2011, Nightboat Books

 

THE BOOK OF FORGOTTEN BODIES

The reader who opens the Book of Forgotten Bodies finds nothing. There are no horses galloping through deserted villages in search of the men who used to ride them. There are no children crying for their parents who were thrown out of airplanes and into the sea. There are no soldiers who had their arms sliced off for refusing to obliterate innocent bodies. There are no rich men leaning against paradise trees as the drunk bodies of poor men stumble up to their houses to kill them. There are no bodies of hopeless virgins smashes on city streets by Mercedes-Benzes cruising through the gentle drizzle of a foggy day. There are no bodies abandoned on beaches. There are no corpses floating down rivers. There are no bodies hanging in the military barracks on island XYZ off the coast of nation ABC. There are no bodies that pound rock against rock. No bodies that stand on one leg with hoods over their mouths mumbling words we don’t understand. No bodies covered in mud murmuring to the bodies that lie on top of them. There are no bodies that smell of chemicals and rest in puddles in the rain waiting for flowers to fall on their heads. No blind bodies that are painted by artists who value aesthetics over breath. No bodies that imagine their children’s bodies as ghosts and cadavers and skeletons. No bodies that fall from windows as they try to catch a glimpse of the bodies that have fallen before them. There are no bodies discovered by rabid dogs in houses abandoned before they could even be built. No bodies surrounded by barbed wire as countries die in the distance. No bodies whose skin burns in the strange machines that buzz like tropical nights. No bodies that burn in buildings that have been set on fire by bodies with no reason to live. There are no bodies that fry in the sun, that drown in the shadows, that roast on gas, that ooze algae and moss, that are covered in black rags as the lakes and the mountains die. No bodies that hunt or are hunted, that murder out of charity, that are murdered out of charity. No bodies that shutter the windows and hang themselves in libraries of their favorite books. There are no soulless bodies, no frozen bodies, no bodies gnawed to death by insects. There are no practice bodies, no transient bodies, no empty bodies, no blank bodies that twist between forgotten body and dream.

 

 

borzutzky1

see also http://jacket2.org/commentary/talking-daniel-borzutzky

and, http://entropymag.org/are-we-latino-memories-of-my-overdevelopment/

 

 

ONE SIZE FITS ALL

See that immigrant freezing beneath the bridge he needs a blanket.

 

See that torah scroll from the 16th century:  it sprawls on the floor like a deadbeat; the Jews need to wrap it in a schmatte.

 

The problem, you see, is “exposure.”

 

Thje poet forgot to shake off his penis and pee dripped on the manuscript that he submitted to the 2007 University of Iowa Poetry prize.

 

The literary scholar took off his tie and lectured the class on the post-humanoid implications of the virtual cocktail.

 

He put a pistol on his desk and told the students he was going to kill himself if they didn’t do their homework.

 

Everything in his “worldview” was exposed.

 

The data-entry specialist imagined new forms for the senior administrator who was only a temporary carcass, an anti-poem: a budding literary movement that communed with master works by committing suicide while reading them.

 

The temporary carcass of the bureaucrat, dry as Vietnamese Jerky, called out for “gravy” as it “peppered” the eloquent field of syntax.

 

Abrupt exposure to ordinary language may result in seriously compromised intelligence, implied the carcass as he lipped the trembling lily which hid the police officer, who said: if you look at me one more time I’m going to zap you with my Taser gun.

 

I liked the former “Language Poet” for the speech act he attached to the back of my book, which reminded me of Charles Olson on human growth hormones.

 

The problem, said the critic, remains one of imagination and its insistence on the distinction between thought and action.

 

“I let him touch my wooden leg,” she said, “and when I unscrewed it I was stuck legless in the hay.”

 

Which is to say the detachable penis was and has been compatible with family values.

 

“He was a seriously hardworking boy with a fetish for glass eyes and wooden legs,” she said, “and I really loved him.”

 

The poetry era reached its nadir as the housing market plummeted, said the professor, as he repeated for the umpteenth time the anecdote about the boy who met an underwater woman as old as the hills.

 

“Does Poetry live here,” he asked. “Poetry lives here,” she replied, “but he will chop you up and kill you, and then he will cook you and eat you.”

 

My ideal reader has neither a name, a body, nor an online profile.

 

Which is not to say that I am not concerned with customer satisfaction.

