A Manifesto for Discomfortable Writing

(Outside, glorious illusions) – An Antena Collaboration









 

Dis-ease is useful to me, or the dis-abling of habituated practices of language. The idea of something not working, something not being sayable or reproducible, (re)printable, carries its own charge.
— Myung Mi Kim

Peoples who do not know each other should get to know each other in a hurry, like those who are about to struggle side by side.
— José Martí

What good is art when people everywhere don’t have enough to eat?
— M., member of Revolutionary Autonomous Communities,
a mutual aid food organization in Los Angeles

Seeing things, the alternative seeing of things, the seen and seeing alternative, which a certain deployment of crisis is meant to police, is the crisis of genuine disclosure and generative disruption.
— Fred Moten

• To make common currency uncommon.

• To make us strangers in a place we thought was home. To find spaces for listening inside strangeness.

• To refuse complacency and allow risk to alight inside our own bodies.

• Thinking is doing. Doing is thinking.

• We write discomfortably because we are probably wrong, yet compelled to learn. To learn from our errors.

• We are language workers in a workspace made of language. We are using language to push language into wild, unsettling, discomfortable forms. This process might be painful. This process might be joyous. This process will be infinite.

• Language and world are inseparable. Language and action are inseparable. We use language to think about the world: the world being language. We turn our minds and bodies to the language we are using: aware of the constant constraints and impositions of that language upon us. The language being the world, its multiple and multiplicitous brutalities. The perpetual brutalities of an unjust language. The perpetual possibilities of justice in language.

• We use the term “writing” to refer to a range of forms of aesthetic work and practice. If writing is a form of art, then we insist on the cohabitating inverse: art is a form of writing. We embrace the different materials and techniques that various forms of art-making and organizing entail: the discomfortable welcomes them all.

• Criticality is the seeing of the window and the frame and the smudges on the glass, as well as the landscape, cityscape, or humanscape outside the window. Criticality is the seeing of our own seeing, accounting for our own position, stance, perspective, history, infrastructure, substructure.

• Criticality is not optional.

• Discomfortable writing unsettles the complacent eye and opens it to the unexpected, the real and the hyper-real and the sub-real: the conditions of the world as it is and the potentials of the world as it might be.

• We reject the automatic. Automaticity is unquestioning acceptance of the conditions and brutalities of the world-as-it-is. To automatically act is to automatically collude.

• We embrace the everyday. Repetition, routine, and ritual also contain sparks of discomfortableness. The foundations of daily life are a springboard into the stratospheres of the discomfortable. The discomforts of daily life are the texture of our resistance.

• We are not averse to good rhythm, but we distrust language that is too fluid, too easeful, too smooth. Without the snags, the surface becomes slick and we slide into so-called comprehension without pausing to question or remember how much we do not know.

• Capital traffics in the smooth, the cool, the easy. Capital is not interested in reminding us that there is more to learn; in fact, capital colludes to soothe us into thinking we already know everything, to produce a sense of normality, expectedness, regularity in a world that is anything but.

• Capital is also famously obsessed with the new and the next. We insist that its aim is not learning, but consumption and assimilation, with its attendant leveling of difference. Discomfortable writing rejects assimilation, preferring to linger in moments of rupture, to dwell in the snags, seeing what we would not, could not see, seeing our own seeing.

• If our work does not question the terms of the status quo, it is the status quo. The murderous status quo. Our context is an avant-garde that has throughout history aligned itself with revolutionary political movements.

• It is our responsibility to make the world as we wish to experience it—to create the conditions of our resistance, our solidarity, and our irrepressible liberation even as we acknowledge the very real and concrete effects of living in a world where injustice is institutionalized and enforced via all kinds of subterranean and overt violence.

• We have no patience for the divide between art practice and political practice. We have endless patience for doing the hard imaginative and practical work of building a more humane and just world. We are here to dismantle the master’s house!

• Audre Lorde: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Yvonne Rainer: “You can dismantle the master’s house using the master’s tools, if you expose the tools.” Antena: “The master’s house began to collapse on its own long ago. Use any and all tools you can get your hands on and speed the process. Demolish the master’s house carefully enough to recycle the building materials and make tiny houses for everybody. With any leftover materials, we’ll make small books.”

• Discomfortable aesthetic work is necessary if we are to imagine and begin to build a new world. Art is more than graphics to accompany our slogans. Poetry can imagine new possibilities within language. Poetry and other non-conforming forms of writing can create discomfort, manifest expressions of our distress and dysfunction in the context of unjust structures. Our work is made of attempts and failures and further attempts: we will learn to think, dream, and imagine differently and it will not be easy. Our work is ongoing.

• All language is in conversation with other language. Writing is not a purely individual pursuit: it emerges out of communities, movements, relationships. We read and write in order to interact not only with other individuals but also with other formations, other systems of thought, other histories. We need to hear and experience things that are far outside our comfort zone. We need to question the very divisions between zones, between comforts, between persons.

• We want to invoke a curriculum of contemporary and historic discomfortable writing by people of color, feminist and queer authors, and by writers of all orientations and backgrounds who are queering language and dismantling systems of privilege. We believe in a pedagogy grounded in humility, open-source sharing, intellectual instigation and political activation.

