Category: New Writing

A Conversation with Robert G. Elekes

A Conversation with Robert G. Elekes

Interview by S. Whitney Holmes

Robert G. Elekes

S. Whitney Holmes: Can you talk about the title of your book? What does it mean, both literally and in the context of the poems?

Robert G. Elekes: The title of my book “aici îmi iau dinții-n spinare și adio” is based in Romanian on a wordplay. The idiom “Îmi iau picioarele în spinare” (literally meaning taking your legs onto your back) is used to express a very fast and sudden getaway and could be translated into English as “to make a break for it.” I substituted the legs in this idiom with another body part, the teeth (dinți). The choice of the teeth hints to the poetic space that dominates this book. The mouth is a central metaphor for me, a catalyst, a space of virtually infinite meaning. It is a space of encounter, of communication between self and world, food, air, water, words find their way in and out through it. It is also a space of sexuality, of shame, of death. Biologically and symbolically it is a true microcosmos, a world within a world and the way it can open up and deconstruct poetic discourse fascinates me. The title, as I mentioned before, also suggests running away. But it is not poetic, social or existential escapism that I hint at with this title. It is a running away that Deleuze and Guattari conceptualized in their book “Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature.” It is a running defined by intensity, not by efficiency or direction. It is running, vehemently, profoundly in the same place, an exhaustion of self, an escape from oneself rather than from some external threat. The social, ideological and existential monsters that we so often try to fight are so difficult to defeat because they built well-guarded outposts within ourselves.

WH: What are some of the other recurring images in the book? 

RE: I think some other recurring ones are images expressing bodily and social frailty. I am very much interested in understanding and feeling the ones on the fringe of society and on the fringe of themselves. I like to play with images that mess with identity structures. I like to poetically kick concepts of masculinity in the butt, to recalibrate stereotypes of femininity and put them to a revelatory use. I like to screw with images and with syntax in such a way that it interlocks the personal with the social, the subjective with the objective. Whatever recurring images, metaphors or linguistic structures I use, I use them to destabilize some kind of personal or social certainty or truisms.

WH: So you’ve won a few awards for this book. Can you tell me about them?

RE: Yes, I won to my utter surprise four national awards for my book. I think the one that meant the most for me was the first one that I got, the Iustin Panța Debut prize for poetry. Firstly because I absolutely adore Iustin Panța, the Romanian poet that the award is named after, and secondly because I respect a lot of poets that were in the jury of that prize. The other three prizes I basically got from different institutional incarnations of the Romanian poetry establishment. It is an establishment that has made in the last years a lot of controversial and dubious decisions and that is very much contested by young and old authors at this point. Nevertheless, I accepted and I cherish in my own way these awards because I think Romanian literature right now needs communication and cooperation more that personal grudges and interests in order to further its potential both nationally and internationally.

WH: You speak a handful of languages, and I recall you saying even that you used to compose poems in German. What languages do you speak and what are the reasons you’ve chosen to write in Romanian?

RE: I speak four languages. Three of them are part of my family—Romanian, Hungarian and German—and the fourth, English, is an adopted language. I started writing in Hungarian; I failed. I continued writing in German; I did not have a German speaking public that somehow fulfilled my ambitions (the vast majority of German minority in Romania emigrated during communism and during the years after the fall of the regime). I chose Romanian because it was difficult for me to choose it and because I could reach out to a much wider readership. The first reason is personal, the second is pragmatic. The situation of ethnically diverse individuals here is not that different from that of Hispanics or Asians in America (and I am speaking here strictly for my generation that endured ridicule and aggression in their youth because of this. Today things are much more relaxed). There is an instability, a homelessness, a being-unhinged that characterizes our existence within these borders. I tried to embrace and at the same time to overcome these difficulties by writing in Romanian. I embraced them by injecting Romanian poetic discourse within language games played by the other languages that linger under my skin, and I tried to overcome them by writing in the language that was paradoxically (because I lived in this country since my birth, but I started having a good relationship with its language and culture only after I attended college) the most foreign to me.

WH: Was this your first serious try at translating your own work? What’s that like? Do you think there are any unique challenges or advantages to translating your own work rather than some else’s?

RE: For a multilingual individual, the concept of translation becomes very relative. A decent amount of my early work in German and Hungarian found its way into my poetry written in Romanian. Is that translation or just diversified reiteration? Within the language-spectrum that I know, translation is a very fluid, inherently personal process; it becomes in this sense a social and existential need. I think there are both upsides and downsides to translating your own work. The upside is that you maintain a sort of (probably illusory) poetic coherence, and the downside is that the chances to redefine and recontextualize your work in another language are inherently slim. It has to be noted that my translations were aided by you, Whitney, and another American poet currently living in Romania thanks to a Fulbright scholarship, Tara Skurtu. I did translate the bulk of it, but the subtle and so very important target-language decisions were made by you people. This proves that translation is in such a beautiful way, a collaborative endeavor.

WH: I can’t speak for Tara, but I think you give me too much credit.