 

Dear Reader, Because we value your input, please take a moment of your busy time to answer the following question, which will greatly assist us in our mission to produce cultural artifacts that will further meet your aesthetic and spiritual needs.

 

Which of the following statements most accurately reflects your feelings about the writing which you have just read:

 

a. This is a splendid poem, distinguished by the clarity of its thought, the force of its argument, and the eloquence of its expression.

 

b. This poem is conceptually vapid, artistically shallow, and contributes nothing to the world of letters. It is little more than a collection of bad sentences and poorly formed ideas.

 

c. I like this poem, but I wouldn’t spend money to read more poems like it.

 

d. When I read this poem, I feel frustrated and annoyed.

 

e. When I read this poem, I feel nothing.

 

borzutzky

 

It’s a postcard

It’s a mango all the way from a sunnier land

It’s an endless avenue with a few trees

It’s a dense neighborhood

It’s a vague intensity

It’s Americana

It’s the Chicago of Los Angeles

It’s the pop singer of the moment

It’s nothing to you

It’s nutty, sweet

It’s a booth in a corner

It’s a baby’s breath

It’s a stickler for detail

It’s a tawdry purplish bruise you can’t figure

It’s a species of fish

It’s a rudimentary conception

It’s route 66 dust in your eye

It’s a tooth in your hand

It’s my issei farmworker grandparents

It’s their whole generation, come and gone

It’s their whole world, come and gone

It’s their children, gone

It’s generations gone

It’s never coming again

It’s a marker

It’s a note

It’s forgotten

It’s “don’t worry about it” (whatever it was about)

It’s an afternoon in Lincoln Heights

It’s a dream

It’s not raining, it’s not windy

It’s a raven looking at us

It’s a raven flying down to inspect the picnic table at Henninger flats above the San Gabriel Valley

It’s the twins—nobody & somebody

It’s who we said hello to and hugged at Gronk’s opening

It’s who we did and didn’t talk to (we didn’t go to the patio, drink wine and check our phones)

It’s 2 trees that are nothing alike except they are there, they were there

It’s two nearly identical (they appear exactly identical) manuscripts, placed side by side

for verification, but actually, this occurs in a dream (again, working assiduously in a dream)

It’s something we did, or didn’t do

It’s happy birthday to you (so what if it’s not your birthday)

 

1935CHS-33267

today liz called mom to tell her that bob died this morning;

mom leaned against the hutch and tried not to cry—

(i guess) though she teared up. she asked liz if there was anything

we could do. i listened, because if the person on the other end

said yes, i was the one to start making arrangements.

she had just reiterated to me that bob was in hospice care

because of parkinson’s and dementia and had stopped speaking.

mary couldn’t care for him alone (she had weekly kidney dialysis).

mom’s youngest brother jim is home from the hospital

and someone comes to the house to care for him.

last november when i told mom that you had died, it was like

someone had hit her hard with a fist that was six feet tall

that fell on her from above (that same fist)

or went through her chest like a steel pole.

she leaned back in her chair as if pushed, but she didn’t cry.

she asked, “what are we going do? when are you going up there?”

she asked, “what i can do?”

i said, “mom, there’s nothing to be done. it’s over.”

yesterday i went into the backyard to look at the garden

all the trees have leafed out, the chard and kale and tomatoes

are green and full and there are plums and lemons—

the water troughs she put in have lilies and goldfish—

elizabeth called over the fence, “sesshu! sesshu!

sheldon is in the hospital. they are testing for blood in his urine.

he’s not coming home. sheldon’s not coming back home,

sesshu—i can’t care for him here.”

Elizabeth put the back of her hand to her face, weeping,

“He doesn’t understand. he wants to come home.

they have a dementia ward at the VA. i’m trying to get him in there.

he doesn’t understand. sesshu, it’s so hard.” she was weeping.

“does he recognize you, elizabeth?

the last time i talked to sheldon, he didn’t know who you were.”

“sometimes he knows. sometimes he comes back to himself.

sometimes he knows.” i didn’t know what else to do;

i took elizabeth five lemons from mom’s tree.