• Our reading practices—and hence our editorial and programming and teaching practices—should reflect the demographics of the world. And if not the world, than at least our neighborhood, our corner of the world. Most corners of the world are more heterogeneous than might meet the unsuspecting eye.

• We advocate for books to be radically available: whether they live on the Internet, in libraries or bookstores, in homes, in kiosks on the street, in free boxes outside infoshops. Wherever. Whenever. For whomever.

• Discomfortable writing should exist in public. With bookstores closing their doors, and libraries shut down due to “austerity” measures, it is up to all of us to get these books into the world, where people can encounter them unexpectedly and be inspired by them. Make pamphlets! Write manifestos! Steal photocopies wherever possible and make books!

• Revolutionary rewritings need radical re-readers anywhere and everywhere. Open source is the only source.

• We stand (or sit resolutely) for the small, the tiny, the little, the under, the refused and the refuse, and also the oversized awkwardly gigantic in this svelte world of normalcies. We reject industrial, commercial models of literary production. We have an anti-industrial complex.

• While enthusiastically intellectual (and against rampant USAmerican anti-intellectualism), we are opposed to gates and their keepers and literary-academic elitism. We prefer to ask forgiveness rather than permission.

• We don’t accept or seek to proffer the same old definitions, strictures and restrictions of an inherited, white, USAmerican or European avant-garde. What constitutes “experimental” or “innovative” or “adventurous” work is structured by feeling, by sentiment, by history, by historical oppressions, by networks of communication and legacies of conflict. By place and time and context and the vastly textured skein of what it is to be a particular person in a particular place.

• There is no vacuum within which discomfortable practice can be judged. There is no judgment that can encompass the discomfortable.

• We use the term “discomfortable” to remind ourselves that this process might not feel good. Discomfortable writing makes us uneasy and functions in un-easy ways. Discomfortable writing makes demands, posits imperatives. To think differently, it is imperative that we find different language(s).

• We live in a slow space, an insistently snail’s pace. Our work with language is necessarily slow, effortful, considered, non-accidental, and not automatic. To work consistently in more than one language and between languages is slow and often awkward. To write something in one language and then take the time to translate it into another language means waiting, means collaborating, means multiple attempts. We believe in this slow process. Labor takes time and we believe in the time that it takes. Discomfortable time.

• We demand discomfortable time.

• Participation in a complex intellectual and political dialogue with many different kinds of readers/thinkers/speakers is a slower, less visible kind of change than other forms of agitation. We believe discomfortable language is its own form of activism or (dis)organizing—disorganizing the structures of institutionalized non-consensual domination and subservience that are embedded in the textures of our language.

• We believe discomfortable writing and speaking are in fact practiced all the time by all kinds of people. You don’t need a college degree to do discomfortable language. Often, the most discomfortable language has been marginalized for being “improper” or “lesser” or “slang.” All of these forms throw a wrench into the machine of language standardization and dominance.

• We reject the imperialism of English, its constructions and syntax. Discomfortable writing enthusiastically undermines the dominant structures of English and the structures of English-language dominance.

• Language justice work enables us to listen fluidly-not-fluidly to things we cannot readily hear: frequencies that are beyond our comprehension without the tools language justice provides. Discomfortable writing enables us to listen fluidly-not-fluidly to things we do not always attend: the scaffolding of the ways language functions to buttress ideology or silence dissent.

• The space of writing is a laboratory, a place to create unexpected combinations of like and unlike things and explore the results, a place to make attempts and embrace failures and extend investigations without regard to a clear sense of destination or outcome.

• We refuse to rest on our laurels. In fact, we don’t have any laurels! We have asses, and we are willing to work them off. We will be stubborn but not intransigent. We will be open to suggestion, persuasion, whim, and acceptance of the errors of our ways. We will look back and we will look forward.

• We are not post-anything. We are and we continue to be, without a clear break; we become complicit and resistant and insist on motion. We believe in interruption, stoppage, open-endedness. Nothing is over. Everything is over. We have barely begun. We are in the midst of the midst.

Sources

Myung Mi Kim, “Ear Turned Toward the Emergent,” Close Listening, Jacket2, February 19, 2012. https://jacket2.org/interviews/ear-turned-toward-emergent

Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider. Freedom, CA: Crossing Press, 1984. Text of “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” is available at: http://lists.econ.utah.edu/pipermail/margins-to-centre/2006-March/000794.html

José Martí, “Nuestra América,” originally published in La Revista Ilustrada de Nueva York, January 10, 1891 and El Partido Liberal, Mexico, January 30, 1891. http://www.analitica.com/bitblio/jmarti/nuestra_america.asp

Fred Moten, “necessity, immensity, and crisis (many edges/seeing things),” Floor Issue #1, 2011. http://floorjournal.com/2011/10/30/necessity-immensity-and-crisis-many-edgesseeing-things/

Revolutionary Autonomous Communities, conversation in MacArthur Park, June 16, 2013.

Silent Salute of Poetry

[excerpt] Silent Salute of Poetry [excerpt]

Translated by Koichiro Yamauchi and Steve Redford

March 11th. Shinchi Station. Its bare face was attacked by a tsunami.

Shinchi Station. Like other stations, it has carried lives, connected hearts, spun the time.

April 24th. The view toward Soma City is perfectly clear.  Have we seen such a blue sky since the quake? Since then, no.

