Of Course

[Brett Darling]

There was an aloneness to it, his breathing. And in that breath which the stranger drew, since he was larger, and more powerful than I was, I watched him from that quiet, backward facing repose, as he fought the impulse to speak that which would betray our heartbreak, the very failure of our words to override that death chamber in which we call ourselves, ourselves, being revealed as it was in that precise moment in the very non-word of a gasp, that was, no, not a gasp, but only a breath to mark the coming of the next, which was all that I could hear there in the rose garden, pressed up as I was to the wire fence that borders the east side of Finsbury park. The sound that all of us hear even when we whisper our profanities, threats, demands or other, sweeter phrases, even when words are used during sex, being born as they are from a world in which non of us are spoken, if in fact we are ever said, where all of us are either dead or dying, or wish to be in that garden without words, if such things as beginnings and ends can be spoken as wished for, so help us.  The stranger breathed heavily, like one inflating or deflating an air balloon with their nose, in a sound that was indefinably their own, for themselves, that is, communicated nothing but the structure of a nasal passage, the lung inflationary capacity, the aorta and other blood pumping machinery and finally the mute veracity of the anal and other organic and inorganic fissures, eruptions, dilations, which undoubtedly there were, going on, under the cotton of his jeans and so forth, flows, drawing the main beating source down, all of it, toward the cock and balls, tensing, if they needed to, must have, and the sphincter, too, winking at the stars from that sad aloneness which acknowledges the heavens only via the regessionary tendency of words, lying flat only when they’re forced to, or hidden otherwise, or spent, like cocks, finally falling limp and gracious, absent, plutonian de-recognition being in vogue as it were in that universe without planets in which we lay, nightly, and a certain amount of shrinkage, also, an inflating of vacuousness, an inflating and deflating of empty lungs, and finally a black, black hole, the erasure of whatever we might have said, puckering into infinity to reveal the true inaccessibility of a human heart. We held on, anyhow, breathing like that, until he said thank you, coyly, and left.

My voice reckons differently, however, at the border to Finsbury Park. I am startled, not by the brightness of the street lamps that halo the very wrought iron of that world, nor the darkness that collapses beyond it and into which I all too often descend, but by the difference between the two. It is the transgression between two or more worlds in which I become in-articulated, which is to say found, wordless, hunkering there between the snarling arms of bushes and other growths, with a stranger who knows neither my name nor my political persuasion, whether I adore or cannot stand Walt Whitman, Walt Disney, all the same, whether I am loved, depressed, despondent, revolutionary by nature or alone, with only my desire to call, when it greets me, like whale overfilling the very ocean it inhabits, sending water rushing into ears, providing yet more white noise to flush away the words. Breathe, instead. I waited for him to go, since we never leave together. Neither do we talk. 

Of course, I should say that a few belly ups never did any harm. A cock-or-two, ham fisting, teeth exposed, all relish, abounded, throbbing. Did it matter that there was no one there? That no one, being everyone, showed up, and that when they did, they were so not-there as to render those erections you did find void, cum-less, a broken wrap, a cork-screw turning against no friction, with no wine, no bottle, no grip upon the world. Finsbury was the screws gone loose, the backyard of reason, the activation of a dull void that those with wives and children at home might at least ignore as a negation. Rest assured, it is simply untrue to deny the veracity of this negation. And the negation of the negation? The rest of us carried out our activities or else bore them in the cheap glances of GUM unit waiting rooms, where men and other trollops checked their expensive watches and opened the hungry mouths of magazines and bent themselves double, inserting the sample taking technology up to the red line for the anus, the transparent line for the throat, blood came later, after your wait. In the meantime, look. 

The truth is that those rooms were the activation of the shadow land experiences we had out-doors. It requires halogen to shine a light on such a world, the form filling of experts, doctors and nurses, who, having seen it all, laugh at your experiences with the gentle kindness of ghosts. And how we thank them for that kindness, believe me. I thank and thank them again, god bless them, for they are the poets of our misfortune, or fortune, depending on your results, and the results are in fact not the most important factor, since positive or negative the test records, it records who we are in black and white and screen flashing sincerity and this is the true place of our poem, our activating of negation occurring all at once and in reverse, which is why sometimes it hurts. While the grindr world has eaten the flesh of tender park corners, where bath-houses have grown into the economic, solar dead zones of post-anthropocene sexless fisting palaces, all a-grimace and alone, the nurses continue to record. Viral loads peak, recline, become undetectable and therefore enter the poetic realm. The swallow or not swallow rule, becomes tangibly forgotten in the face of a nurse drawing warm, red blood from your arm, syphilitic nightmares are pen-eaten, erased, disappearing ink fallen into the spiral realm of boredom that the doctors feel prescribing and re-prescribing the pills that actually work, and they do work. They perform the poetic work of our nightmares and our eros, these blue pills, heavy on the tongue like a cock-end, we lap them up. And how I lapped, and loved.

Brett Darling is a queer writer living in London, originally from the North East of England. His fiction has featured in Eunoia Review and is forthcoming in Specimen: The Babel Review of Translations. His criticism currently lingers on the blog archive at the ICA, where he also works selling tickets. At the ICA he has hosted Q&As with writers such as Adania Shibli and French filmmaker, Clément Cogitore. His work tries to open, re-map, re-occupy (non) spaces, queer zones in memory, identity locality, space and time.

Chorizo

[Jonathan Pizarro]

He asked you to dance for him, so you did. In that long narrow bar with the DJ booth shaped like a disco ball. On Dean Street or Greek Street or Frith Street. You can’t tell them apart, these labyrinths and basements. You’ve never had so many streets before. Back in Gibraltar there was Calle Real, and a street so small that ran behind it called Irish Town. People talked about going to La Farola or El Rolli, like you couldn’t walk the place end to end in an hour. Like taking the car por un spin wasn’t just riding around in circles. It felt like the town itself was trying to burst free and give itself regions despite its size.

But here was possibility. You met him online and took the train from Wealdstone to Soho. He laughed at you and told you there’s a fast train to Euston, and you defended yourself by telling him you liked it on the brown line, it gave you time to think. Bakerloo, he said, and laughed again. It’s called the Bakerloo. He looks older than his pictures, in his charcoal suit and oxblood shoes. His wallet is McQueen. He told you this and pulled out a black Amex card wedged in with more cards when you got to the first bar. He told you to find somewhere, so you sat in the courtyard as more people drifted in after work. It’s a Monday and everything’s open. It’s the first time since you moved here that the sun is out. But it doesn’t have the same heat that you’re used to. There’s no haze rising out of terracotta at the end of a Mediterranean summer day.

Now you’re here dancing and his card is in your pocket. The bar was empty, he said he liked it here because of that. In Ku Bar all the old men take their little Asian boys to parade them around. You told him it’s just as well you’re not Asian. He laughed. No, you’re not, he said, you’re a nice Spanish chorizo. You told him you weren’t Spanish, and he shrugged. It’s all the same, caliente. He held the last e and shook his shoulders and you saw the beginning of his jowls quiver. He took out his wallet again, handed you his card and asked for a beer. And whatever that shit you drink is. He leaned back into the leather armchair.