Your line breaks are significantly different between the original and the translation. How do your poems feel different to you in different languages?

RE: Yes, in one of my poems, “Endodontia IV,” the line breaks are really different from the original poem. It is because in the moment of rewriting it I felt that the poem asked for different changes in this sense. The bulky form of the original poem could not be translated into English. Instead I chose to make some language games in English by breaking some sentences and hopefully highlighting the power that certain linguistic structures and images gain in English.

WH: What poets excite you right now? What are you reading?

RE: I am reading a lot of currently published Romanian poetry right now because I want that, but also because I feel the duty to do so. I think that reading each other’s work is a sign of basic respect in our little and weird and inherently egotistical poetic world. We poets are a people of self-involvement, and reading needs to be the hammer that breaks that wall down. There are so many notable and young and talented Romanian poets that this endeavor can become overwhelming. Livia Ștefan, Alex Văsieș, Radu Nițescu, Andrei Doșa, Octavian Perpelea, Radu Vancu, Claudiu Komartin and Teodor Dună are just some of the contemporary and currently published Romanian poets that I think could win international recognition through translation. Other than that, I recently read Miranda July’s “The First Bad Man” and I absolutely loved it. Thanks to one of my American poet friends, Jeremy Hawkins, I started reading Jorie Graham and she had quite an impact on what I am writing right now. I have also recently reread almost everything from the German poet Paul Celan. I do that recurrently to remind myself how poetry can reshape a whole linguistic and cultural landscape.

WH: What are you working on now?

RE: I am mainly working on myself. I am a big hot mess and I need to find some kind of rhythm that can somehow harmonize my creative, social and existential self. I think I should also give a less unnervingly honest and pompous answer to this question, so here you go: I am working on a new poetry book that somehow does not want to be written and that tries to subtly destroy me; I am organizing a poetry festival because what else should I do with my spare time and money; and I am translating the complete works of a German-language poet from Romania that deeply, and to this day in a very much unnoticed manner, influenced the national literary landscape. I am talking about the amazing Anemone Latzina.

WH: Is there anywhere else English speakers can find your work in translation?

RE: Well, not really. I have on my blog one new poem that I translated with the help of Tara Skurtu. I am translating my entire debut poetry book into English and German, but that will cost me quite some time and brain cells. Right now I am also intensely set on the idea that Romanian contemporary poetry needs to be read and heard throughout the world, and somehow especially in the U.S. I think it would resonate with the social and individual concerns that impact America right now. I think an English language anthology of contemporary Romanian poetry is long overdue and I am going to work toward transforming this project into reality.

Biofilm & Panopticon CFR & Endodontia IV (The Dream)


e primăvară şi pretutindeni
morţii încolţesc şi înfloresc.
oamenii îşi părăsesc blocurile,
se plimbă mână-n mână printre ei,
se aşază în parc la soare
şi-şi lasă zăpada
care li s-a depus între urechi
să se topească în timp
ce albinele zboară de la mort la mort,
le sug nectarul,
se scaldă în ei
şi îi împrăştie în zbor prin lume.
de la atâta moarte în aer
cetăţenii hipersensibili
se strănută violent pe asfaltul oraşului.

e primăvară şi pretutindeni
morţii încolţesc şi înfloresc.
copiii aleargă pe câmpii,
îi calcă în picioare,
se tăvălesc printre ei,
îi rup de la brâu în sus, îi miros,
îi împletesc într-o coroană
şi-i culeg pe cei mai frumoşi dintre ei
pentru a-i pune acasă în vază.
iar părinţii îi privesc mulţumiţi în timp
ce un mititel se arde singuratic pe grătar
şi fumul se ridică mut spre cer.

e primăvară şi pretutindeni
morţii încolţesc şi înfloresc.
şi undeva, la colţ de stradă, un copil
vinde morţi cu capul plecat:
trei la cinci lei.
şi undeva el o surprinde pe ea
cu un buchet de morţi de ziua ei
şi undeva cineva bea un ceai de mort
şi undeva cineva fură un mort din grădina altuia
şi undeva cineva se dă pe faţă
cu cremă de mort ca să rămână pururea tânăr
şi undeva pe o pajişte morţii intră
pe o parte a vacii şi ies pe cealaltă
şi undeva cineva suflă cu toată puterea într-un mort
şi îşi pune o dorinţă în timp
ce îi vede toate mădularele plutind în jurul lui
şi undeva cineva pescuieşte un mădular din vânt
şi-l bagă în decolteu ca să îi poarte noroc
şi undeva cineva îngenunchiat
cu un mort între dinţi
cere în căsătorie pe altcineva
şi undeva o fetiţă cu un mort în păr
îşi linge mulţumită îngheţata.

e primăvară şi-n cimitirul din bartolomeu
tatăl meu încolţeşte şi înfloreşte
aşteptând, ca-n fiecare an,
să încolţesc şi să înfloresc împreună cu el.