Atom-Bomb-tests-seen-from-LA-7

shoot dick cheney through the eye if i am tortured to death in a corner of bagram air force base, in abu graib, in a black site tonight

so says the ghost flickering off and on like a midnight street lamp over a mexicali school yard

shoot henry kissinger through the right eye if i am to die with my children in a field, with my children in the desert, with my children in a ditch

so says the ghost flickering off and on like a parking lot light at a midnight sunset boulevard motel

shoot donald rumsfeld and donald trump through the teeth if i am to die in the worst possible way, bones dissolved in a barrel of acid, ashes swirling away at the dump

so says the ghost flickering off and on like the little lights in the heels of the toddler’s sneakers skipping down the sidewalk

night dirigible

my friend said, “some of my friends look around and say, ‘now that i’m in my forties, i don’t have a job, i don’t have a house, i don’t have anything.’”

my gaze enters the intersection and makes a left turn.

sunlight pours through my line of sight. my gaze turns to smoke.

i laughed and said, “i wouldn’t have a house if it wasn’t for her.” i leaned against her in shaanxi garden.

i wouldn’t have a house if she wasn’t insisting, and our friends heading to foreclosure asked us to buy their house. it was a wreck, just like their marriage.

they hadn’t made repairs in decades. you could see through the kitchen floor into the basement. the bathroom wall had fallen into the bathtub. the bedroom ceiling had a manhole-sized hole.

our friends left, splitting up, heading separate ways, never to return, dead VW bug in the driveway, emptiness of lives all along the fence line where my daughter left alligator lizards in jars to mummify. we ripped out the interior, rebuilt the walls and windows from the studs out. i worked every day four months straight on it. still, the floors were wet and the place full of paint and varnish fumes when we moved the kids in. i put boards across the floors so we could go room to room.

she wanted a cactus garden in front. i’d never poured concrete in my life. i poured a concrete foundation for cement block walls, measured every angle and surface with plumb line and level as exact as i could. when the mexicano mason came to build the walls, he laughed at it. he fixed it.

i have a house because of our collectivity.

(this is not about ideology, fundamentally.)

i have the 8 hour day because of unions like my union.

i have this job because colleges and universities never offered me a full-time gig in spite of experience, books, publications, awards. they offer kids with no publications tenure track gigs that i applied for (when i used to apply); they offer me part-time or temp gigs, which are basically nothing to them. but i’ve gone on strike with my union and won; we’ve threatened strike over healthcare and raises and won.

i’ve paid $300 a month or more union dues for decades.

for years, i paid party dues and membership fees to organizations that don’t exist. they exist a little farther up the way. 

radio hours blown into the last daylight in the trees.

traffic on the golden state freeway in orange afternoon haze.

people all driving in the same direction. not getting along, going along.

analyses in the press and we might comment.

exchange of commentary like crows.

it’s the collectivity that puts the wind in our mouth, that spins it away.

USSR-V6-Osoaviachim-airship-1935-II

Atom-Bomb-tests-seen-from-LA-1 1. My basic tip is to get out more. PARTICIPATE.*

*(The consumerist model of waiting to be serviced and then waiting for an invoice or
bill, or paying for service in advance and passively expecting something to happen
does not work in the life of the mind, in literary life, in literature. This activity is not a “transaction.”)

2. PARTICIPATE in, or at least attend, literary activities in your area. Nearby colleges hosted readings by really outstanding writers. These are not merely famous writers; some colleges hosted readings and workshops with some of the best, new, popular writers among the contemporary intelligentsia. How can these newer voices serve you? They can give you perspective on what’s new, on what’s possible, on what’s happening. Maggie Nelson! Cathy Park Hong! Find out who these people are! What are they doing?

3. Discuss what’s new in writing, what’s possible in writing, what’s happening in
‘literature’ with friends (hopefully who write)—make friends with those who do.
The discourse is always happening. Listen for it. Our language exists before we’re
born. It comes to us through birth and bloodshed, through immigration and revolution,
through labor and love, through the generations. It comes to us. Make use of it to
make your mark in the never ending on-going dialogue. Enter the conversation
wherever you want. Start with friends.

4. Read daily. Not merely what is assigned. Read in order to explore your own mind,
through your own special, revelatory, vital interests. Read literary journals and
literary magazines to explore the discourse in your own interests. There’s a million
of them, from the sort of ‘mainstream’ New Yorker, Granta, Boston Review,
McSweeney’s, to local lights, fly-by-nights, hand-made zines, college magazines.
William Faulkner said, “A writer should read everything. Of course, you can’t read
everything.” Subscribe; subscribe to them. Explore your commitments. Commit.

5. Practice reading and writing outside institutions and institutionalization. The world is wider, juicier, richer, more electric. Practice reading and writing beyond the kinds of reading and writing everyone else is doing—which is to say—on a little hand-held screen or on a flat screen.