You stood at the bar and the man behind it looked up from his phone and smiled at you. You looked over at your date, who looked back at you and adjusted his trousers. You let your sandal fall and rubbed the back of your other leg with your foot. You turned to the barman who asked what you wanted, and you replied una cervecita y un ron con coca cola, and he said ala, eres de España? You replied no, de Gibraltar and he said ah Gibraltar Español. You laughed along with him at the phrase you’ve heard so often before, that casual erasure of your cultural heritage. The idea that somehow the entire lived existence of your ancestors for hundreds of years is not valid, because a red and yellow flag should be flying above the Rock of Gibraltar. Like its entire worth is nationalist glory, and a longing for a past that never existed. It’s not worth the effort, to try and make this pumped-up triangle who has to take his shirt off after 9pm for minimum wage understand you’re all in this together. That you all came over to this country to try and get by, and the worst notions of home shouldn’t come with you over the water. He hands you the card machine. You press no on the tip option, even though it’s not your money.

You take the drinks back to the table and your date puts a hand on your knee. I saw you chatting up the bit of rough behind the bar, is that your type? You say no, I was just talking Spanish to him and he squeezes your knee tighter. Yoh habloh oon pocoh deh asspanol, he says, and you smile and say well done, that’s very impressive. You clink glasses together and his hand gets a little further up your thigh.

He talks at you about his job and his travels, how he learned Spanish in Madrid, he’s been all over the place. Have you been to Gibraltar? Oh yes, he replies, it’s a bit grim isn’t it? No wonder you moved here, not much to do. Yes, you say, I mean it has its charms but you’re right. You have Spanish in you though surely, he insists, and puts his hand into your curls, twisting his fingers around them as he gives a small tug. Such lovely olive skin, such thick, dark hair. He looks at your crotch and laughs, so pleased with himself. I do like hair on a boy, I hope you don’t shave. You’re six drinks in and you say, wait and see. He pulls your hair. You think of all those times some man bought you a drink when you said no, or grabbed your arm and wouldn’t let you leave. You’ve allowed yourself to think it’s all flattering, all valid, all exciting. So despite the sharpness in your scalp, your face comes close to his. He kisses with his tongue so straight and deep in your mouth you almost choke. You put a hand between his legs and feel him harden. Someone passes and tells you to get a room. You look up and in the blur of rum you notice the lights have dimmed, the music is louder, and the bar is now packed.

Dua Lipa on repeat through the speakers transforms to something more familiar to you. You realise it’s Monica Naranjo now, and you turn to look at the bar. The men behind it are new. Then your barman appears from a side door with three drinks on a tray. He sits in the chair beside you and says hola, I thought I’d join you. He smiles. Did you notice the music, la conoces? You reply pues claro, I love her, and he asks you to dance. He walks to the dancefloor, looking back to see if you’re watching him walk. He calls you to him with an outstretched hand. Your date says go ahead, I honestly can’t dance, but go and dance for me.

So, you dance for him, and the barman holds your hand and pulls you in. You think of all those times laying in bed at night sixteen seventeen eighteen years old with a hand down your boxers furiously imagining it as a mouth or two mouths maybe. Everything you saw through an Internet browser, of a world that wasn’t in the streets you felt trapped in, but in the world beyond the border gates, beyond the barbed wire, beyond the shore. You took off on a plane the first chance you got and here you are. Whatever this is. These things that don’t happen to people like you with a minimum wage job and an average body. Dancing with a hot Spanish man with a rich English man watching, his credit card in your pocket. This is what you hoped for, isn’t it? To feel this desirable. Like everyone is looking at you and wanting you. You’d go home with everyone in the bar right now. Just a giant, slick, mass of writhing bodies with you in the middle. Lenguas y manos y pollas all over you. The barman licks your neck and you look over at your date, because maybe you got this all wrong but he’s smiling back at you.

Quieres? The barman asks you and he holds you tighter. You put your hands on his back as his muscles expand and you move them down the impossible firmness all the way down. Sí, you reply, sí, and he grabs you by the hand and walks towards your date with you behind him.

You’re on the street somewhere, moving through squares and building sites and alleyways, holding onto the barman who is holding onto a bottle of champagne and on the other side, your date looking at the both of you with his hands in his pockets like he just made the greatest deal this financial quarter. But then the barman breaks his grip on you and moves towards your date, putting the bottle up to his lips and saying bebe Papito, bebe. Grabbing his hand. You walk on ahead alone and turn to look at them, wrapped up further and further into each other and you notice they’ve stopped, that the barman is whispering into your date’s ear. You go towards them. They turn to look at you and there’s silence. You might as well have been asking them for a smoke or some change.

You say, which way now? Your date tells you just here on the left and you’re in Oxford Street. You stand there and your date says your bus is coming. My bus? Yes, your bus, there’s a night bus back to your home. I think we’re all a bit tired, a bit too much for a Monday, don’t you think? The barman puts the bottle down on the pavement by the bus stop and says yes, I’ve had a long shift. It would have been fun but maybe some other time. I have to go, really. Ya nos veremos otra vez, entonces you reply, and he looks at you like he suddenly lost the capacity for Spanish. You try and hold your date’s hand, but he shoves them in his pockets, and you say thank you, I had a really nice time and he says of course, if you say so, my card please. You ask, your card? He says, yes, my card I gave it to you at the bar. You laugh and say yes of course and pull it out of your pocket and he doesn’t laugh back, he takes it and wipes it down on his trouser leg, before putting it away carefully into his McQueen wallet. He holds out his arm to the street. Here’s your bus, he says. It pulls up at the stop and you turn to say goodbye, but they’ve already left.

You’re on the bus, the doors close. You tap your card and it declines and the bus driver tells you to just get in, you can sort it out when you reach your destination. You climb up the stairs and make your way down the aisle. The bright striplights on everything. A girl asleep across two seats. A man eating McDonalds. Someone on the phone. Rap music through cheap speakers. You think of the place that you thought held you back for so long. You could walk home after a night out along the beach. You could see the lights of Algeciras across the bay, and Morocco further out. You walk to the back of the bus and sit on the left side as it starts to move away. You see them through the window streaked with the grime of someone’s hand. They walk across the street hand in hand and get into a taxi. You open up the app and think of what to say to him, but you’ve already been blocked. The bus heads one way and the taxi the other. It takes two hours to get home.

Jonathan Pizarro is a queer Gibraltarian writer exiled in London. He studied Creative Writing at Brunel University, where he started writing his first novel, entitled ‘Sons of Lot’. He is interested in language and borders, the ruins of colonialism, the memory of home, and monsters. He tweets here

Oeux

[Jaiqi Kang (亢嘉琪)]

Jiaqi Kang (亢嘉琪) is a Sino-Swiss editor, writer, and art historian. She is the founding Editor-in-Chief of Sine Theta Magazine, an international, print-based creative arts publication made by and for the Sino diaspora. She read History of Art at Oxford University. Find her here.

