Sunday, March 28, 2021



“Tell me what you forget” is difficult, as it’s been misplaced, whether accidentally or by design. A poetry of trauma depends on unwanted remembering. The survivor is sometimes a suicide. It’s the coming back that’s the worst, blinds falling after an hour of light, the room’s eyelids shutting hard. The furniture migraines; you find yourself on the floor breathing carpet dust. After so many years, I still can’t write about it. Figures are as close as I can get. The time I went home to find my mother listening to ice skating on television.

I ask them what they mean by “it.” It’s a safe word, like a tiny house, abiding its own insignificance, haven against less ambiguous pronouns, those that pack some heat. An older poet gravitates toward allegory, I’ve found, preferring bog people to whatever they might mean. No, the other way around; it’s a loop that never closes. Figurative flight, moving into a monster house, lawn calling out to be mowed.

Lilith likes to go right, where the loop completes itself in a path through hibiscus and fern. A family argument ensued when he told her to turn left, without saying it required going right to get there.

Border crossers are aliens in one direction, homies in the other. There must be cosplay for this transformation. The word “transformation” fills administrative reports, strategic plans, memos, statements of goals. If our students survive their four years here, they will find themselves transformed into individuals with agency in their own lives, not to be confused with that of the institution, because it might be liable for damage or death.

Why grow up if this is where you are, plagued with debt and doubt? Get a gig job buying someone else’s groceries and you might end up gunned down in the supermarket. Violent disappointment is the American way, the desperation of not being a god in your own home, no matter how many square feet it covers. Gunmen used to leave manifestos, but now they shoot first. They used to kill themselves; now one asks a cop if he’ll spend the rest of his life in jail. The racist sheriff’s brother is Vietnamese.

The dead rapper said he asked for dictionaries for his birthday. The bigger the better. There are still not enough words for how fucked up we are. Verbs not transitive enough, nouns not vivid. Our actions have suffocated our vocabulary. “Hypocrisy,” anyone? Not adequate to the current task. “Ethics violations.” Puny. We talked about our favorite words in class; none of them knew mine. “Pusillanimous.”

He is at present just a shadow lurking in the courtyard, sending out his messages in Morse code because the language has thrown him out. We catch a whiff of his spray on tan, the blur of orange as he drives away in his armored cart. Everything has been taken from him except, sometimes, our attention. Like reverse nostalgia. “Remember when.” Tell me again what you forgot.

I was asked to review an article about my own work. When I asked if this was kosher, I was told I might have insights into that work. When I read the words, I half-remembered them, awakening into an early morning of bird song and bitter coffee, eyes checked at the door. I took my piece of square plastic so I could get them back when I left the museum that loved itself more than its paintings, whose edges were so sharp you might cut yourself on them. Last I saw that building on TV it was surrounded by a mob surging toward the Capitol. The only things safe that day were Matisse’s cut-outs.



The Sterling courtyard was awash in light. Tile roofs, statues, I can't remember much of it except the warmth on my skin. It was a good day to die, but I did not.

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