Blue sky, have you forgotten all about the quake?

What lies deep in the blue sky?  The bottom of the warm ocean? The Blue brothers. The sky and ocean.

What grave face did the station put on to greet our lives? What gentle look did it give us when it guaranteed our departures and returns? What solemn expression did it have when it saw off the beginning and met the ending of each day? The station’s name was Shinchi Station.

Running like the wind across the springtime countryside and mountain fields. Because the plants, the flowers are sprouting, budding, the thin tips of twigs are inviting the season.  Feeling the breathing of storm, light, and clouds. Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is resounding. I’m a speeding conductor.

What’s a silent salute?  What’s a silent salute of poetry? Whizzing over the mountain fields, over the countryside, across the bottom of the blue sky, my mind turns furiously. What’s the meaning of a silent salute? What does it mean for poetry to salute silently? The storm, the light and the clouds. A break in the clouds. A deer’s cry.

What does the bridge try to connect from this shore to that shore?  What does the bridge try to convey from this shore to that shore? What does the bridge try to bring from that shore to this shore? Crossing a bridge, crossing a bridge…

Chasing the light. Chasing the wolf-shaped light. Chasing the wind-shaped light. Chasing the road-shaped light.  Chasing the light shaped like you. The light shaped like the heart is dazzling. Chasing the light shaped like paddies and fields. Chasing the world-shaped light. Embracing (in my arms) the prayer-shaped light.  The spring blue sky.

Nobody’s here, an attendant-less platform. A nobody’s-here, attendant-less platform. Shinchi Station, a nobody’s-here, attendant-less platform.

The railroad track, ignoring the real rail, is bent. Where does it lead? Where does it return? The bent track is seeking an entirely different destination.

On an attendant-less platform, the silhouette of no man. Everyone stares at a destination. Going to Sendai? Iwaki? Everyone stares at a destination. All destinations are entirely different.

The track is winding around the station. Around the station, the track is winding. It’s the first time I’ve seen the track winding around the station.  A first-time spectacle. A white dragon.

A god, embodied in a train, passed by? A devil, embodied in a train, passed by?  The present, feverish moment passed by?  The destination of a lost track, the destination of a lost train, the destination of a lost wind. The wind blows fiercely.

The platform I never got off at.  Standing there now, I realized one thing. Stepping down, the wind in my face, the sound of the waves in my ears, I realized…

A tsunami has come.

A Blue Note record was on the platform at Shinchi Station. How many times was this Jazz record played, spun? How many times did you spin it, play it?

A tilting utility pole is saluting silently.

Did the station quit as a station? The station did quit as a station. The station, too, repents. The station, too, is full of regret. The station, too, has lost itself.

An electric fan has fallen over.  The wind is gone. A silent salute.

Good night.


Seat Assignment

Improvising with materials close at hand, Seat Assignment consists of photographs, video, and digital images all made while in flight using only a camera phone. The project began spontaneously on a flight in March 2010 and is ongoing. At present, over 2500 photographs and video, made on more than 40 different flights, constitute the raw material of my project.

While in the lavatory on a domestic flight in March 2010, I spontaneously put a tissue paper toilet cover seat cover over my head and took a picture in the mirror. The image evoked 15th-century Flemish portraiture. I decided to add more images made in this mode and a few months ago I decided to take advantage of a long-haul flight from San Francisco to Auckland, guessing that there were likely to be long periods of time when no one was using the lavatory on the 14-hour flight. I made several forays to the bathroom from my aisle seat, and by the time we landed I had a large group of new photographs entitled Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style. I was wearing a thin black scarf that I sometimes hung up on the wall behind me to create the deep black ground that is typical of these portraits. There is no special illumination in use other than the lavatory’s own lights and all the images are shot hand-held with the camera phone.

From the outset, I’ve been aware that what motivates Seat Assignment is the challenge of trying to make under circumstances that seemingly lack any richness or potential. Much of my work stems from the mundane and the everyday, and from my optimism that there is always more of interest around us than we think. What can I make under such constraints? Is there really always more than meets the eye? What kind of immensity can be born of necessity, within this framework? But the longer I work on Seat Assignment, the more I realize it’s also a response to the pairing of anxiety and wonderment that underpin the very experience of flying: one part of the mind swept away in the time travel fantasy of the situation (I can become 15th-century Flemish in a 21st-century lavatory as I teleport from coast to coast!), the other part thinking, as I take my seat, “These could be the 200 people that I’m going to die together with.” In that sense, this project is also born of necessity: making is a necessary response that keeps at bay too many thoughts of the immensity of what is beyond the plane, beyond the seat I sit in, and beyond myself.