The Health Proxy Conversation

[Alex Bildsoe]

INT. – DAY – KINGSTON HOSPITAL – ROOM 205
 
The hospital room is divided in two by a curtain. The side closer to the door 
has the bed of ALEX, a 32-year-old woman with long, dishevelled blond pigtails 
who is lying half upright and holding her phone. The side closer to the window 
has the bed of VERA, a 99-year-old woman who is propped up fully upright in bed, 
her jaw opening and closing continuously from a neurological condition. Two 
nurses, MO and ROSE, stand next to VERA trying to get her to eat from the tray 
of food in front of her.
 
The sound of medical machines beeping and nurses talking in the hallway fill the 
fluorescent lit room. Extra chairs stand in a row opposite the beds, causing the 
room’s walkway to be crowded. 
 
ALEX is staring blankly ahead from her bed, then looks at the phone in her hands 
and dials her sister. CAROLINE answers right away.
 
ALEX: 
Haaaay Liney.

CAROLINE: 
Hey Nanners, how’s it going?
 
The sound of VERA’S voice fills the room. 

VERA: 
I’m so. I’m so. I’m so. I’m so. I’m 
so. I’m so. I’m so. I’m so sorry. I’m 
so sorry. I’m so sorry.
 
ROSE, a female nurse with a mischievous smile, leans forward over VERA and holds 
a piece of bread near VERA’s mouth. ROSE speaks loudly.
 
ROSE: 
VERA!!! You don’t need to apologize! 
Eat your food! Eat, Vera!
 
ALEX turns her head away from the curtain.
 
ALEX: 
It’s, you know, it’s fine and weird. 
They just gave me some more morphine 
so that’s good.

CAROLINE: 
Oh yeah, that sounds nice. When are you 
going into surgery?
 
ROSE puts down the bread and picks up a little plastic cup.
 
ROSE: 
Here’s some apple juice, Vera! Drink 
some juice!

VERA: 
I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.                      
I’m so sorry. I’m sooo sorry.
 
ROSE: 
YOU DON’T NEED TO APOLOGIZE!
 
ALEX: 
Um, they said before noon…so it’s 11:30 
right now, probably really soon. Yeah.
 
VERA: 
I’m so sorry.
 
CAROLINE: 
What did you say?
 
ALEX cups her hand around the phone and her mouth and leans further away from 
the curtain, trying to escape the noise.
 
ALEX: 
I said, like really soon. Before noon.
 
VERA: 
I’m sooo sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so 
sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m 
so. I’m so.

CAROLINE: 
What’s going on there? Is there someone 
like, yelling or something?
 
ALEX: 
Ummm…yeah. My roommate…the old 
lady in the bed next to me. She’s freaking 
out. She’s like 99.
 
ROSE: 
DRINK YOUR JUICE VERA!! 
YOU NEED TO EAT!
 
CAROLINE: 
Ok, wow.
 
ALEX: 
Yeah, it’s….
 
VERA: 
AhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhHHHHH. 
Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.
 
ALEX: 
...fun.
 
ROSE: 
Oh Jesus. She can’t hear me! 
She’s deaf!
 
The other nurse, MO, a smallish woman with a jolly smoker’s face, waves ROSE 
aside and steps towards VERA.

MO: 
She can hear me. She could hear 
me before. Vera? Vera! You need 
to eat something!
 
VERA: 
I’m...
 
ALEX: 
Actually, I needed to ask you about 
something. Talk it through a bit.
 
CAROLINE: 
Sure! What is it?
 
MO: 
I think she can hear me.
 
VERA: 
I’m...
 
ALEX: 
I need to pick a person to, like…if 
something were to happen to me in 
surgery, not that this surgery is very 
intense or anything, I mean it’s just 
basic, well not basic but you know 
what I’m saying.
 
CAROLINE: 
Yep.
 
VERA: 
Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Ahhhhhhh.
Ahhhhhhhhhhhh. Ahhhhhhhh.
 
ROSE: 
VERA!!!!
 
ALEX: 
They want me to have a representative 
to make decisions for me, just in case I’m 
like in a coma or the surgery gets fucked 
up or something. I was trying to think of 
who I should pick for that.
 
CAROLINE: 
Oh! Oh. Yep. I can do that, yep. I’m the 
right one to pick for that.
 
VERA: 
I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. 
I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. 
 
ALEX: 
Ok, cool…right. I was trying to pick 
between you and mom and dad.
 
MO: 
You’ve got to eat something. You’ve just 
got to try.
 
CAROLINE: 
What Nan?
 
VERA: 
Ahhhhhh so sorry.
 
ALEX: 
I said I was just trying to decide who to 
pick…I thought maybe dad because well,
he’s good at making decisions under
pressure.
 
CAROLINE: 
Yep. Yep. Definitely. He’s the best.
 
VERA: 
So so so so so so so so. Aaahh so sorry. 
I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.
 
ROSE shifts to a shouting stance and directs herself towards VERA.
 
ROSE:
STOP APOLOGIZING VERA YOU 
HAVE NOTHING TO APOLOGIZE 
FOR YOU ARE IN A HOSPITAL AND 
WE ARE SUPPOSED TO TAKE CARE 
OF YOU SO STOP THERE’S NO 
NEED TO APOLOGIZE! She can’t hear 
me. My voice isn’t getting through to her.
 
ALEX shifts her body a bit to the right, away from the curtain, and winces. She 
holds the bottom of the phone so close to her mouth that it is touching her lips.
 
ALEX: 
For sure, yeah. Well, will you do it then? 
I’ve just got to fill out some paperwork.
 
CAROLINE: 
Yep, put me down. Sign me up.
 
VERA: 
I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. 
I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.
 
MO: 
The pitch of your voice or something, 
it’s not getting through to her.
 
ALEX: 
Ok great. Well, yeah, not great. But you 
know. So… if I’m like, in a coma or I’m 
gonna spend the rest of my life 
unconscious as a vegetable, please don’t 
give me the feeding tube.
 
MO picks up a spoonful of mashed potatoes and holds it by VERA’s mouth. VERA moves 
her head away and continues her talking.
 
MO: 
Here Vera! Try this! Eat this!
 
CAROLINE: 
Right.
 
VERA: 
I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.
I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.
 
ALEX: 
You never know like, when people are 
unconscious and lying in bed and they
can’t talk or move…what are they 
thinking? Are they thinking? They 
could be alive in there and paralyzed 
and in a ton of pain and no one would 
ever know and we are keeping them 
alive. It sounds so fucked up. Just pull 
the plug on me, ok?
 
A woman with bangs and a jacket enters the room, passing through ALEX’s side 
without a glance and continuing to VERA’s bed. She goes to the far side of the 
bed and touches VERA’s arm.
 
GRANDDAUGHTER: 
Grandma? Grandma! It’s me, your 
granddaughter. It’s me.
 
MO: 
I think she can hear you.
 
VERA: 
Mmm
 
CAROLINE: 
I got it, yeah. That’s messed up.
 
ALEX: 
What?
 
CAROLINE: 
That’s messed up. I won’t do that. 
Just sign me up.
 
GRANDDAUGHTER: 
Hi. I love you! I love you?
 
VERA: 
I’m so sorry.
 
The SURGICAL NURSE, a tattooed man with a ponytail, enters the room and stands 
at the end of ALEX’S bed, leaning towards her.
 
