“After I Wasn’t Dead” was originally written for and read at the East Bay Poetry Summit July 3, 2014.
I am walking down Broadway from Herald Square to The Center for Book Arts to trim chapbooks on the electric guillotine, chapbooks by Wendy’s Subway members I’ve published to take to Rachel Valinsky for the Blonde Arts Books Bushwick Art and Zine Fair. This process of trimming the books is known as “trimming the creep.”
The books I lug in two boxes on a dolly behind me. It is hot. I am late meeting Rachel before even getting to the Center to trim the books I then must take to her on the Lower East Side. The anxiety of my tardiness, of the series of apologetic texts I’ve sent Rachel to re-rearrange our meeting to give away my unpaid 34 year old labor to this ambitious talented 24 year old curator to sell… no I mean, ok, I can play… but this anxiety… so I try to navigate my way down Broadway more quickly.
It is summer. It is hot out. Broadway is full of bodies. Most of these are the bodies of men loitering and street vending under various stretches of scaffolding between 32nd and 27th. The scaffolding functions as a kind of corralling, collective, sun respite for the traversing bodies of myself and others and all the lumbering tourists scanning the various storefronts and building facades, self satisfied and oblivious having managed to deliver themselves from the banality of whatever lesser shit box they hail from to this globally revered shithole.
The men in their men bodies who claim this space recognize the scaffolding as the corral it is, and so territorialize the discombobulation of this under construction area foreclosing the negative space of the street, predators ready for the disorientation of all who must pass through the dark enclosure. The infringement of their bodies into the space of my body, the heat and smell of the men, their lust, eagerness, unprompted cat calling causes a slight panic to rise within my body. My heart rate elevates and I am sticky with sweat and overstimulated by the smell of the street vendor trucks, asphalt, garbage and piss offset by the cologne of their leaning leering bodies. Caught in their gaze their eyes running up the sweaty cellulite of my thick thighs pushing past each other jiggling with every step and the short body con dress I am wearing. Then their flitting eyes deaden and span out. And I know behind that zombie stare they are fucking me. My breathing constricts. I feel anxiety and heat. Panic. I gulp at air. What I am feeling is fear. I think of what Brenda Iijima recently said in a talk on her poetics at Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop, “There are hormones dumping into my body, fear of which is the least interesting… When I feel fear I try to figure out what else I am feeling… You know, taking Robert Kocik’s Epigenetics to heart.”
What else am I feeling? What else am I feeling? What else am I feeeeeeling?
Rage!!! Yes! And sorrow. I don’t know how to reconcile myself to this feeling, my relative powerlessness at being thusly constituted, my inability to hurry more because of the infringement of the lumbering ones, double trapped. I continue.
Dear Jennifer Jennifer
I am trying to write my talk for the East Bay Summit, but I am failing. I wanted to write the third installment of my essays on archive formation and personal loss that I read the first of for a talk at SPT in March of 2011 when I showed a slideshow of over 200 photos I’d taken and losing my storage unit and then there was the one in April of 2013 about getting my father’s ashes back from some man in Denver who found then at an estate sale or something when looking for urns for all of his as yet undeceased poodles. But I am failing to write that essay and the other. Or maybe this is that essay but only obliquely. Oh I know what strong affection we have for failure and its generative quality but it occurs to me that still after all of my formulating I just can’t write ever the essay I keep talking about that I conceptualized after my hand got broken when during morning commute a man tried to shove past me ascending the subway stairs, the one I keep calling jokingly “The Subtle Harms of Male Aggression” which should really be titled “The Exponential Outcomes of Male Aggression”. It’s just to painful and I keep doing that thing that I hate in certain ironizing women poets work, I’m just reinscribing the problem under the sign of itself.
What I am really thinking about is the relationships that don’t show in one’s writing. You being the most important example of that in my life, our twenty year friendship and endless conversations and correspondences and all. How I should have dedicated “WithInStance” to you For Mary Jennifer Buffett as so much of the language and thinking in that poem is a direct result from your speech acts, books you showed me, and our performances in the Psst-Shhh show at Heaven Gallery in Chicago circa AWP 2009. Your enduring ardor for what you call invisible performances. You invisibly perform in most of my writing, inflected with you.
How my writing improves around you, but I barely tell you this because you are not making art and so you don’t want to know you improve my practice because your art exists in the negative space of its conceptualization and when it has materialized I could too easily reduce it to the memorialization of things that never were.
I wrote into the negative space of the last essay I read after I read it.
The thinking that all occurs alongside the poetry world…
How best words form around your thinking, what you point me to.