it’s spring and everywhere
the dead are sprouting and blossoming.
people are leaving their blocks
walking hand in hand among them,
unwinding in sundipped parks
letting the snow melt
that fell between their ears
while bees are flying from dead to dead,
sucking their nectar
dipping themselves in
scattering them through the world,
from so much death in the air
hypersensitive citizens are
sneezing themselves on the asphalt of the city.

it’s spring and everywhere
the dead are sprouting and blossoming.
running through fields, children
step on them
roll around in them,
rip them from their waist up, smell them,
braid them into a crown
and they gather the pretty ones
to put in a jar at home
and their parents are watching
them with satisfaction while
a lonesome sausage is burning
silently on the grill.

it’s spring and everywhere
the dead sprouting and blossoming.
and somewhere on a street corner, a kid
is selling his tilted-headed dead:
three to five bucks
and somewhere he surprises her,
with a bouquet of dead for her birthday,
and someone somewhere is drinking tea of the dead
and someone somewhere is stealing somebody else’s dead,
and somebody somewhere is putting cream
of the dead on her face to remain
forever young,
and somewhere in a pasture the dead
are entering one side of a cow and escaping the other
and somewhere someone is blowing into the dandelion
dead and making a wish while watching
all their limbs floating around
and someone somewhere is fishing
a limb out of the wind
and sinks it into her cleavage for luck,
and someone somewhere on his knees,
the dead between his teeth,
asks someone to marry him,
and somewhere a girl with the dead in her hair
is satisfied, licking her ice-cream.

it’s spring and in the Bartolomeu cemetery
my father is sprouting and blossoming.
waiting, like every year, for me
to come
into blossom with him.

Panopticul CFR

Patrocle îi vede pe toţi,
carne vagabondă
îmbălsămată-n acum,
se leagănă încet
unii lângă ceilalţi
în răbdare, în somn,
într-un imediat
fetişizat, plimbând
molcom cu limba
acel punct negru de timp
de la o carie
la alta, şi râcâind
gând după gând în
pielea uscată a lumii.

aşteptarea lor îi creşte
lui Patrocle ca o floare din piept.
încercă s-o ascundă
dar banalul e o căţea
căreia-i place să miroasă tot
şi să urineze pe unde eşti
tu mai frumos.

Panopticon CFR

Patrocle eyes them all
the same
vagabond flesh
embalmed in now
they rock themselves
from one to the other,
in patience, in slumber,
in an instant
fetishized, pushing
lazily with their tongue
that black point of time
from one cavity
to the other and scraping
thought after thought
into the crusty skin of the world.

like a flower, their waiting
grows out of Patrocle’s chest,
he tries to hide it
but banality is a bitch
that likes to take a smell at everything,
take a piss where you are
at your most beautiful.

Endodonţie IV (Visul)

Deschizi uşa apartamentului, te întâmpină un miros greu de picioare şi ştii că tatăl tău e acasă. Te duci în bucătărie unde mama ta taie o ceapă ca să nu se observe că plânge. După câţiva dracu şi cristoşii mă-tii începe să râdă în hohote. Aşa face mereu. Înjurăturile o fac fericită pe mama ta. Vine la tine şi îţi trece mâna prin păr şi se încâlceşte în mizeria cuibărită acolo.
       Atunci schimbă gestul cu unul mai puţin duios şi te trage de păr înspre baie. Bate la uşă şi-l întreabă pe tatăl tău dacă poţi să intri cu el în cadă. Auzi ceva mare ieşind din apă şi apoi linişte, până când se deschide uşa şi el se uită la tine de sus, din turnul său de carne, zâmbind. Îi trebuiseră câteva secunde ca să îşi acopere goliciunea cu un prosop. Acum e gata să te primească în cadă.
       Te dezbraci şi te scufunzi în apa cenuşie de jegul lui de la serviciu şi tatăl tău începe să te spele. Mai întâi capul, care e, ca de obicei, cea mai murdară parte a trupului tău. Apoi spinarea, braţele şi coşul pieptului. O ceaţă groasă se formează în baie. Respiri aburii şi ţi se lasă oboseala pe pleoape. Brusc ai impresia că apa din cadă te taie în două, pentru că nu poţi să-ţi vezi partea de jos a trupului de murdăria care se adunase în ea.
       E cât pe-aci să adormi; tatăl tău se prinde şi începe să te gâdile. Îl gâdili şi tu şi în zelul jocului îl muşti cât poţi de tare de braţul drept. Dinţii ţi se înfig în carnea lui, simţi cum îi străpung pielea. Nu dă nici un semn că l-ar fi durut sau că s-ar fi supărat pe tine. Zâmbeşte. Îţi scoţi dinţii din braţul lui, dar un dinte de lapte îi rămâne înfipt în rană. Sângele tatălui tău picură încet în apa murdară şi aburii te fac tot mai somnoros. De prea multă emoţie faci pipi pe tine şi te uiţi cum sângele, urina şi murdăria se amestecă şi se varsă împreună cu tine în întunericul din gaura de scurgere.