SURGICAL NURSE: 
Hi Alexandra. I’m just finishing up 
some final paperwork and then I’ll be 
back in a bit to bring you upstairs.
 
ALEX: 
Oh, ok.
 
CAROLINE: 
What?
 
VERA: 
I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.
I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.
 
ALEX: 
They are taking me to surgery soon.
 
ROSE: 
NO NEED VERA NO NEED!
 
CAROLINE: 
Ok. Well Nan, you will be fine. 
Text us when you can, when you’re out.
 
VERA: 
I’m soooooo sorry.
 
GRANDDAUGHTER: 
What are you sorry for?
 
ALEX: 
Cat’s going to text you.
 
CAROLINE: 
Ok good. I love you. This will be easy.
 
ALEX: 
Thank you, I love you too. Bye Liney.
 
CAROLINE: 
Bye Nan.
 
ALEX ends the call and puts the phone on her lap, then reaches over for a purple 
folder and pen on the bedside table. She pulls out a packet of paper and begins 
flipping through it. VERA continues shouting.

‘The Health Proxy Conversation’ is an excerpt from ‘Appendix’ first published in The New Manifesto, Issue 13. You can find out more about this quarterly zine here.

Alexandra Bildsoe writes, draws, and makes zines in the Hudson Valley of New York. She studied studio art at Beloit College, authorial illustration at Falmouth University, and storytelling/story listening/potion making at The Miracles of Everyday Life. Alexandra will send you zines, if you subscribe! Alexandrabildsoe.com for details! 

Shower Scene 2

The Shower is a Symbol of Living

[Ashley Barr]

CHARACTERS (in order of appearance):
Subject-less-ness: a tenant and a sense of being nowhere
Kira: author of The Bathroom, Professor Emeritus of Architecture at Cornell University
Scabies: a reappearance and a camera
Narrator: anonymous, bodiless, in the 2004 channel 4 historical reality tv show
        Regency House Party it’s Richard E. Grant’s voiceover
The Estate’s Hermit: the Estate is the one on which the Regency House Party takes place
Lifehack: a push notification
Love: a deer
Psychologist John Bargh, PhD: a researcher at Yale University
 
 

SETTING: Offstage, SUBJECT-LESS-NESS sits with back to the shower
between two doorways in an office chair that once had functioning wheels, 
watching the video assist on a monitor. KIRA, offstage right, faces the shower.
 
SUBJECT-LESS-NESS
Last night, I fell asleep while Kira was talking to me about what love is.
 
KIRA
“Scabies (sarcoptes scabies) has reappeared worldwide in all strata of society 
and is no longer the sole problem of the poor.”
 
SETTING: The actual issue, presented here, is not that scabies is on the scene, 
(enter SCABIES) but that, according to KIRA, it’s infiltrating the wrong strata.
 
SCABIES
This discussion of “vermin” — previously “eradicated from the developed nations 
of the world” — is weird.
 
KIRA
If, one day, I’ll hate all I love, I know it’s you.
 
SCABIES
I want to thwart the equation between work and love through which I (you) 
am (are) only lovable if I (you) have work and am (are) moving towards success. 
(Equally, that in order to get good work, I (you) must be lovable.)
 
KIRA
(writing from the 1960s) “The world’s young people” are “in rebellion.”
 
SCABIES
I also know I will miss this range and should love it while I have it.
 
KIRA
(writing from the 1960s) “The issue of responsibility, expectation, and implied 
authority also raises the very basic question of the degree to which we each 
practice personal hygiene because we enjoy it or believe in it, or both, and 
the degree to which we cheat but carefully maintain the expected facade of 
cleanliness.”
 
NARRATOR
(narrating)“In short, what we find in such periods is not ritual cleansing, but, 
rather, ritual filth.”
                                                           
SCABIES
(zooms out and pans to find THE ESTATE’S HERMIT) “Away from the
romantic merry-go-round,” having “more basic concerns.”
 
THE ESTATE’S HERMIT
“Everything’s wet, and there’s a conspiracy afoot to completely starve me.
I must have lost about two stone.”
 
KIRA
“Emotional needs” might be fulfilled by not bathing. (Refers to the intimacy of 
living in one’s own dirt.)
 
THE ESTATE’S HERMIT
“Really hungry, all the time. And they’re like, ‘he’s a hermit.’”
 
NARRATOR
Of course, others argue the same needs are fulfilled by bathing.
 
THE ESTATE’S HERMIT
“Like, ‘he doesn’t need food, he can just eat grass or something.’”
 
LIFEHACK
The longer you’re in the shower, the lonelier you might be. If you’re taking 
longer showers, this might be a key sign that you’re lonely.
 
SUBJECT-LESS-NESS
(offstage, glancing at the monitor) Lifehack also asks me if I’d like to take 
a survey to see if I’m achieving my full potential. I am not, probably.
 
THE ESTATE’S HERMIT
“‘I’m not a deer. I do need food.’”
 
NARRATOR
“But the hermit has found love.”
 
LOVE, a deer, enters.
 
KIRA connects “apparent cleanliness” primarily to “sexual attraction.”
 
KIRA
(holding LOVE’S face in his hands and moving its mouth, ventriloquizes) “Oh, it 
looks lovely but it will show every footprint or fingerprint.”
 
THE ESTATE’S HERMIT
I try to love it more than I aim to be entirely antiseptic, until I become 
worthy of Love.
 
LOVE
When someone loves me and says it, that says more about them than me. But I’m 
not sure what it says. You could love me like playback. And I mouth the voice, 
metronomic.
 
THE ESTATE’S HERMIT
So, I can eat in light of it, watching Khloe or Kim or some other loved Kardashian 
having an arranged salad in a plastic bowl on the screen?
 
NARRATOR
What about your loves, lusts, and allegiances?
 
THE ESTATE’S HERMIT
(licking NARRATOR’S hand, then licking the salt)You knew to call it “Love.”
 
NARRATOR
I have never been loved like this. Like I am now.
 
SCABIES
(zooming in) I think, also, of The Estate’s Hermit cutting his fingers every 
time he cooks, and how I wonder if there’s extra danger in being exposed to 
more of him than I already am through Love.
 
KIRA
I’m the man that you presumably love.
 
SCABIES zooms out, then tilts.
 
SUBJECT-LESS-NESS
(the office chair offstage will grow mold in its seams if not monitored)
He was also talking about love because he’d just arrived at my place after 
a 14-hour workday.
 
KIRA
Most love is platonic. The best it can be is symbiotic, not parasitic.
 
SCABIES pans away from KIRA.
 
 
SUBJECT-LESS-NESS
(hunched over the monitor, offstage) He said, “what is love?” And I laughed 
because, obviously, “baby, don’t hurt me.”
 
THE ESTATE’S HERMIT
(to LOVE) Love, I want to write a poem and give it to you not to read.
 
LOVE
(to SCABIES) They’re in love with me. I don’t say “I love you,” but I do and let 
them use my shower.
 
THE ESTATE’S HERMIT and SCABIES
(in LOVE’S shower) Today I’m not feeling it. I would skip it if I could, but 
I convince myself it’s good preparation for the future. For tomorrow, when 
I’ll have to wake up and I’ll want to work so that I can feel accomplished. 
But also, because I do genuinely love my work, I put on a honey face mask 
and set the timer for 10 minutes.
 