 

Sun and Necessity

Sun, o sun, roaring day and night, is it you who sucks the wind into the trees at dawn as you rise, etc.? The sun is moving time, burning in the sky. With its gravitational pull it drags the past into its flames. But there’s a countervailing force by which the light escapes. The past is cast into the present, which draws it in and then has to figure out what to do with it. Innumerable futures, all uncontained, each capable of reconfiguring the world, none fully imaginable, remain possible. The plum blossoms are out. I’m waiting for a sound, and it comes, almost immediately: a whistle, four notes of some melody. It’s audible through a moment of relative silence between the cranking and crashing of the garbage collectors at work, whistled by one of them. To exist at a micro level, drawing and drawn to the bark of the plum tree and its shadow, thrown by the early morning light, and to metamorphic rocks and anti colonies and salt and a thistle and shingles and complex social life of an urban neighborhood, and to do so freely, uncategorized as a human: this might be a description of an incipient condition—beginning (by synthesizing)—or of a late one. There’s a vague, perhaps tragic, undertow, but its effects are less alarming than amusing—discomfiture, or embarrassment, or the pleasure of a successful joke. “‘What regiment is your son with?’ a lady was asked. She replied: ‘With the 42nd Murderers’ [‘Mörder’—instead of ‘Mörser,’ ‘Mortars’].”1 Freud’s Psychopathology of Everyday Life is a book about bumbling, an unfolding comedy of errors—or a tragicomedy, perhaps: in its anecdotes, confessions, and analyses we can discern bits of a fragmented tragedy, awkwardly encountered by the book’s diverse personnae, or just barely avoided, with further experience of it merely deferred. “I entered a house and offered my right hand to my hostess. In a most curious way I contrived in doing so to undo the bow that held her loose morning-gown together.”2 Standards of respectability are irrelevant to the creative process. Leo X. Lee leans against the right fender of the old Toyota and absent-mindedly begins scratching a face into the worn burgundy paint with the car key. It follows the contours of a pock mark in the fender and the faded color around it. Russell Wright has the hood up and is trying to angle a wrench into place behind the radiator. Leo pockets the key. “You resent having to fix cars when you ought to be practicing?” “Machines. Music. You got to have different centers of gravity.” Russell Wright gives a laugh. “Guess that’s my woman problem, though.” “What’s going on with Rosa-Jane?” “I try to see her regularly. I feel sort of responsible.” Russell Wright likes to play around with words, he likes suffixes. “Profligate, prolific, productive, professional—might be a lot of connections,” he says. “Pro-vincial—that’s what we’re gonna be if we can’t get gigs outside of Oakland,” says Leo. Russell Wright closes the hood and steps back. “Okay then.” Leo drops Russell off at 49th Street and drives downtown to the Oakland MAP. The sun burns to excess. It is not simply causative, it produces (as Elizabeth Grosz says of chance) a “superfluity…of causes, the profusion of causes, which no longer produces singular or even complex effects but generates events, which have a temporal continuity quite separate from that of their ‘causes.’”3 Along with forces of causation come forces of attraction. They pull and complicate. Love and hate, which seem so often products of chance rather than intention, are really only false simplifiers (even as it is false to simplify them). The sun draws life out. It’s the first day of March. The plum trees are in bloom along the edge of the parking lot. The sun is an attractor, as is the shade. Chance adds to the world’s array of attractors, novelty rearranges the social centers of gravity. The dialectical turbulence and flow in which intentionality and the unpredictable, plans of action and the inadvertent and contingent and unprecedented, displace one another are what keep the future open. Statewide protest rallies are planned for March 4: “March Forth on March Fourth” say the posters and flyers that students and union workers have been distributing. Just as quickly as they are pasted or pinned or taped or stapled to telephone poles and walls and bulletin boards and fences on the university campus, the campus police tear them down. Meanwhile, casual acts of passive resistance make use of anti-gravitational forces to make their case and effect their goal. “Not to notice the accoutrements of […] power, not even to glance at the royal robes, not to bother to look at the king—to glance away from these matters of state—is to begin to undo their hold….”4 “I get that,” Flip says. “But the Oakland MAP going to be marching forth, that be right.” “Okay then.” Leo X. Lee plays an A. “Let’s have discord,” he says. Leo X. Lee is nervous. “As usual,” says QJ. Leo plays the A again. “Flip—A flat.” “Where?” “G string.” Flip looks at the guitar neck and then plucks the note. “Okay—Matthew, B flat and Carlotta, you play a B. Flip, another A flat and sustain it this time. On 4.” Leo waves jabs his right forefinger into the air and on the fourth beat the chord resounds. “Shit,” says QJ. “Okay. Now stick to that one tone, but move it around—play the pitch wherever you can find it on your instrument. Make it rock. And after a minute or so, QJ, you come in—high hat only.” “That chord is fuckin’ meta,” says Diego as he walks out of the room. The goal-oriented impulse in humans is destined never to be fulfilled. Or, rather, it is already fulfilled, but humans tend not to know this. As Nietzsche says, “[I]n the end there is no goal; we are always already at it. The fulfilled moment does not lie in the future, but is always there already…. Life does not follow the principle of linear accumulation and progressive enhancement, but instead revolves in a cycle of expiring and expanding. … For this reason, life is always already at its goal or remains equally remote from it, which ultimately amounts to one and the same thing.”5 Yes, but one has to make this into more than vulgar fatalism’s account of the human condition or stoicism’s call to resignation. A pedestrian—a girl in a gray hoodie and short skirt—appears just one event (say a skateboarding boy leaps over a log, robs a bird’s nest of an egg while still afloat over his board, hits the board again on his right foot, and kicks a cop in the balls with his left) prior to her turning into the narrow allow that leads from the parking lot to College Avenue. Everyday life isn’t a gap in the real, it’s not a dead zone in the arena of power. Familiar narratives go largely unnoticed, something that people inhabit for varying lengths of time or that they pass through like circus clowns chasing each other into the tent, under the trapeze, and around the rings until they come on the lions and bolt. The pull of something carnivalesque converges with the pull of commerce. In the process a glitch has arisen in the operating system along the western side of sidewalk. A crowd blocks the way. The amblers, the lunch-hour hospital technicians turning into Café Roma, the neighborhood residents picking up cleaning from C & C, the people hurrying somewhere north or south with their eyes to the ground, the panhandlers (selling copies of the Quaker tabloid Street Spirit for $1 each or selling nothing but their own pathos), all more or less unconsciously aware of each other, all maintaining a modicum of safety and civility so that they can move along and not stumble or collide. But in front of Ici, whose interior is badly laid out and too small for the number of clients its expensive, “hand-crafted” ice cream attracts, a crowd collects, forming a line that clogs the narrow sidewalk. Pedestrians are forced to step into the traffic-congested street, ducking around parked cars, and avoiding passing ones—a white PT Cruiser, a blue Honda civic, several gray cars, a burgundy Prius, a red sports car—and a pick up truck, a brown UPS truck, an alternatingly sighing and grumbling city bus sounding as disgruntled as I (selfishly, or, worse, self-righteously) feel having to make my way through or around the crowd of people waiting for ice cream and completely indifferent to pedestrians’ attempts to get by. Everyday life swirls around absorptive narratives of no great interest whose importance and meaning and even genius are to be found in their for the most part trivial details. Saint Augustine regarded time as a theological perplexity; Shakespeare (and of course myriad other poets, humanists, and artists) considered it a problem for beauty and for the individual in relation to the pull of his or her ultimate mortality.