Endodontia IV (The Dream)

You open the door of the apartment, a heavy smell of feet greets
you and you know that your father is home. You go into
the kitchen where your mother is cutting an onion
so you won’t see she’s crying.
After a few hells and goddamns she breaks
into laughter. That’s what she does. Cursing makes your mother
happy. She comes to you and goes through your hair
with her hand until she gets stuck
in the dirt that nestles there. Then she changes,
her gesture into one far less affectionate and pulls
you by the hair to the bathroom. She knocks
on the door and asks your father if you
can get into the bathtub with him. You
hear something big coming out
of the water and then silence
until the door opens and he looks at you from up there
from his tower of flesh, smiling.
He needed a few seconds to cover his nakedness
with a towel. Now he is ready to take you in.
You get undressed and sink into the water, ashened
by the dirt he brought home from work
and he starts washing you. First the head,
as always, the filthiest part of your body. Then
your back, your arms, your chest. A thick fog
gathers in the bathroom. You breathe it in
and weariness falls on your eyelids. Suddenly
the feeling that the water is cutting you
in half because you can’t see the bottom
part of your body due to the floating dirt.
You are close to falling
asleep; your father notices this and tries
to tickle your sleepiness away. You
tickle back and in the heat of it you
bite him with all your power into his right arm.
Your teeth force themselves into his flesh,
you feel his skin tearing. He doesn’t
show any sign of pain or anger. He smiles.
He pulls your teeth out
of his arm but a milk tooth stays
imbeded into his wound. Your father’s blood
is dripping slowly into the murky water
and the vapours are making you
sleepier and sleepier. You let yourself go
in the bathtub and you watch
how blood, pee and dirt blend
and flow, together with you, down
into the darkness of the plug hole.

from DATACLYSM.jpg


you indecipherable accident of mirage
doing your dumb gazework
your whoosh of revision
the spirit predates the self
a vitriol unfolds amongst the brackets
its a matter of hate really
a rotting kinetics
oftscaled in the worst ways


to body such investiture
the V of her
faux virgin/foe virgin
rotted harbinger
unaccustomed to the wet
the redundancy of
supreme texture
the corpsed morphosphere
of a necrotic moon
elided from sky


previous experiments yielded
a certain breed of happiness
too much for some
fuck the haters
the air flaunts the naked word
the word stripped
bare of its bachelors
finger the empty
the slick contrivance
some people aways step
in the same river twice


there are infinite types of darkness
and infinite types of light
like the lasting of loud
shoes in a museum
or an “i like myself” kind of pocket
one does not have a literal translation
for the detritus garments of
muted hearts spectralnestled
in the somewhen

from My country, tonight

translated by Todd Fredson

from My country, tonight

Through the open artery of the city
My memory bulbous
As the dune
Of a cacao pod
The master relegated his sons
Poor spoils
From mandibles
Into the dustbins of history

          *           *           *

There was the roundworm
Son of the saprophyte
Who sold the navel of his mother
For a ladle of tapioca
A cretin
On the thigh
Of his lineage
The house of roundworms
From living memory
Measures as far as his own
Arm’s length
From a sack of salt

          *           *           *

Along the railways
Of history are the hands
Of the whip
Pimp –procurer
Assistant to slave round-ups
The house of the roundworms
From living memory
Measures as far as his own
Arm’s length
From the bag of salt
An emptiness
Sold at the cost
Of glass jewelry
In the marketplace
Of counterfeits

          *           *           *

This race dreams
Of irons at its
Like a heap of stones
Of ballet slippers
Assistant to predation
Like one who is tasked
With strangulations
This race dreams
For the master
Blocking our awakenings
This race dreams
Irons at its

          *           *           *

But tell me what’s the point
Iron at the foot
Of a mind
Already under orders?

It dreams in squads
Launched against the current
Of our thirst for freedom
Pursues the breath
From hateful ventriloquists
This race dreams
Of iron at its
Like a heap of stones
Ballet slippers

          *           *           *

Of Sankara 1
At the head
Of Lumumba 2
Nyobé 3
Moumie 4
Of ophidian
To tumble

          *           *           *

Gorée 5 will become
A place of worship
Only by the measure
Of my caesura
At last sewn shut

Gorée will become
A celestial stela
After the extremity of
My fraternal kin
Is finally restored
Gorée will become
Solemn stone
At the lapsing of my apathy
Denounced finally

Gorée will become
Radiant rock
In the stoning
Of my somber complicity
Gorée will become
A marvelous halo
In the extinction
Of my fratricidal ritual
Gorée will become
A place of worship
Only by the measure
Of my caesura
At last sewn shut

And that’s why
Even for you
Roundworm of service
There will still be room
To unlearn
To unlove
To unlearn
To unlove
My mother’s son was he
Hunched enough
To sell his own mother’s navel
At the price of millet

Beyond the anvil
Beyond the last wave
My hand will stay open for you
Roundworm of service
So that one day
In our grip
The eclipse
Exquisite death
Of these intestinal

Roundworm of service

1. Thomas Sankara was a charismatic revolutionary who became president in 1983 of Upper Volta, which he renamed Burkina Faso. Sankara began implementing dramatic populist-minded reforms but was assassinated in 1987.