THE ESTATE’S HERMIT
(to SCABIES) When you care for me, I nearly cry. Not for joy, but for terror. 
I look for your cracks. I love you.
 
KIRA
Your interpersonal skills will be difficult to monetize. Think about this all 
day and weigh up the risk of getting involved.
 
THE ESTATE’S HERMIT
(to Love) I am lonely when I am making promises. I want you around to keep my 
mouth in the present.
 
LOVE
To say “I’m lonely” is sometimes to say “I’m not in control and perhaps should be.”
 
SCABIES
Nobody watches the body be lonely. It is not a social failing.
 
LOVE
(to THE ESTATE’S HERMIT) Your shower times are quick.
 
NARRATOR
Today’s was longer for some reason.
 
 
THE ESTATE’S HERMIT AND SCABIES
I think because I had to mess with the empty curtain clip I hang a loofa on. 
Somehow, it got tangled in the clips that hold the shower curtain. Also, the 
shower is spraying at the wrong angle, but I avoid adjusting it because the clip 
is already cracked and breaking. It’s only held together with electrical tape.
 
KIRA
(writing from the 1960s) “Colored fixtures” “show dirt more readily than
white fixtures.”
 
LIFEHACK
(in the voice of PSYCHOLOGIST JOHN BARGH, PhD, a researcher at Yale 
University) “The lonelier a person is, the more showers and baths 
they take, the hotter the water, and the longer they stay under the water.”
 
NARRATOR
“The Right to Be Lonely” is a response you might give to questions of…
 
THE ESTATE’S HERMIT
(interrupting)So I don’t love you, I don’t. I love you when you bite your lip.
 
SETTING: There is some concern that THE ESTATE’S HERMIT might try to
live off LOVE.
                                   
SCABIES
That your partner love reacts…
 
LOVE
“The eyes fell in love with vision.”
 
NARRATOR
Wayward Hermit, [it’s a happy ending].
 
 
 
27 February 2020
 

Ashley Barr is researching a creative-critical PhD at the University of Sussex on conceptual and process-based poetries. Before moving to Brighton, they lived in Boise, Idaho for a long time. They have a chapbook, Call the Bees To Come, out with dancing girl press. Sometimes they’re on Twitter.

tend/er

[Peter Scalpello]

tend
er


oppressed  &  hypersexual,  i

question  what’s  the  link

between  violence  &  homoero

ticism  as  the  boiler  churns.

you  fucking  love  me  &  say

it  again,  hard  knuckle

my  back  so  sheets  dampen  in

taps  to  the  romance  of

sacrifice.  the  rumour  of

sobriety  allows  no  ritual,  so

our  love  is  not  default.
 
my  tiny  existence  this

headstand,  &  tongue  with

your  dna.  carry  it  like

rainwater  weighs  down  the

river.  like  we  get  all  dress

ed  up  &  then  can’t  leave

the  house.  how  can  you  say

love  so  much  although  i’m

not  enough?  how  can

don’t  tell  anyone  mean

that  was  all  i’ve  ever

dreamed  of

Peter Scalpello is a queer poet and sexual health therapist from Glasgow, currently living and working in East London. His work has been published internationally. His debut pamphlets will be published by Broken Sleep Books in March 2021. Tweets here.

It’s Like

[Jay Délise]

like a change is gonna come         like finding my identity in treasure chests
and stitching the pieces together on my back                       so the world will know
who
I am 
 
      like writing the poems that will save the world 
   like putting the world on a spin cycle                          to wash out all the bad places, and 
                        leaving love in the pockets of children with big minds                 
        like tying balloons onto the chins of black boys 
                                                                                           like deliverance will come in white people with
  micro braids                    like every poet that writes a poem about their dad 
    like my life is the equivalent of building a bookshelf                                    with not enough 
screws and directions that are just pictures 
                                                                                                              like
letting my scars testify 
rolling my shoulders back 
telling my mother I love her 
putting coconut oil in my hair
 
                                     like loving ourselves                                      
centering ourselves in the conversation
like realizing that some things are not for us
 
like writing poems
 

Jay Délise is a US/UK based poet and performer creating in the combined world of theatre, poetry, and storytelling. A native of the Jersey Shore, Jay is a poet who has received national recognition for her writing. As a Scholastic Art and Writing Awards National Gold Key recipient, Jay has performed at locations including The United Nations, The Schomburg Center, Pulitzer Center, and Carnegie Hall. Her work has been highlighted around the world and in publications including Afropunk, Broadway World, Vagabond City, Glass Poetry Press, and Huffington Post. Her solo spoken word show Black, And… premiered at the Greater Manchester Fringe Festival in July 2019 and was nominated for both ‘Best Newcomer’ and ‘Best Spoken Word’ at the Manchester Fringe Awards. Jay is a poet and a teaching artist, but more importantly, she is black and magic.

sin pertenecer

[Isa Condo-Olvera]

tickling my hair
making the curls bounce and play more than before
trying to stray from my control
until they’re exhausted and sweaty
and I hate it, but I also love it
es mi casa.
exhausted, I look at the same blue sky I looked at every morning
nunca agradecida por un cielo tan consistente
but I am now,
a man with a thick accent speaks to me in English
no entiendo
he thinks I’m a foreigner,
this is the land where I grew up, but I get it
me veo diferente
entiendo
too blanquita to be Latina,
too Latina to be white,
what box do I check?
existe tal caja?
not caramel colored like my brother
a forgotten melanin I wish hadn’t been forgotten
half my story erased by my other half
no soy lo que soy?
qué soy?

Isa Condo-Olvera is a passionate Costa Rican theatre maker and a student in the UMN Guthrie BFA Actor Training program. Born and raised in San Jose, Costa Rica to an Ecuadorian dad and a Mexican mom, Isa was always intensely fascinated with storytelling. Her work as a young female producer in Costa Rica led to her selection by then Vice President, Ana Helena Chacón, for a distinction for her leadership in the artistic field in the organisation, Nosotras: Women Connecting.

in all eventuals / there will be singing

[Ali Graham]

     in all eventuals
there will be singing

a. I find form a challenging aspect of composition. It asks understanding of its mechanisms and contextualisation of how it has previously appeared in others’ work, and fruitful transposition to effectively produce and consolidate meaning.  My form is apprehensive of prescriptiveness. That my form might better understand why it is wary of adherence to forms delineated by others and learn by testing its / my poetics in unfamiliar territory, I decide to write using a predetermined form.

or

b. The indeterminacy always anyway present in living is at the forefront of desire. Not to open the door to bad Naturalisation[1], but I find that the desire to be certain of your position is inseparable from the feeling of desire itself.

i. I eschew punctuation in favour of lacunae to explore determinism. The fixity produced by full stops and commas is expelled; incontingency emerges. Lacunae become sites of possibility. With authorial directing of reading pared away, the reader is placed in more open negotiation with the text.