the Side Effect

When he got home later that night he poured himself another drink, sat down at his kitchen table, and began to do what he called working on his writing. What he wanted to write was a description of the project that he had done in the small room. How each day he had held the pose of a person who was torturing someone or who was being tortured by someone. His source for each pose had been a series of photographs that had been found on the internet, photographs taken in a military prison called “The Hard Site.” As he reenacted the poses he had not distinguished between who tortured and who was tortured. He had let both shape his body. What he had wanted to write was about his decision to do this project, to put his body into the position of particular others, that indexical other without whom no one can be. About his attempt to think of his life as part of a series of complex, passionate, antagonistic, and necessary set of relations to others who act and are acted upon. He was attempting to think about how his passivity contributed to all this, even when doing nothing might have seemed the opposite of contributing. And also about his reservations around this project, this different kind of contribution, about its ineffectiveness. About the limits of art done in isolation. About the limits of art.

But as he typed he became more and more aware of how every time he leaked a sentence out of his body it contained not just his thoughts and ideas and attempts at documentation and description, but also the residue of failure, of a mortifying and paralyzing shame. He was trying to describe something that might be artful, might have something to say about the political moment, but yet could live safely in a room loaned out to him by an arts organization dedicated to the parsing our of aesthetic experiences for a nominal cover charge, but it kept going wrong. It was as if he was no longer free to imagine anything in which he did not also imagine the torture done without his consent but in his name and with his passive support.

Still, he soldiered on though the night, doing what he thought was working on his writing, swirling the ice cubes in his drink, swabbing his leaking blisters with pieces of toilet paper, going to the bathroom to shit or get more toilet paper or insert a homeopathic suppository. He listened as in the distance the day’s first train rumbled along the raised subway line two blocks over. He heard a whistle blow. He raised himself up from the table, evenly balanced on his legs, torso bent at the waist, so that his hands rested on his knees, his head bent at the neck and lifted, feeling a tingling in his face. He could hear the noise his body was making, standing bent over perfectly still, not moving, not even as the room became light.

But the noise his body was making was also not only his body. At first he thought he was hearing things. But then he heard from the basement the whizzing burr of hard-drive fans and diesel engines running at high volume, intermixed with the occasional crisp jangling of metal keys and it was too loud and too rhythmic to ignore. He lurched to the couch and one by one dragged each cushion and pillow and blanket and dog bed and throw rug and soft sculpture and tossed them down the stairs and into the basement. Then he stage-dived down the stairs, landing in the midst of a giant ruckus.

There was a nervous click-clicking noise that jittered in and out of a thick soup of hissing and booming, bomb-runs of pounding, deep-earth bass, punctuated by what sounded like clapping or the slapping of skin. There were angry and ecstatic guitar solos, trap drums playing taps, brass trumpets playing reveille. Musicians kept appearing and joining in, some blowing their horns from a great distance, others using joysticks or satellite communication systems to control their computers and samplers and sound processors and circuit-bent video game consoles. DJs spun and scratched the dented hubcaps of half-exploded armed personnel carriers, the hillbilly armor attached to sprawling networks of scrapped wiring and repurposed military hardware, the improvised exclamatory devices screeching into the general din and frenzy.

In the wings, to the extent that there could be said to be wings to a basement, there suddenly were what seemed like tens of thousands of extras. Everyone had a costume, or rather were themselves, wearing what they wear, with combat boots, dog tags, cargo pants, tight or loose-fitting dresses, tasteful work shoes, hipster jackets, and all the variations that could be imagined among such a throng. They began running in from the sides in circles, at the same time thrusting their hips and making airborne chest-to-chest collisions and air-stroking their cocks. They would at moments form a chorus line that snaked through the basement and with interlocked arms they kicked to the music, stopping now and then to give each other high-fives and thumbs-ups and to simulate a series of heretofore classified but since wikileaked enhanced interrogation techniques. There was slapping, singing, sweating, smiling. Kicking, whooping, twisting, posing. All with or without consent, with or without blushing, timed to the insistent beat of the band.