2. Patrice Émery Lumumba was an independence leader and the first Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Opposing the Belgian-backed secession of a mineral-rich province, Lumumba was deposed and executed three months after being elected.

3. Ruben Um Nyobé was an anti-imperial leader who initiated armed struggle against the French in Cameroon; in 1958 he was killed by the French military.

4. Félix-Roland Moumié was the anti-imperial leader who replaced Nyobé in Cameroon’s fight for independence. Working from Guinea in exile, Moumié traveled to Geneva. He was fatally poisoned with thallium while at a restaurant by the French Secret Service.

5. Former slave port on the coast of Dakar, Senegal.

At Each Cusp of Wheat & My Death & The Day Never Comes & She’s Standing in the House She Built

At Each Cusp of Wheat

scythe and its course, you
dress its orbit lest it kills.

where each eye is called to sway,
away and again back –
the small quadrant of your desire for you.

and of course the iris, blankly so,
like the wheat and taking
before made to want – and always

& in the clouds such a tightness
so that they move afloat.

& this stirring from
the corner of each thing, a simmered by sun,
a finding-in
fists or eyelids, empty, parceled.

unable for the rapture,
the magnetism to be,
teacup overflowing with yellow.

embraces the corner with the feet,
that lazy predilection toward the white.

you, a cloud or germ – a bonfire.

how that parcel should have been you,
a figment you,
illusion you,

My Death

when the parts don’t fit
           together what
      are you going
            to do
               but hope
            that people like it?

                  DR. says don’t
                    fool yourself
        most of my guys
            it’s terrible

      if your brother was
            he’d know
             what not
               to say

The Day Never Comes

disease! this advancement or spread of the ease
of grief,
to the belief that nullifies it.
this notion to dispel it, a virus, a flow

as would transform you into strangers and lovers, friends of loss or grief –
our turn, too.

to revel and peak, brief for curtains that lift;
a blood clot similar to others can attract a new kind of reality.

She’s Standing in the House She Built

She’s got the soft hum of breath on her side, but she’s crying.
She’s crying the way we used to walk to the pasture, the way
she would walk in front of me, stopping to say be careful. The
way the house is dark, now, as if monotony results in beauty
and non-beauty, as if focused attention on the shadows might
make them go away. The if-I-was-a-girl of it strengthens my
case for light. The way I left a gift of a pillow, the way I’ve never
made a second-person out of you. Repeat your name for me.
Repeat the river getting bigger and then smaller again.

Language Room VI

Language Room VI

we are over-retailed
we feed the birds

we assume that something is only useful if it can change the hard facts

we are not anchored


we looked at the snow, we thought of HARD LOVE

we ate buttertoast in bed

we disarmed our heart
we armed our writing

we wrote MY FEELINGS   UGLY   PLEASE STAY on burnt toast
using an orange colored marker

we placed our face on burnt toast and added a woven name tape, the name
tape said Christine Herzer. we used a fixing pin to attach the name to the object

we wrote & photographed post-it notes that said things like
Please don’t understand me.
we are sitting in soft material

I’m not trying to be difficult.

we googled ‘arm’
arm=part between shoulder and wrist
arm=a means of offense or defense

we armed bread by embroidering it
(offensichtlich ist es gar nicht gut empfindsam zu sein)

we attended our lives

we attended to our lives

we analyzed the ‘we = collective criminal pronoun’-situation

we finally admitted to ourselves how concerned we were with meaning


we became obsessed with making meaning from scratch – in the moment – because it
was the only way to forget what we knew. to this end we arranged objects on the

we saw that words lived in-between – things .

we felt    what we hadn’t been able    to speak.

we felt    the pulse of our muteness in our gut. words needed to be pushed out like

we remembered the doctor in the yellow sweater who told us that the gut was also
known as the second brain, that mood, our surroundings and the feelings our
surroundings and the people in it inspired were impacting the gut. how in turn, the
gut spoke to the brain resulting in feelings & headaches & shit. if we were formed by
our feelings, we had a long way toward understanding self/ourself/ourselves/world,
the universe and pain. the purpose of pain. ‘What you cannot feel, you cannot take care of’

our confusion augmented, we wrote: CONFUSION = FERTILE GROUND

we offered our art for consumption
(to burn something is to desire both to keep it and let it go)

we placed the burnt toast that had NORMAL written on it in a Clear Lip and Tape Self Sealing Cello Bag, we sealed the bag because we really wanted for NORMAL to experience what it meant to be seen without being understood.

we did not seal the work that said ‘UGLY’

we reflected on our refusal to subject the toasts to lifespan/life expectancy enhancing measures and declared:
“The breads communicate and can be arranged to make sense and/or no sense. Their
expiration date remains unknown = a mystery = to be experienced. The artist’s
concerns lie with exposing gestures of seeing & speaking & attending=caring &
covering [up] /hiding/controlling as well as providing instances of wonderment & joy.
By placing language, paint and her own face on what is intended for consumption and
destined to disappear inside the body, the artist offers surprising views, suggesting that
poetry, beauty and language are forces that embrace uncertainty, confusion, that love
is not dead.”