1) I want to closely align form and ideas; to carry meaning as entirely as possible [turn to 8]. One of these meanings is sexual orientation as spatial – the movement of a subject in the world, the world(s) moving in a subject. I look to Merleau-Ponty’s account of the senses and affective meaning:

“The unity of the object will remain a mystery for as long as we think of its various qualities…as just so many data belonging to the entirely distinct worlds of sight, smell, touch and so on…[M]odern psychology…has observed that…each of these qualities has an affective meaning which establishes a correspondence between it and the qualities associated with the other senses.” [2]

a. It is as much the gather of aspects that constitute an object as the aspects themselves. I consider whether this can provide a model for desire. Desire is not an object but an occurrence between subjects and/or objects. However, many of its qualities are sensory, and often bring their subject to affect

2) What are the implications of desire escaping classification as an object. Merleau-Ponty speculates that a unity is possible for objects provided the encountering agent get its qualities right, but desire eludes this. I decide on tending to the escapings of the sonnets; on incorporating non-sonnets, their right alignment indicating differing point(s) of emergence.

a. I make an always already failed crown [turn to 8b].

3) Jack Halberstam posits that:

“[t]he queer art of failure turns on the impossible, the improbable, the unlikely, and the unremarkable…[i]t quietly loses, and in losing it imagines other goals for life, for love, for art, and for being.”[3] [emphasis mine]

I think failure’s quietness puts it someplace between the line break’s silence and syntax’s utterance [turn to 8b].

a. Poetic difficulty could be thought of as quietness; an auditory rather than visual obfuscation; a veil effecting a hazier, fainter sound of meaning. Both this quietness and obfuscation can be thought of as less discernable, as a poem that is working at a distance from the reader, a simultaneous disclosure and a deliberate lack of access granted.  A turn away from the visual to other ways of knowing is vital when – as April S. Callis discerns – “[i]n a society where monogamous couplings are the norm, bisexuality is hard to see”[4]. I blend visual and auditory shadow in

witness who do I talk the phone bleats foam-
ing sound        still I tilt but spin

I break the line in the midst of “foaming”, fastening obfuscation of sight to interruption of hearing. Between this break of the line, the conspicuous interrupting of speech by absence of speech, and the foam that emerges from the “phone” as an imperfect echo , there is a relation. The line break emerges from the centre of “foaming”; from the centre of foam’s doing. Foam is pertinent here because it can encase and obscure an object but not necessarily permanently, often only temporarily; foam tends to clear and lifts. And a line break is an interruption but not a permanent cease in sound. Foam is a mesh, texturally; openings encased by another substance, both necessary for the foam to be as foam.  

b. In terms of physical chemistry, foam is “a colloidal system (i.e., a dispersion of particles in a continuous medium) in which the particles are gas bubbles and the medium is a liquid”[5]. It is interruptions within a fluid; the segmentation of a liquid. The cluster and scatter of prepositions  Prepositions as bubbling, lusting, excessive, expansive, embroidering and becoming the meaning that ordinarily they would only carry.

c. My use of foam as figure for this troubled causation – this simultaneous determinacy and indeterminacy – derives from one of Federico García Lorca’s Dark Love Sonnets:

Its spotless virtue and soft throat
– a double lily of hot foam – [6]

In this image, foam refers to the configuration of matter that Lorca gives his reader, a mix of air and whatever is forming the foam. For instance seawater and the froth it is sometimes worked into by the currents and tide. Or maybe a blotch of soap on someone’s bare wrist, moments from being vanishing into an eddy of tap water. At once, foam is and foam does [turn to 4c].

d. And what is foam to the language? I do not want to crudely transpose categories of substance outside language to categories of language – at least, not without doing the work of transposition. As Nathan Brown notes,

“It might seem that the distinction of form and content applied to poetry roughly corresponds to the Classical philosophical distinction between form and matter, but this is not the case…the matter of the poem evades the distinction between form and content, falling into neither category.”[7]

Foam foams; it cannot not do what it is and in this the line between being and doing is blurred. It speaks to me of the aliveness of language, against bloodlessness, against poetry that does not yet know or will never concede that its instrument is the body. For these sonnets to be real they ought to ring like the desire that induced them, and that desire is felt in the body, could burst, is an interruption in what otherwise has many directions and movements, and even when its movement is focused, will not be pinned out and scrutinised as if an entomologist’s unfortunate cricket. The language of this mess of this mesh of this foam of this desire is joyous in its relations, whether these are relations at the level of the phrase, within the poem, or between poems. The units between which relation happens are also unfixed.

e. I interweave sound, sight, and feeling in “your grinning is thrillsound”; “bluely fearings”; “one name glancing another”; “I am phoning in silver”. I outline aspects of desire in improbable unifications, without seeking their perfect unification into objects.

f. These sonnets are failed. The volta is not correctly placed or does not arrive. The meter is mostly pentameter but never iambic. I call these “sonnets” because a statement of intent is required to indicate attempt and enable recognition of failure. For an escape to happen, there must be a delineation from which to escape.

4) Will it be useful to think of desire as mesh. Desire and mesh are at once verbs and nouns. A subject might pass through a mesh, and the mesh will direct this passing. Might you be meshed into emergence. This coheres with my conceptualisation of sexual orientation as simultaneously gesture and enclosure.

a. I find precedent for this in Jay Timothy Dolmage’s writing on mētis, an “embodied knowledge…a way to think and also to think about thinking [that] reveals a shadowy tangle of body values, body denials, and body power.”[8] Though Dolmage writes on disability theory, he asserts mētis as “a way for us all to move”[9]. Indeed, it is because of Dolmage’s intersecting of the fields of rhetoric and disability theory that mētis is pertinent to understanding the sonnet which also blends rhetoric with a different aspect, in this case song.

b. Could this be mapped onto the previous –

Values              ––––––––––      the net of desiremesh
Denials            ––––––––––      the openings
Power              ––––––––––      movement(s) through

c. I consider desire as embodied knowledge, a way of knowing synchronised with the moment of doing, as in the agile monosyllabics and internal almost-rhyme, recurring imperfectly, of

…it is in
the moment I do that I know how                               
                                         [turn to 7]

5) How then to make desiremesh into poetic substance. I need a balance between an emergent substance delineated by qualities, and emerging from a combination ofqualities. This calls for a form both unitary and interlocking. The sonnet crown fulfils this; each sonnet self-contained, the fifteen sonnets inflecting one another.

a. I settle on the movement of astronomical bodies as a suitable analogue for the interactions between the sonnets; the motif is an analogue for pulling/repelling motion, alluding to a route that is at once one direction and differing directions. It draws attention to this same motion being already anyway present in the sonnets, in their adherence and resistance to ‘proper’ sonnet form. Orbits are imperfect, formed by a near-inapprehensible chain of random events, and are not irrevocably bound to their paths [return to 2].

b. I bring the motif to prominence by repeatedly situating coinciding images in closing lines, as in:

I do not intend the teeth’s heatdeath –     these
planets circuiting inside out good way round

The planets are screeching, the actual speech of planets conducted in a ruptured, disorderly grammar, and the bad music of the screech accentuates the plural.

c. I bring planetary movements away from musicality and into visuality, as in

this the point of tectonics         that they are
regarded frequent brushstrokes on earth

and into witness without a corresponding sensory faculty:

…and I
have known an equator or three…

6) What kind of desiremesh does the draw to many genders make; what forms the mesh that is affective meaning. Lisa L. Moore details a recurring mechanism in the Naturalisation of the sonnet in English: 

“…all English Renaissance sonnets installed material aspects of language—rhyme and repetition—as nonnarrative, embodied meanings in the form…all retained the form’s definitive feature of a turn that bifurcated the poem into mirroring fractions, even if unequal ones.”[10] Language as demonstrative and performative feels queer [turn to 8c], and an instance of mētis [return to 4a].

a. Nouns indicate what passes through the mesh; verbs describe their acting (or lack thereof). Prepositions and line breaks specify these movements, generating interconnectedness and disconnection in language.

b. Though prepositions and line breaks are both turns, both sites of emergence, prepositions work in utterance and positioning, marking the turn of one word to another with a word line breaks work in silence and space. Prepositions bring the reader to line breaks; one site of emergence facilitating movement to another. 