At first, he just sat there befuddled. He did not ask if what was happening was real or if it was the product of parasites and alcohol and sodium channel inhibitors and adrenal glands of animals and gin and downloaded photographs and depressing statistics all mixing up in his stomach and then into his brain. He just sat there, trying to relax and breathe into the soft site he’d made with the pillows and the cushions. But soon it was as if the woven and laminated fibers in his shoulders and back would not let him merely sit and watch, but instead thrust him up and out of his pose and into the dancing fray, as if this might become some kind of remedy for all the leaking, the tightening, the freezing of muscles and mind.

So his body leaped up and joined in an elaborate line dance where they thrust their elbows out and spun their fists around in front of their breastplates, then thrust their thumbs back over their shoulders with a forward and back motion, each in their own disjointed time and imprecision. Some were now lurching around in combat-booted counterpoint to the music, as if experimenting with the different way the shoulders and the ass jut in or out when the hands are cuffed in front or in back, the legs trailing behind. First their shoulders caved forward and then their shoulders pulled back, their chest caved in between each spasm of the shoulder as they moved, again and again. Others ran in place, like cartoon characters, interrupting this every few seconds by making sudden contractions of the psoas, reaching down to slap the floor with their hands, then bouncing back up into running across the stage, all the while singing in a low monotone:

Where’dya put the body
Where’dya put the body body
Where’dya put the put the body body baby
Where’dya put the body body
Where’dya where’dya put the body
Where’dya where’dya put the put the put the body baby

Except it wasn’t a stage, but a basement. Except it wasn’t a basement, but a rehearsal space lent to him by the small nonprofit arts organization. Not a rehearsal space, but an interrogation room. Not an interrogation room, but a soundstage for filmed re-enactments. Not a soundstage but a fake Baghdadi neighborhood staged for counter-insurgency training exercises. Not a fake neighborhood but an intersection in the Financial District on the night of March 23, 2003. Not an intersection but the holding cell funded by the Department of Homeland Security for counter-terrorist efforts, holding 2,438 protestors in a nearby warehouse rented for this very purpose. Not a warehouse-turned-holding cell but a warehouse-turned-club where the after-party takes place. Not an after-party but an opening at a well-funded art museum. Not an opening but a fundraiser for the small nonprofit arts organization. Not a fundraiser but an academic conference on politics and aesthetics. Not a conference but a boardroom meeting on tax-deductible philanthropic donations to nonprofit arts organizations. Not a boardroom but a bedroom, after an argument between lovers. Not a bedroom but a bunker, dug into the cold, cold ground. Not a bunker but a book, each line redacted except for the numbers. Not a book, but the fire made from its burning pages.

Except the fire was painted on an enormous screen, propped across the back horizon, so that the set gave off an ambience that is part desert war-scape and part reality TV game show, with all kinds of online ballot measures available for viewer participation for those who could face the prospect of clicking the icon to vote combatants off the show. There were blips of heat on the screen that could be double-clicked, sending flares up into the night sky so that the audience could better see the action, except there’s no audience, since all this is happening now and everyone’s knee-deep in it, not just watching but embedded participants. Even tapping his feet to the catchy rhythms was participation. Even rolling his eyes to the absurdity of it all was participation. Even pressing a piece of toilet paper against his cheek to collect the fluid leaking from his face was participation, since now the giant toilet paper roll, filled with all the fluid and all that shits out of all of us, was unrolling, unfurling, and scrolling across the bottom of the screen, a real-time news ticker for all who will have tuned in to follow the lyrics and sing along with the bouncing bomb:

Didya put the body in the bag
Didya put the body in the bag bag
Didya put the body in the body bag baby
Didya put the body in the body bag bag didya
Didya put the put the body body in the bag bag
Didya put the body in the bag baby didya didya

The musicians were now making sounds like Dopplerized armored vehicles speeding by a riot at a heavy metal concert, with yelling and chants and whistling and catcalls, in what seemed like a hundredfold languages, a riotous wash of voices shouting in protest or singing on an assembly line or marching, running, breaking glass, as there then commenced lifting and unfolding and crease-fingering, the sniffing of pits and pockets, checking for ticks and leakages, floor-rashes and knee-bruising, swabbing with toilet paper and rubbing with ice, wiping clean and hiding the hurt, before gearing up again to climb the twelve foot high and three foot thick reinforced concrete Bremer walls that surrounded the basement, smiling for the closed-circuit security cameras scanning the theater of operations in order to document and file all that’s done in our name, and then dancing and swinging their arms, some vertically and some horizontally, as if signaling to an invisible fleet of stealth helicopters where to land.

It was a big production, with a budget of $1,229,735,801,934.00. Weekend reservists repelled from the copters hovering above as others made the raise the roof position to receive and pass along any number of bodies leaping and falling from above, in what the contract calls the performance of several air transportations, as their diamond dog tags glistened in the pulsing strobe lights, which were meant to induce sleep-deprivation, bewilderment, and increased motivations for compliance. And so they bent and leaned and leapt and fell into the rifle-hot flesh of the pillowed and cushioned and moldy drywalled mosh pit, lifting others onto the back and swaying with them, giving over weight and impulse upon impact, all with or without groans or eye-rolling.