I think a lot about this ring I have that Paige Taggart made. Everyone willing to read the hollow space at its center as missing its stone, and so tragically, rather than a sculpture of negative space. Rather than seeing the small dark glistening stones proliferating around the edge of the opening, most immediately read the emptiness at the center as lack, and loss, something missing, what the center does not hold. But I initially became interested in this ring precisely because it is a tiny negative space sculpture.
I first came across negative space sculpture while doing grad work in the Visual and Critical Studies program at CCA, the second masters I never finished. Of course there is Bruce Nauman’s quite famous “A Cast of Space Under My Chair,” a casting of the negative space under his chair rendered into a positive material form
and Rachel Whiteread’s expansion of this theme, and her casting of the negative space of entire rooms or the space around books in a library for the Viennese Holocaust Memorial. I like what Whiteread says, “I had an idea of mummifying a sense of silence in a room.”
But I don’t really ascribe to the notion of silence as it is merely an opportunity for deep listening, duh the Cagian. Thus I’m more interested in the antithesis of such gestures, the anti-memorials and subtractive sculptures. It sucks negative space memorials got co-opted by Michael Arad and Daniel Leibskind’s 9/11 Memorial. Kind of ruined now.
Those two gargantuan imprints of the towers holding the space of the great crash of 9/11. It’s completely derivative and oppressive, the goal being scale shock, like the giant whale heart replica on display at The Natural History Museum last year that children could crawl through, but you can’t crawl through this one, this static lack of interaction, you can’t even stand over it, you can only look out into it. At least Leibskind’s original design got it, with a set of surrounding balconies that would have allowed onlookers to peer more into it, to hover above, to be with it, not beside it. It’s already been done, and with a fountain, with a more interesting shape. The 9/ll memorial is just the rhetoric of monument or rather of the monumental, and it’s a shitty imitative failure.
A more integral example Horst Hoheisel’s counter-memorial to the Aschrott Fountain in the center of Kassel, Germany created in the late 80s.
The fountain is an exact negative replica of the reconstructed fountain at the other end of the square destroyed by the National Socialists in 1939 because its architect Sigmund Aschrott was Jewish. The “counter-memorial” as James Young calls it, extends down into the earth in the precise dimension negative form of the fountains extension into positive space.
I got into a stand off kind of but I don’t think she knew it at the time with Dodie Bellamy once about negative space….
The circumstances>> I found myself in this position of back pedaling clarifying reductions she’d made in a blog post of what I’d tried to articulate to her and Erika Staiti and David Buuck after he and Marianne Morris read at my house in January 2011. I showed great admiration for David’s reading (for I am an exuberant gusher some moments) from an earlier Army of Lovers in which the character is speaking of her flabby hole. Dodie wanted what I was saying to too easily be a reading of the vagina as a negative space there by in a state of lack but that wasn’t what I was talking about at all. So I wrote to her:
I liked David’s piece because it was the flabby hole as you put it, it did not want to obey filling.
I was intrigued by Erika [Staiti] noting it because it comes up in her chapbook that Andrew and I are about to finish getting together as well as Brian Whitener’s. So, my own excitement about negative space is not about rhetoric or theory, but about how these two poets whose chapbooks I have been looking at for so long now are both considering negative space in their work.
Here is the way Erika uses it in her chapbook, In the Stitches:
my lips and your mouth
the distance between
i can’t hear you
hold my hand
postures and struts
a social body walks
i don’t blame you
cut it out
of a straw
the negative space
no & yes
dildos she asks
do you own a lot of
a craving for the instrumental
sideburns or pubic hair
to pluck from one’s
threatened social body
share a hold on
to love and then to love
presence in the lack of
in my ass
and i feel it
it continues in this style and can be read entirely backward or forward. I do not think it unintentional that the “lack of” should be associated with “the negative space” priorly referenced when “in my ass” surfaces, but that is where my mind went. what the text is really talking about which is revealed in the following lines is that the lack is heat which is gleaned from the previous sitter in a chair [a notion of Staiti’s I actually still even now continue to consider every time I sit down on the subway and can still feel the heat from the previous sitter’s ass.] that’s not the point… the point is the way this moves the negative space could be of the straw or of the non affirmation of the suspended answer to the question “do you have a lot of dildos” or of one’s mouth and that the chap-length poem reads backward and forward means that it never lands on any reading much less the vagina as a negative space to be filled.
but is the problematic then of the desire to be filled? … the negating of space
“it gets better” [ugh]
another chapbook Andrew and I are working on is by Brian Whitener called False Intimacy and this is what he writes!!!