7) A turned crown – a bifurcated thing. Could it be a queer crown. Certain connotations of the word mesh itself are helpful – said out loud, it is not a beautiful music. Etymologically, it can be traced back to “mezg-”[11], to knit, twist or plait.

a. This brings me to wreaths; the mingling of different substances, free of a demand to subsume them into one another. A gathering, fixed in place, each component perceived differently for what is beside it but maintaining its recognisability [return to 3b].

8) Could it be camp. Certainly a wreath is unnatural, turning vegetation (natural) into decoration (culture)[12].

a. John Emil Vincent notes poetic difficulty is itself a difficult concept. It can be “both a complaint levelled against a poem by a frustrated audience as well as the effect a poem produces based on its traffic in unknown vocabulary, systems of thought, public and private knowledges, themes, and so on.” [13]

b. I find an intricacy in this coinciding of meaning and meaning’s operation. In the wider world, I see an urgency for queerness to (re)turn to itself, to be as much a “politics of provocation, one in which the limits of liberal tolerance [were/are] pushed”[14]. That this will enmesh, complicate, trouble, coincide with understanding of queerness as experience(s) of love and bodies.

c. I believe a thorough queer poetics will perform to frustrate sections of its audience. The reader who will read a queer poets’ work, will read a poem because the poet is, y’know, but will be left wondering afterwards why they have not been allowed complete access, or been instructed or taught, or presented with something pliable (to the point of inertia) that they might activate into the correct meaning. And so rather than seeking to correct this (dis)orientation – this substance where prepositions are no longer merely auxiliary but are brought to meaning in and of themselves, this substance that is of language but is not quite comfortable or proper in the language as we know it now – I treat it as central to producing experiential meaning in these poems. The language of this mess of this mesh of this foam of this desire is not polite or correct [return to 2].


[1] Veronica Forrest-Thomson,ed. Gareth Farmer, Poetic Artifice (Bristol: Shearsman Books, 2016), 39.

[2] Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The World of Perception (London and New York: Routledge, 2004), 60.  

[3] Jack Halberstam, The Queer Art of Failure (Durham, USA: Duke University Press, 2011), 88.

[4] April S. Callis, ‘Playing with Butler and Foucault: Bisexuality and Queer Theory’, in Journal of Bisexuality 9, no. 3-4 (2009): 218.

[5] “Foam,” Encyclopedia Britannica, 2014, accessed Jun 6, 2020, https://www.britannica.com/science/foam.

[6] Federico García Lorca, “Gongoresque Sonnet in Which the Poet Sends His Love a Dove”

in Poet in Spain, trans. Sarah Arvio (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2017), 347, lines 5-8.

[7]  pmilat, “Nathan Brown: Baudelaire’s Shadow,” YouTube Video, 1:06:46, June 19, 2018,  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pbb22-GKZkc&t=1044s

[8] Jay Timothy Dolmage, “Eating Rhetorical Bodies.” In Disability Rhetoric (Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 2014), 193-195.

[9] Ibid, 194.

[10] Lisa L. Moore, “A Lesbian History of the Sonnet,” in Critical Inquiry 42, no. 4: 822.

[11] Online Etymology Dictionary, “mesh | Origin and meaning of mesh,” accessed April 20, 2019. https://www.etymonline.com/word/mesh.

[12] Susan Sontag, ‘Notes on Camp’, in Against Interpretation and Other Essays (New York: Picador, 1966), 279. 

[13] John Emil Vincent, Queer Lyric: Difficulty and Closure in American Poetry (New York and Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), 2.

[14] Steven Epstein, “A Queer Encounter: Sociology and the Study of Sexuality”, Sociological Theory 12, no. 2 (1994): 195.


This is after:

Brolaski, Julian Talamantez. of mongrelitude, Seattle and New York: Wave Books, 2017.

Buck, Claire. H.D. and Freud: Bisexuality and a Feminine Discourse. New York: St Martin’s Press, 1991.

Collecott, Diana. H.D. & Sapphic Modernism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Conversations with Al

Conversations with Al

Conversations with Andrew

Conversations with Lotte

Fritz, Angela DiPace. Thought and Vision: A Critical Reading of H.D.’s Poetry. Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1988.

Gooß, Ulrich. “Concepts of Bisexuality.” Journal of Bisexuality 8, vol. 1-2 (2008): 9-23.

Greenhill, Pauline. “”Fitcher’s [Queer] Bird”: A Fairy-Tale Heroine and Her Avatars.” Marvels & Tales 22, no. 1 (2008): 143-67. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41388863.

H.D., edited by Louis L. Martz. Collected Poems, 1912-1944. Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1984.

Hayes, Terrance. American Sonnets for my Past and Future Assassin. London: Penguin, 2018.

Lorca, Federico García. Poet in Spain. Translated by Sarah Arvio. London: Penguin Random House, 2017.

Mayer, Bernadette. Sonnets. New York City: Tender Buttons Press, 2014.

Müller, Thomas. “Time and Determinism.” Journal of Philosophical Logic 44, no. 6 (2015): 729-40. http://www.jstor.org/stable/43895413.

Ruti, Mari. “Beyond the Antisocial–Social Divide.” In The Ethics of Opting Out: Queer Theory’s Defiant Subjects, 130-68. New York: Columbia University Press, 2017. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/ruti18090.9.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Tendencies. London: Routledge, 1994.

Spahr, Juliana. 2001. “‘Love Scattered, Not Concentrated Love’: Bernadette Mayer’s Sonnets.” Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 12 (2): 98–120. https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mzh&AN=2001870740&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Ali Graham is a writer living in Norwich. Ali’s poetry and essays have been published by 3:AM, SPAM Zine, The Tangerine, Seam Editions, and Glasgow Review of Books, among others. Ali can be found on Twitter and on Instagram as aligrhm. Ali likes the films of Maya Derren, the colour grey, and hybrid things.

An Eye Contact Simulator

[Sarah Dawson & JD Howse]

You have been prescribed the use of an eye-contact simulator, as our society, like all societies, values interpersonal connections. There are observations everywhere; sometimes still and sometimes moving, with what you perceive to be hostility. You recoil from unexpected touch, no matter how gentle, incidental, or well intentioned. You must learn to take constructive criticism of the failings at the core of your being in good spirits; to think of yourself in a positive sense, opening doors and removing your eccentricities. This sprite is too small to have an expression.