Meanwhile, he had piled the saw horses into a pyramid and then climbed up into the rope support network and squatted down, balancing on the front of his feet, his head forward and down, spine straight and aligned, right arm pulled back, and from this position could see more and more people arriving and using their assault rifles or night-scope sniper rifles or prosthetic arms and legs or their helmets or combat boots and frantically breaking up the concrete basement floor and digging into the ground, singing, we’re gonna find the poison, we’re gonna find the poison, while others lined up, each pushing a mop, the right hand on top of the left, both hands on the handle, arms bent at a 90 degree angle, scrubbing vigorously back and forth, shoulders hunched, bent at the waist just enough to put pressure on the mop heads to clean up the evidence leaking from his face, singing:

Sop it up, mop it up, soak it in your cloth
Never burn your mouth on another man’s broth

Mop it up, sop it up, classify, redact
Swab it up, zip it up, keep it all ice-packed

Then, finally, if there can be said to be a finality to any of this, there were approximately 919,967 performers lined up in a seemingly endless chorus line facing inward at mad angles, instruments and weapons and tools dropped to the ground, arms linked or amputated stumps pressed up against one another, all singing in a spooky half-whisper, half-hum, we’re gonna find the poison, we’re gonna find the poison. Sweat dripped down their backs and faces and they cast their gaze around the gathered thousands, breathing and looking, breathing and looking.

Pausing, breathing, sweating, looking. The helicopter sounds fading into the sounds of the world outside, if there can be said to be an outside, sounds of cars, trucks, convoys, people, chatter.

And as the music began to swell again, as if into a final number to end all final numbers, they all walked two steps forward and then one back, then two steps forward and one back again. Two forward, pause, one back, two forward, pause, one back.

They stutter-stepped and swayed towards and away from one another, moving forward and then rocking back, stopping and starting, aligned and misaligned in their breathing and their movements, singing softly:

Two steps forward, one step back
Pulled by desire and by fear held back
Two steps forward, one step back
Pulled by connection, by ambivalence back

Two steps forward, one back, pushed by righteous anger and pushed back by the fear of failure.

Two steps forward, one back, compelled by need and held back by the fear of commitment. Two steps forward, one back, attracted to the pack and repulsed by its unpredictable sloppiness.

Pausing, breathing, hands into fists. Rocking, breathing, swaying, looking. Silent laughing or teeth grinding or glowing inner radiance or the biting of the inside of the lower lip.

Two steps forward, one back.

He could hear his heart beating. He could hear everyone’s heart.

Two steps forward, feeling the struggle-force well up within, then one step back to get ready.

We are always getting ready. But we keep moving slowly in this manner, even if it takes us the entire night to get wherever we’re going, or a day and a night, or a week or month or year or lifetime.

He’s walking forward, two steps towards the center, one back, and you are walking forward, swaying forward and back in the same manner, rocking back and then forward again, and all the thousands of singers, dancers, performers, musicians, artists, soldiers, and walking dead, arms locked and high kicking to the boom-boom bap, tap-tap-tap, two steps forward, one step back.

We’re all moving, getting ready but moving all the same, towards the messy entanglement that awaits us when we are ready to finally dive in.

S T O R M

STORM CENTURY TURNING IN A CITY

The snow having just fallen he thought of how easily we move into these cities, some other century, and call it the same moral string: the poverty, the gaslight, the showcase, the admonitions, the sleep.  Sitting on the purple-hearted chairs and tables one looks out on the snow shelving bicycles and televisions.  Sees another person quietly fall.  The polish family upstairs is running a daycare in their two-bedroom apartment and there are children who have no respect for the sky.  She thought of herself as the black draw of a new moon and he said these entitlements are strangling growth.  She thought of herself as a child stenographer but grew frustrated with the men who thought it a sign of vitality to never speak still.  If I can stand why can’t these prisoners.   If I can walk why can’t these cripples face up to the miracle.  He says I am tired of these new-to-the-city stories because they disguise something much more severe, self-destructive, rifling the background of laughter.  She liked the sound of rebel but felt it lost force and sentience in the jungle where it had hidden out for years.  The plumber may come tomorrow.  She takes to putting on private plays and to going to the theater.  Something changes in him and she tries to point to it by reading shorter stories out loud in the living room where they sleep.  It takes him two days to get across the room to where she was standing and by then only a pale honesty remained without the wrought, beautiful grain of judgment.  Fed on debt and the dead time they have created, we are left to be exceptions.  As a clerk, his lateness is constant but varies each day and he prefers not to speak, for himself.  Fallen in the promised snow he is just not the man he wanted his blood to speak.  Shake your last-time look, young man or you will be another century’s socket.  See me now so I can trust you with this money.