we listened to pema
you’re the only one who knows

letting the world come as it is

the way to peace is to build on the unconditional openness to all that arises…it’s an experience that’s expansive enough to include all that arises without feeling threatened

we received a rejection email that said “a no, but I really enjoyed the multimodality of
this and the attention to language; for me it was too chaotic and could use a bit more
control; not necessarily just rendering it plain prose, but some kind of bottle to help
shape the fire.”

we continued to believe that causing frustration was a gift. we didn’t want to deprive an audience from experiencing it. we thought about subjectivity, expansion versus constriction, for example. we thought of the reader and the Derrida quote that talked about the ability of knowing how to burn:

To know how to get an effect from suffering or from love is the very essence of the ignoble: not to know how to burn.

we analyzed the gallerist & commercial failure-situations at hand

we considered apologizing for rocking the boat

we decided we admired rocking

we stayed open to being at fault

we closed down

we weren’t sure which, we couldn’t know



we began to understand that a game was being played, eventually we were told the name of the game [le jeu de l’art] while at the same time being accused of not playing it correctly, of holding something back…

we understood that shaming was part of the game therefore not personal, but a learnt response to distress.
we had felt some temptation to take on the shame, instead, we watched how our refusal to hate ourselves made us feel the suffering of the shamer instead;
we would have preferred not knowing this feeling;

we felt tempted to seal the work that said UGLY

depending on context, the name of the game changed:
romantic relationship
poetry workshop
corporate job
visa application

we observed our artworks. we admired their indifference: when exposed to shaming they shone. we decided that our artworks were strong, that maybe people too could be works of art. we immediately thought of louise bourgeois,

we were not works of art.
we still wanted to belong, and because we felt respectful of rules.
we felt close to our mistakes.

we felt closest to tulips.

we thought of a line we had found on tumblr that said ‘language only deepens what we know of loss’. we felt grateful for the word ‘loss’.
we did not feel grateful for the word ‘loss.’

we missed our home, we missed things that had meant everything to us, we
preferred to keep all of this from language:
Who gives a fuck about building sandcastles when the water will erase them? How to
sustain such a person? Money does not live in drawers!

we read that a wound to the heart was also a wound to the mind. how when
wounded we were no longer trustworthy, no longer trustworthy,

we wanted to make trust and money.
money | our confusion
went ballistic;

we cut the paragraph that explained why we did not want to play the game.

we did not want to play the game because rules became apparent only after
breaking them, which was funny because we thought the
invisibility/communication-business was common ground and not something to be
used against us; we did not want to play if the game killed joy, if playing meant
having to read someone else’s mind, if playing meant suffering. we no longer
believed in suffering as a way of living. we didn’t mind working hard, we didn’t
mind ‘suffering’ for our art, we totally minded suffering at someone else’s hands. we
thought about Rei Kawakubo’s 2013 manifesto and felt uncomfortable

“This is the rule I always give myself, that nothing new can come from a situation that involves being free or that doesn’t involve suffering”

we cut sentences we no longer wanted to live with:

we felt that addressing ‘dead situations’ and ‘dead people’ was a path worth persuing artistically as opposed to privately.

we understood what compelled our art. and it certainly did not hit us just how much we loved
what we were doing, because we were no longer doing it and because we had no money and
because living

we decided to interrupt our own poem.

we still believed in it but we no longer felt certain of our capacity to disappear out of it.

we were losing authorship, we were still in labor, attached to certain outcomes, attached to
coming out whole

we kept cutting


all we could see were problems [p], and self-pity [s-p].

we felt removed from humanity because we didn’t know where we were going and
therefore couldn’t compete.

we felt grateful to all the professional shamers in the world for teaching us how
shaming is a strategy of disarmament with a twist, -the disarming of light –
triggered when the shamer is at risk of being exposed, of having his/her absence of
light exposed.

we no longer gave a shit knowing how exposing love might trigger shaming in/from people who are dead while living.

[p, s-p]
we still wanted to live but maybe not as much as before.

we wrote: loving the dead is different from loving the living but we were unable to
articulate how, if we had a preference and how this belonged to the text at hand.
what came to mind was    tulip       tulips

we interrupted the poem indefinitely;

we did not want to talk about love.
not in europe, not in germany, not in
our father’s house…heart-talk felt
totally out of place in the western
hemisphere. people talked about
illnesses, pensions, the economy,
refugees, celebrities and work.