You call this intimacy? You cannot be helped in profile. In the therapeutic sector, we demonstrate commitment through the eyes. There is no intimacy in right angles. I must be able to recall you at any time, in situations imagined as well as real. You describe the antagonist: a composite of facial features. Do you think I’m the antagonist? An observation: you are scared. You hinder the production of marketing images, believing your likeness is used to sell careers in finance. In the photo, your eyes say you are working on a task together. An observation: you pull at peeling lip skin with your teeth.

You can never be sure what is a door. You feel the air from your balcony, the roar of the air conditioners, and the solidity of the railings. Eyeball, arm, knife, coin. Shake your head as your hand refuses to reach towards the door. I would rather be endless static ladders, ascending and descending. Object to your objection of an object. There is now only one object with colour, as the world is white but it is not snowing. This is perfect isolation. There is little pleasure or interest to be gained in doing things; your bed is soft and your carpet is rough, and the door is heavier than either one. You are a nascar line suspended below yourself; you are a plucked eyeball, a dismembered hand, a tomb engraving animated and shuddering across the nothingness. You find the ghost in the sewer and remove your face. A thing with a quivering jaw, a forest of grasping arms. You exist, aghast, in the strenuous moments of this rhythmic clicking. You are a building with only doors, corridors, staircases, and endless walls of blackness flecked with sparkling rain.

You are a pair of eyes above water level. Shifting your weight to where it can be forgotten, you sacrifice your power to break the ice. Your icon is too small to display fear. Forgetting that the self should reside in the toe as much as the eye, you scan the snow for effects. You apply the bicycle to accelerate across the snow. You prefer auditory temperature, which cannot cause pain in your feet. Your icon is too small to have a gait, freeing you from the pursuit of elegant movement. So relieved to sacrifice your power to test each muscle.

You had a job interview at a company that makes artificial intelligence systems on June 14th 2017; they took you onto the roof where you were served macarons as a black haze drifted across the city. How fresh did the air feel on the roof of the Google building in King’s Cross? How clear would the sky have been if it weren’t for the fire? The recruitment consultant said that her phone had woken her up with an urgent news alert at 4am, but she had gone back to sleep immediately. You experience horrifying, repetitive dreams in which you are always running and yet never truly move. You open a door, and behind a door there are other doors; eyes on the tv screen, girls with beaks, and intestinal corridors. You are always alone, until you are not alone, and yet there is never another human, even then. You sit down at the desk and firmly lock eyes with the people across from you; this violation is evidence of your worth to them. This loneliness comes because the internet is full of eyes, dreaming back at you.

Your job is to rephrase the request – to remove all traces of the imperative. Sentences starting ‘when you have children.’ You understand that she touches your forearm in search of connection. The eyeball says she doesn’t do smalltalk. You are so funny sometimes you don’t even realise how funny you are. You believe that she wants you to ask her why she is laughing. You are one of the ones we don’t have to worry about, we know you are always two eyes and two hands.

You know that only six weeks are funded.
You know that your current food supplies will last a few months, at best.
You expressed concern about the ‘reasonable chance of recovery’ clause.
You know where you can find a convenience store to spend the mouldy money in your wallet.
Your proposal must include a timeline.
You are on a very long road trip.
You told me that the red pulsing maze was really helping but I couldn’t observe anything that would verify this.
You first go south, then return north.
You spoke about how music could be a throb and did not require progression.
You drive upon progressively smaller roads, until eventually you abandon your truck and withdraw into the trees.
Your target is to locate household objects that resemble faces.
You watch people from the edge of the forest, or floating at the shoreline.
Your target is to trigger the grass rustle sound effect twenty times.
You learn their patterns then steal food from their kitchens at night.

You know of the phenomenon of solo diners? You make yourself the object of the restaurant window: a topical photo is published. Readers observe that you upturn the spoon instead of sipping. You must remember that solitude amplifies saliva. The ruminator hops on his lower jaw and smiles insincerely. The problem is finding a below that hasn’t worms or roots. Your goal for this session is to smile back at the ruminator, knowing he licks his lips while your eyes are closed.

You pay online, and so the only exchange you have with the delivery man is food, passing between hands. The exchange is silent, but you feel some shallow shame for not saying thank you. You know how the exchanges work; that you can get a baguette in Tesco for 50p and use the self service check out; that you can use the self service soup station in the canteen for £1.20; that you can top up your oyster card online and attempt to avoid eye contact/body contact/the exchange of breath as you slump into the corner of a carriage. You know that as a system circulates, it contracts, like the air leaving the carriage, like the sky moving down, like the people coming in too close, like the door offering safety, like silence offering safety, like the want to be alone becoming a need, like the outside world closing in against the door as you shake your head and go to sleep.

You try googling ‘how to get lost’ but the results are spiritual not practical. Not caring to become a better tourist. Your problem is how to go further inside when you are already inside. How to excavate a basement when you live on the nineteenth floor. A basement with rain and no antagonists. How do your dreams programme those loops in the shopping centre loading bay? How do you make it generic? You are late for your job from five years ago.

You equate loss of location with a sense of hopelessness. Once, home was something that you felt to be hermetically sealed, but this sense of stability has been replaced by an intangible vulnerability. Here, the ceiling is too low. Here, the walls close in on you. Here, there is no allowance made by the provided furniture for a desk, or for books. You feel these things are more necessary than a window, or a balcony. What are your intentions for this place? How long do you intend to stay before you will leave?

Your upstairs neighbours cannot hear the furnace at the bottom of the escalator. But if you turn in bed, it may upset their internal monologue. How do you know that the pacing is sentient? You believe they still walk out into overhearing city wind. You cannot hear each other eating, but you can influence the other’s temperament through gait. You should knock on the ceiling to form a relationship you cannot hide from. You should respond to ceiling knocks promptly and at all hours. You will find that you wish to progress to reading eyes and posture.

You don’t know what to make of these small moments of connection, which are not unpleasant, as you might have come to expect them to be. You hear breathing from behind the wall and breathing from in front of the wall. Your dream diary, open for exploration, is uploaded to the internet. Every day, twice a day, you catch a train. You know that if you equip the frog, you will be able the move quickly through the water to a balloon, and enter a house where the light switch will cause a sudden change in a body. From the audience, you observe the sound, and plug your ears. You have come to understand why you do not understand. You will find that you wish to progress to reading eyes and posture. You have been prescribed the use of an eye-contact simulator, as our society, like all societies, values interpersonal connections.

Sarah Dawson creates interconnected poetry, drawings and performances. Her debut artist’s book expecting a different result can be ordered from HVTN. Her work has previously been published in The Interpreter’s House, Datableed, para-text and Burning House Press, and exhibited at the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, the Poetry Cafe and the Museum of Futures. 

JD Howse is a poet who works across text, collage, and film. He curates PermeableBarrier.com, an online journal for film poetry, video art, and related material. With Sarah Dawson he runs Theatre of Failure, a new-writing night for experimental writing by LGBT+ people. His work has appeared in HOLD, A Queer Anthology of Sickness, Out of Nowhere, and Reliquæ.