 

STORM COMING TO MEET YOU

Unbearable is every start towards you.  The things I would have said.  Sand with a dull knife carve, pounding shores and the millions of lips raised in the retreat.  The things I would have said live on and we must feed them with unfocused eyes, lights bleeding.  Cerro Rico is a hollow mountain that is hollow because its veins are dry once glittering with moon harvest and the mercury trembling within their limbs when they returned home to the unborn.  A good strong back is good enough for a few years in the mines and then they wonder off into the rubber trees, filled their stomachs with dirt.  I have found myself into someone else’s pain once again: sugar canes, salt planes, and asthmatic dressings of gauze.  Losing skin the lepers hurt like air leaving.  You were a doctor but couldn’t heal the bottlenecked atriums in your lungs.  Your name translates roughly into hey, listen, man.  Put your face on the walls of our libraries.  Barthes said to be a lover is to desire affirmation.  When I got out of work and came to meet you were already a woman underground.  What do I know about your own private contortions and these sturdy northern legs built out of the silver they hauled in blessed hulls to the no-land.  Hidden under guns I can tell you there were the ghost seeds of orchids.  Wild oats.  Our veins glow through the long sleep of our skin.

 

STORM AS MEDICAL EXPERIMENT

It has recently been acknowledged by the US state department that sanctioned experiments were carried out between prostitutes and inmates which involved syphilis and penicillin and the risky and unethical behavior of what might turn out where pangea was stretched and blown like a glass tulip stem in cloud fire.  Have I made this more beautiful, she said to the qui’che prisoner, who was only too happy to be close to a woman in the dark.  Who was only too happy to see his wife the next day among the mestizo guards and explain how well this new treatment was working.  When we work the distance we make it into art.  When we keep the distance we call it health.  The afternoon rains wrestled with the raccoons in the roofs, bent metal into standing voices.  The guards go on strike because they are asked to live like prisoners in the breed pools.  Unfortunate, really, how beautiful this splitting jungle has become.  She left while the children were sleeping.  The dirt floor is a palm.  Pressure front are these tremors of a host, waves building off shore.  When he came back, he brought me pansies, which he said were once known as love-in-idleness.

 

STORM OF SPRING AT INDIAN ROCK

I am paying myself out in storms.  Cool air come into the open kitchen where our feet were bare and overlapping.  But why do I spend so much time thinking of your return, as a full voice on the phone, or, even more, as a nightfallen heart beating within the cautious range of my hand.  You cultivate what you hide and then hide yourself.  How would you know that I am just a fragile line in the real?  I wonder if spring is love for you in this twisted garden of air or is it just gold pollen on lips.  We made it this far but the rush is nowhere going.  So I try to stay taut, to keep bending my line into war, as if strength were enough to match the blood in the world.  And when we are alone, do we take this time to find some middle way between the betrayals of democracy, magic, and revolutionary vanguard?  What now can I use to reinvent myself and why do I keep writing about the same bare scraps lying about when young mothers cover their faces with rubble, fear the long clutch of adoption.  Tell the children the truth.  Maybe these heartwilds have all been solipsistic, apostrophes for waiting out a bitter, contestable love.  Dream with me.  The mind must declare itself.  Forget your commissions, reconciliation is truth as it burns into the long blind pauses of an interview: unending and unappropriable.  The pursuit of it begins us again in the nights where no one can find us calling out our difference from the day.  You tell me what comedy of years, a traveling circus or spaghetti meal on highwire.  The fool is hurt life on a stem, a bright vagabond against the snowy mountains.  By the time we make it to the square the undercover men hurling rocks from horses disappear into the crowd.  A voice holds open the ground.

 

STORM WHAT LILY SAYS

What grows in these parts of you.  So much time you spend writing your poetry, runs in the hills.  On a post: learn how to protect your home from wild embers.  Boxing, he says, is a misunderstanding of the world’s antagonisms.  Poverty sharing blows with poverty.  O, dear.  I don’t care for boxing and try to interrupt your pronouncements with little words.  How can the ocean look so hard at a distance.  I want to spend my life.  Faraway, but contiguous.  There is this fear of taking on your persuasions, sympathies I cannot bear.  I watch as you look down at the canyon wall full of manzanitas, lichen, and dried thistles and give in to an eroding tumble and crawl, crashing through someone’s property.  I will not follow.  You fall into a flock of hooks.  How will you get out.  Later, in the shower, you will rinse off the blood, reliving the brambles hanging thin hot lines.  A barbarousness.  Your legs will sing uncovered while we boil water and try to sort out the train horns from the barges in the bay, talking Etta’s love that has come along.  At last.  The night where I looked into you.

 

STORM ARE YOU THE MOMENTUM

I ask because I feel more vulnerable than ever to history these days.  Everyone says I am doing the best I can.  Every morning it is a sick frenzy reading articles in bastard news, rifling for small details of struggle amidst the cruel entertainment.  Mr. Mayor, what do you know about violence?  Shock treatment.  Infertilization.  One in four on the bathroom stall, a rape.  Close the doors, raise money to keep the talent.  Shut it down.  My body is the best comment on the world.  People say go where the momentum is.  You don’t have to wait until you die.  I used to envy a close friend who moved to Italy because she hated the falseness and cruelty of America, fell in love with a shipbuilder, and lived off the romance for a couple years.  The fatigue set in and he convinced her other people should be involved.  She stayed home when he left for weeks and began losing her hair.  I told her there is no other country.  I asked her if she still knew of winter music, the kind made by hot air forcing itself through pipes and organs.  And now, these drums in public parks.  Miniature cities with hospitals, libraries of moonlight.  Enough to feed them.