illnesses, much like having a dog, were
a sure way to belong and/or to meet
behavior didn’t matter all that much.
consciousness didn’t matter all that

we realized we didn’t value money
because it valued only itself, like being
loved by someone who shamed us. we
didn’t see the value in that. like being
loved by someone who has no clue
what we were about. should we want

we watched our favorite french
talkshow on youtube and heard
monsieur melanchon declare that 12
million germans lived in poverty. we
felt somewhat grateful for this
information, someone had to say
something, not all was well.
melanchon went on to say that it
cannot be the goal of society to sell
BMW’s. Quel est le critère de succès
d’une société? C’est l’humanité, non?
C’est ce qu’est humain.

we were flabbergasted. we were in
bed in our small room under the roof in
the german village we grew up in.
No one came.
No one would come. for us

we were surrounded by forest.
good behavior would get us nowhere.

our gut would undergo a ct scan. prescribed by the doctor in the yellow sweater.

we listened to björk, james blake & annie lennox
When I’m broken I’m whole and when I’m whole I’m broken

and we lay nocturnal,

Do you know how I feel? You don’t know what I feel.

at midnight we received an email from K:
we want to be known, but very specifically. we want to be loved in precisely the right

excuse ‘we’

I Knew You Had Altered Me & Tell Me You Love Me & Handsy

I Knew You Had Altered Me

My girl, she lived above
sea level barely / political squabbling / the poverty line / a garage.
Booze / Arguments in elevators / Her lover’s boat / Her love
gave her vertigo. She met
him at work / an ambitious man / with some resistance / his parents.
His boss / God in a screech owl / She / The recent dead
spoke to him at night. He brought her
a drink / sad news with kisses / daisies / down.
Packing only her papers / A split in her lip / She does not say if
she ran away.

Tell Me You Love Me

If the word is a weed in the plot of your mouth
Here I am with my trowel; I will dig the word out
And the root in your gut will tug loose and come up
And you will be freed, if the word is a weed;

If the word is a weight in the boat of your brain
I will jettison freight ‘til it floats right again
And the tonnage I’ve tossed may come at a cost
But you will be safe, if the word is a weight;

If the word is a ward in the house of your jaw
I’ll craft grounds to evict from neglected bylaws
And when I move in, I’ll steam clean your chin
And you’ll be adored, if the word is a ward;

If the word is a wart on the hide of your face
Here I am with my ice; here I am with my blade
But the blood I will let will be for naught yet—
It comes back for more; the word is a war.


my hands are antsy—
fingers single file
on the hem stick
to my shirt as it flips—
möbius strip—last bit
of seaming under your
hands which heel
to my body—
each finger like a dog
tugging a leash
picking up my scent—
my fingers make a fence
across your chest—
you at this surface
of my unkempt grounds—
hands up means keep out
then mine find
the sweetest trail—
hands down

from Quadrilaterals

Quadrilateral: Soluble

Where recollection fails, the body takes a fuller stride :
Like books you keep for the marginalia. A dead friend’s boots :
I can listen to the icicles melt and almost no one says much :
We’re each given a palm’s width of ocean. All the way down.

Quadrilateral: A Theory of Late Twentieth-Century America

A geriatric labradoodle wakes on a trampoline, the same :
Kids out making nowhere of themselves :
The new-growth sycamores prove a highway ornament :
Twin recliners in TV light. Hushed inside the voluble snow.

Quadrilateral: And Orpheus Was Never So Old

Crows will be crows. They skim and scatter you, who knows :
Soft hands, soft thought. The farthest earlobe you ever touched :
Outside, the mob gathers its silence like a bell :
Kicking cans in the mustard light. Back and gone. Going back.

Quadrilateral: Ideas About the Thing

What begins is a percept and we are what the percept begins :
Aghast, the war. No trumpet fits this embouchure :
Come March, we’ll wake wild and roam the topiary zoo :
That’s a history. That box of trophies in a stranger’s basement.

Quadrilateral: Red-Handed Blue

Lend me your brutes, your Dargers, your unlessonable pains :
We chose the hotel but not the selves that entered :
I love you the way a severed head loves a serving tray :
Dogs play and play their game into being. God is simpler than that.

Quadrilateral: Green Night

Something itches the years-ago, wallpapered rooms, an exacting pattern :
People pass by people passing for themselves passing people :
That the dead we convey within might carry us on without :
Dawn. Building. Sheer. Height. I was just myself today.

Quadrilateral: Adult Lullabies

Chitchat and highballs. Thus the decades, plush as zeppelins :
Rivering peal, rivering whorl, shut-eye river we swallow that pearl :
Occasionally, in heaven, their eyes drift downward to the thought of heaven :
She lights the mossy walk. Steals the tongue from his every tower.

Quadrilateral: Beckoning Epitaph

All wash and welter and the creek can’t quiet its dulcimer :
Mid-distance, a figure turns, stays turning :
The least of night fills the broken bowl :
The capital galleries dim together. One portrait keeps winking.

Control & Dear Clever Poets & Aesthetic Statement


Every surface in her house
was covered
with tchotchkes, glass animals,
ceramic this and that
so that I had
to move as if
I were probing for mines,
fearful to displease her
by knocking something over.
Every shelf,
even in the fridge
was so organized
I feared I’d throw
something out of synch
by reaching in
and her place was so
CLEAN it screamed:
I felt like some
insidious germ
entering a room,
so when — I think
to please me —
she put the corset on
and cinched up her
already considerable breasts,
I thought,
where is the whip?
Certainly there is a whip.

