassroots campaign working to end mass incarceration in Pennsylvania) and is co-founder of Address This! (an education and empowerment project that provides innovative, social justice correspondence courses to individuals incarcerated in Pennsylvania). She has been awarded residencies at the MacDowell Colony, the Millay Colony and the Headlands Center for the Arts, and was named a 2013 Pew Fellow in Poetry.
the Tuesday poem is curated by rob mclennan