6. The bottom line is, if you don’t prioritize it, no one else will. If you don’t do your own writing, no one will. That’s not exactly a tautology.

It was at a party. I was looking for some quiet corner, but the house was full of people. Paul walked through the room ahead of me. He went into another room and shut the door. He was wearing my shirt.

 

paul34

in the house where the old lady died

her family moved in (the man with the gray

mustache her son?) a handsome white couple

gray and unhappy, their teenage children unhappy

at our house we could hear their children

scream and curse at them, the father drove by

never looking at us, year after year for a decade or more

in his old car, fast, or in his pickup truck

never looking our way, never saying hello

the son grew burly, thick set, said hello only

if directly spoken to, walking up or down the hill

the son got a car, and left, then it was the daughter

who calmed down as she grew up, and i only saw her

crying in the street (one time sitting in the middle of

our street, refusing to move as i drove up the hill,

weeping) but then she appeared with a boyfriend

appeared happy, with little dog and boyfriend,

then the boyfriend was in the driveway, on his cell

phone, he said hello once or twice, then she was gone,

they were all gone, driveway empty, industrial size

dumpster in the driveway for a mound of debris, first

remodeling the house had seen in decades,

but the family was gone. months later, two boys

who appeared part black, part latino came by

looking for their dog (i had not seen their little dog),

said their family was renting the place, but

they would soon be moving (back to chicago?)—

and i don’t know who lives there now—

i drove by once and the driveway was empty,

the house dark, the front door wide open—

i thought to close it, but had never known those

people, i don’t know who lives there now.

 

Houses and Hills

photograph by Arturo Romo-Santillano

 

 

that’s me and you walking like crows with heads going back and forth like 2 trains running

that’s me and you with our little red tongues wagging like insects emerging from the desiccated nation of petals

that’s me and you with our cheeks squinty and shiny like a muscular salmon doing a whitewater squirt

that’s me and you when i wasn’t notched as a Roosevelt dime and you weren’t folded like the old war newspaper

that’s me and you riding the internecine moment when the night of the universe curled some gazes inside of boulders

that’s me and you making like stevedores on a 1934 General Strike as the hour itself glazed cool blueish ceramic

that’s me and you when i had a pocket full of keys as if that mattered and coins that could drop a meter in the street

that’s me and you when all our thoughts weren’t bottled in amber glass and tossed by the San Bernardino like a roadkill century

1357126487_ship6

transcribed at “Type Writer: An Afternoon of L.A. Stories Typed Before Your Eyes” with Marisela Norte and Lynell George

amara

Amara

 

 

How do we start?

I came to L.A. from Minneapolis

and I’m a shoemaker and I work for myself

I’ve literally only been here for three—no, four hours

A couple months ago I met this awesome dude

he’s with the L.A. Philharmonic

and I just need a reason to move

things were really picking up with this dude

they were. And they kept escalating, but they

came to a full stop, he was supposed to come visit me

and he didn’t. I don’t know what I’m doing

I could stay in Minneapolis… but I don’t know,

I didn’t decide…

 

he’s getting a divorce, he’s not really helpful

he’s emotionally embroiled in something I don’t want

to get involved with

 

I’m leaving on Friday, I’m just here for a week

it would be a big deal, to move all my equipment

but maybe, in Minnesota there’s 3 shoemakers

in L.A. there’s a lot more, but most of them are hobbyists

 

There’s a lot, in L.A. and New York, they charge

about $2,000. In Minneapolis my price point is about a third of that

 

Do you want the real story or the one I tell people?

I’ll tell you both

I was in grad school, in the MFA program at the

Art Institute of Chicago, I was a book maker, a writer, a photographer

I’d always done a lot of writing, editing

I got into a serious car accident,

I couldn’t write anymore

but shoes, I could follow

 

I made my MFA project shoes

they altered the way people had to walk,

you know, I didn’t have to say anything,

I didn’t have to explain, they sort of mimicked the healing process

you know what I mean?

 

I wrote a lot, I had a blog

but I lost it, a friend of mine said he found it

I wrote and wrote and wrote, but I lost it again

I couldn’t read anything for a long time

I wrote but I couldn’t read

I just started reading again

 

Are we taking off?

Are you going to put it in your archive?

No I don’t need it, I’ve lived it.

We’re going now, thanks

Nice to meet you

 

 

lynell and marisela

with Lynell George and Marisela Norte

May 2016
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