Dear Clever Poets

I too could put an eye in the palm of a naked woman’s hand
as she lounged on a low branch of a boabob tree,
or put a strobe inside the fish that circumnavigate
the womb where we float waiting to be born.
In fact, I’ll ride my amniotic sea with a Plymouth Fury,
Dolly Parton bumpers up front and propellers on the back,
chromed four hundred horsepower throbber under the hood.
Now, watch me interrupt the narrative as you require:
see how that fetus walks hand in hand with that fat pastor
on his way to Scully’s pub to play the spittoons with his cufflinks!
But I’ve been distracted once again by that woman with
the paisley aura inviting me to go straight to Hell with her.
I doff my hat: she holds the door for me on the other side
of which our moment burns in its foetid oil slick.

Aesthetic Statement

There is something about poetry that is pre-language. Something that happens just before the word is shoe-horned into syntax. That’s why it’s so flexible compared to other forms. It can bend language the way a jazz horn player can force a riff above and below the melody line and turn it inside out. In any case, that’s where I like to hang out. Sometimes wit takes over and the duende hides in a dark corner, but it doesn’t really disappear. Ditto politics, thought in general. I ride butt naked without a helmet whereas prose makes me want to choose my clothes more carefully.

from Fleshgraphs

from Fleshgraphs

124. “Do your girlfriends always burn your houses down?”

125. But suddenly a bird appears, a tattoo angry from the needles, and ten different shades of ink spread down her thigh.

126. She snorted the last of my coke then sang The Star Spangled Banner.

127. The horse trampled her and the sweet lemonade in her hands. We all pretended to be surprised

128. After the dead baby, I make a hole in the yard for the squirrels to bleed in.

129. But what they don’t know about is the whiskey in my coffee.

130. He’s into silicone breasts and shredded tires.

131. My mouth is a snail.

132. He looks downward, at his penis, pulls on his hoodie and street shoes. This license plate will make them call him the sex machine, he thinks. Grape juice box dangling from his mouth, he steps back and surveys: “DICKLRD.”

133. I don’t kiss boys who wear eyeliner, Meagan says, her hair feathered beyond comprehension.

134. They try to conceal their hard-ons behind lukewarm cups of Fanta.

135. His wrists are graphs of different metals.

136. I cry for the way her hands held mugs, and then for the way they touched my face.

137. His heart is a pulp of gray matter in my latex-covered hands, the places where his breath once was ache purple in the fluorescent light.

138. His drinking is becoming more fish and less grizzly bear. His mauled red organs. His shallow water breaths.

139. The junkyard is a sleet of rusted metal, he tears his knee on the fence and asks for warm milk. I wrap the remnants of a couch around his mouth so he can’t speak.

140. My fingers buttons against his neck, the tendon and vein pulsed into galaxies before a star explodes.

141. Her mouth a cotton-tailed swamp against my sternum, the hollow of it damp and sad.

142. The fish of Jesus taste like semen and mud.

143. I cut my nails with pliers and tear the top of a finger clean off. I drink a bottle and wear my wife’s old shoes, the satin worn thin and tinted like dishwater.

144. I find a magazine called Naughty Boy Boner in the cabinet where he keeps his Dover rose china edition. I put my wedding band in between the faces of a man in a Santa hat mid-thrust and a man with hair so long and thick he must be Farrah Fawcett’s baby.

145. I shoot up in my bridal bathrobe, the sequined tie glinting against my arms. I want a stained window lens for when I put on the dress with the sleeves designed to conceal and not embellish, for when I walk down the aisle with my fish-face covered in a lace doily.

146. I dye my hair the color of the blood on my thighs the first time it arrived.

147. Her mouth is a slot for me to push stones in. I slip in three.

148. Mother is a face full of wasp stings from when she batted the nest in her beer can curlers, her eyes covered in last night’s liner and Ponds cream, her spray tan a splotched sick animal suffocating her skin.

149. I fell off the pole before the baby came out, my platforms falling like angry hail, my lipstick a streak on the ground that he can’t wash off.

150. Suicide is a big fucking decision, he says, stubbing his j-bird out on my flannel shirt.

151. She’s singing “I Kissed a Girl” on my couch now. Her baby’s first word was “motherfucker.”

152. He likes boys with dark eyes and scars that don’t add up, he calls it flesh algebra.

153. She put her hand on the space above where I swallow.

154. He likes toddlers and the shapes their small wormy bodies make. He’s the pediatrician in the woods behind your house, the cashier with the cigarette burns, the teacher who looks in one place too long, who hugs too much.

155. My mouth is a hovercraft.

156. I want to consume them, the way they shake their hair, the glasses and pissed off sweaters. The way they can’t drive stick, crashing into dumpsters, their unyielding moustache embryo.

157. Her shoulder is a river for my salty face.