a hollow shaft of negative space running straight upwards and through bending itself into a pulsing gucci symbol, unslung up towards hong kong, doubling back inside itself, sounding, becoming not large but more interlaced, the 1990s, America, visible, noding, rapid multiplier effect, reduced into consumable prey, i can open my mouth and it will pummel, a figure tracing an arc from an optic nerve to a hole, tracing a certain instantiation of whatever was given and then again and then again, like an exit, look, it’s fine if you are more beautiful than i am, plastic surgery is the new ruin, it’s THE 1990s, narrative is not enough, and if we just spin these pronouns around fast enough, we could create a given, i mean, a body, for us, a problematic pirated body, that is what breaks from within the, neither furry nor plastic, neither nodal nor oddly enough, my beautiful given, the negative space of a desire, a shaft, adorned in gucci
Also Anne Waldman’s “Makeup on Empty Space” in the archive of Anne Waldman which is all of our archive in which she says, “what I like about impermanence is the clash of my big body with empty space,” says the digital archive cyborg Anne, the one that will persist after, but in the voice of the original analog Anne Glamurmuring us into a poets’ future.
…..the negative space of Anne’s amputated breasts….
I mean the whole clearing of two favelas in Rio or all colonization really as predicated on a view of territory and the inhabiting occupants as negative space to be filled… I’m talking about potentiality. Excise the square from the rug in use and fill in the removed area with something more “functional” more “practical.” As Nico Peck reminds me it is any area, the forests too, negated, the glaciers…. Will the grandchildren of the current generation know what the word glacier means? I mean I am being myopic; there are larger concerns. Looking long into the distance the simplest physiological remedy for depression for most.
We should be worried. we should take a deep breath and find a revelrous moment for anything negative form in nature, any empty space, whether fabricated or natural, because the covering up of everything in our flesh and structures and flesh and flesh and fat and babies and flesh and flesh and waste and agribusiness and manufacturing and flesh and housing and flesh and flesh and athlete housing accommodations and flesh and flesh and flesh and I mean my God over seven BILLION bodies. what’s one more? or less?
jesus christ kiddo you’re so fucking lucky you dodged having to get born. It was worth the little bullet you were exploding my guts. It destroyed me. I am the me that is no longer me. The me that died and the post dead me and knowing the living in the dimensionality of not being dead which some call being alive but that is a false proof, they are not necessarily the same. I can kill now. I know that. Because you died and biological child futurity with you. I mean whatever I’ve long affectionately referred to my own biological mother as “biohazard” behind her back. It’s for the best you didn’t get born because I finally got that fucker that would have been your father out of my life and it took soooo fucking long and well you know what Stephen Boyer says, “Once a jerk realizes you’ll keep bouncing back they stop trying to / destroy you” And I almost died and I didn’t die I can kill now it’s ok it’s important not to get too sentimental about life haha, plus going into medicine and all I mean inevitably I’m going to kill someone. My last girlfriend and I broke up because of this philosophical disparity… in part.
I have a thing for memorial art that calls attention to the thing that isn’t there. I read the empty space for…
But what I was saying dear Jennifer
My thoughts lurk around yours, lurker
At the threshold one foot halfway in and out of doors Dydo’s essay on Stein
Post exit velocity and momentum
I keep thinking of your concept of precariousness
Life’s riptide, a death you never envisioned for yourself
Rick and Morty.
I write to a new friend, Carlos Lara a couple weeks ago. We met in April at a party in deep Brooklyn. Under a blooming cherry blossom tree covered in paper lanterns I immediately recognized him as a powerful dark witch, possibly a sorcerer, who had once nearly died. In chat I write and I say to him: that video I just posted [the last scene from Rick and Morty Season 1 Episode 6 “Rick Potion #9” in which Rick has made a love potion for a girl Morty loves at school and it backfires turning the whole world into Cronenberg creatures and they must find a parallel dimension to live in which to replace themselves, as set to Mazzy Starr’s “Look on Down from the Bridge.”] As if last year you and I had to find an alternate reality where, well as Rick puts it “I just had to find one of the alternate realities where we were both going to die around this time. Now we can just slip into the place of our dead selves in this reality and everything will be fine. We’re not skipping a beat, Morty. Now help me with these bodies.”
To occupy the negative space of our dead selves with our present selves. It is weird to almost die. It gives you another sense about life. In particular I believe if you….
People act so shocked that I read 6 days after my operation but what the fuck else was I supposed to do, what other recourse did I have available to myself?
“A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.”
― Franz Kafka, Letter to Max Brod, July 5, 1922
I know I have historically hyperbolized poetry’s confessional side into the metaphorical on par with an exhibitionism akin to corporeal dissection as performance art vivisection like en par with Orlan, but unsedated bodies, but I cut that section from the poem.
Rick and Morty yes of course, but what it is to stay up past the end of a day, past the past, to see the sun through into the sky again. The sky’s re-pinkening and the sound of birds when staying up beyond the shortest night.
I know you think it’s this card I play when I say “I almost died” but I did. Sometimes I’ll say in conversation “blah blah blah, but I almost died!” I mean I really really really almost died. I know because I was there. I was slowly dying for days. I thought dying would feel worse because somehow the worse pain in my life not justifiably bad enough passing giant clots through my closed cervix in the Memphis airport and you know pain so bad I was praying and all. Nobody was there, but I was there. Nobody came to the hospital except for Tristan, for a minute to collect my belongings as they held a sheet in the middle of the Emergency Room (I know I know you’re like “ugh, this again,” you’re wanting to get all like what Cecilia Corrigan wrote for her reading at Segue— poets talking about being in the ER, treeeesssss maudlin) in the middle of the ER the staff held up a sheet that I might swap all garments for the anonymous surgical gown. I would forget my panties which they would put in the negative space of this biohazard bag on the surgical table. Nobody wants to hear about it, the death brush. Well nobody does and doesn’t want to hear about it. Because the facts are so careless and so gothically gruesome. Something grew, two combined gametes in fact, grew in the negative space of my body until their cellular mass overwhelmed that of the tube unintended as its implantation site. So overwhelmed that it burst the tube. My little future parasite failed to thrive leaving me bleeding internally for a week prior to being operated upon, barely hedging sepsis. It was not hands but scopic robots that would scoop that life leaching vampire viscera out of me. Insofar as machines have poked around inside my body that should have died thereby dissuading death I am a cyborg body. Insofar as it brings me back to truly living I am post-cyborgian.
It was only in the negative space of nobody coming that I was able to call my spirits to me. You don’t need to know, they are for me to know, just as real as anybody, but I can only feel their presencing in the alone spaces.
Thus now my abdomen contains the negative space memorial where my left Fallopian tube is not, memorial to where my child is not. The anti-memorial of my childlessness. How that is posited in heteronormative culture as lack, as the less than whole woman. But ooohh how generative is the negative space of that alleged lack, the space where art, writing, profession can flourish, where there is no subversion of one’s needs or projection of one’s desires onto the offspring. The generative space of unmotherhood. This was finally brought home to me back in April when I was writing a mad fluster of poems for my new poet posse in New York that I assumed would comprise the audience at the next day’s reading I was doing at Berl’s with MC Hyland and I went to go walk my dog south through the neighborhood that is far far fancier than my own and I was looking good, like the weather, and I had to walk by the set of the filming of an episode of Girls because that neighborhood is so idyllic they are always filming something there and Lena Dunham looked right at me and watched me walk down the street with my beautiful large pooch looking gooood and boy was I relieved not to be a single mom thrusting a stroller full of a three month old ahead of me, frumpy and disheveled covered in infant vomit wearing baggy sweat pants. While momentarily constituted within her gaze, only then in that Mrs. Dalloway-esque encounter with the queen, only then and not before that moment was I ever ever so relieved of all of that!
The negative space archive, the archive of what isn’t. What Abdu refers to as back to zero
The negative space of the women in my life who planned to come but couldn’t bring themselves to come be with me after my surgery because their own reproductive choices would hang in that negative space and it’s easier not to have to look at all that, to not have to reactivate whatever if any trauma around reproduction of whatever every woman’s body. Of what is, what isn’t, what would could should was or wasn’t that whatever every woman’s body has had to face as who does or doesn’t reproduce, of what they can where they can choose, where it is not overdetermined, is lived thru. How their non-presencing created an opening for my very caring men friends to step into.
The negative space of anything really… a coffee table surface… The Easter installation like my writing practice, a campy maximalist, a neo-new narrativist whose subject matter mostly arises out of the aesthetics of chance. The stolen hollow lavender egg.
Right now I’m kinda fixated on the negative space of the world cup. how this thing we have for chalices (vagina) endures. Who will fill that cup?
but whoa how I’ve never learned
to purge sorrow from its cellular embeddedness
never walked it off, never flushed it out
with water, coffee, booze, green juice
never stretched the body into a forward fold
past the distance of its reach
I walked into it, I drank through it
karaoked in a lower octave
low enough for all to know
I meant no hyperbole
to the point it hurts
I walked into it, I breathed through it