I believe that each of us is given one sentence at birth, and we spend the rest of our life trying to read that sentence and make sense of it.
Li Young Lee
after Hannah Weiner; styles for the first day back to school
To pull the brown corduroy skirt around myself like a cape and open the door
To cover every surface with fur
It seems as a child I was always dressed in capes
red knit capelets
with my own girls I forgot to do this
but their grandmothers both remembered
so we can do the wolf scene
on both sides
To wear a man’s cotton undershirt
and zip myself into the stiffest of jeans
and eat by halves
and never be done eating
seeds and nuts
rinds and husks
down the gullet
great pasty triumph
rise and fall of Rose Green Horror
to descend the pink stucco apartment with my airhounds to meet my lover
to crash the jalop into the lot at LAX
to let a thousand dahlias bloom from my ribcage
or escape on slippery hooves
the red velvet rope around the abattoir
chinstrapped in a bellhop’s toque trimmed with a bell
plus ça ring bell plus c’est même chose
says the gulp of wasps from their magasin
they have all the best diacriticals
and they keep them for themselves
<<don’t blame your shitty French on the wasps>>
ding dong down all the streets with all the deaths
me and my flock
but also we take a beating to the crown
the little wasp hands strike and pound
the little guy with the clawhammer
alarms the clockface so delirium tremendously
he cannot advance the plot
i drink a lot but my hand is steady
possibly because i drink from flutes
modeled on the daffodil larynx
this film is constantly edited down to be flushable
but rise again to swamp the drains with multiples
a luxury everyone can afford
like that pink liquid soap in public bathrooms
pump your own
a tomb, a casino, and a soap called luxor
lather generously up
under the stars’ spread eagle
pink-spangled circus tent
puff up your chest
and ride the neck of the escalator
up to the glass roof of the emporia
where they use to serve snacks
before the goddess Luxuria took on too much debt
it’s going to reopen as a penthouse cum healthclub
a crease known only to wealth
but you can visit there
at the platform and have to set out walking
I tote my embassy thusly into the dark
tunnel over and tunnel under
drag regal seal and sealskin
robe so stiff I can barely eke
the line out at my throat
the channel’s overrun with eyesores today
everyone’s confinement trophies
sonograms and matted lanugo hair
glamorous exhaustion comes in all colors
the lilacs too burnt to bloom
glower all summer
and crumble when someone brushes against them
suet left for the birds in its special black cage
is eaten before it can rot
or croak, madame
so called because an egg is smashed there
as bombs improve a cathedral
a perforated clinic
lets in more light
the tumor is morcellated
and the hair marcelled
when the nurses pull out the instruments
they sing a counting song
so nothing is forgotten
every scalpel, every clamp
knows its place on the cart
goes the hairdresser
in the basement of the depart
-ment store it’s going to rain today
but you won’t feel a thing where you’re going
What I’m waiting for: someone to shout instructions from the sky
through some barely imaginable instrument.
I’ve cleared out all my hearing for this
but no voice comes. I’m hiding in the tiny yard because I’m thronged with people, laundry, dishes, sub-functional computer equipment, weeds, animals, mold, and a virus wrapped around the planet like a tumor wrapped in veins. It should be exciting but it’s dank as a cape.
What I want is to be snatched out of this place.
In the theater of my brain I run the blockbuster. You’re a professor, archaeologist, and detective, a bad mentor. In the opening scenes you teach inside a rolltop desk. I see myself in you when your hair is disarranged to indicate disbelief and incomprehension, something rolling from the sky. Comprehension arrives like a boulder, train, snake, soda siphon, lady in diaphanous dress or wrapped in cellophane, secondary racist caricature. Even a child has to make his face plain for you to read it.
For a scholar you are dumb.
But then, love’s dumb as a spoon, hate’s both a dull blade and a sharp one. Eat up
with your baby spoon and your baby blade.
Both you and me wear a bob, but when you are a man it is blond.
I want another baby to waste my time on. To stuff its mouth with my time. To unreel that eternal Bataillean matinee…
I could pick up the phone and…
Forget the movies.
I am having an at-home experience.
Beauty regimes, cleaning regimes: I have none of these.
I sit in the backyard and evade my re-spons-i-bilities
…but this is also fantasy. In fact I spend hours on the phone convincing AT&T to beam their signals into our house, and also to take our signal out again, up to their unimaginable servers. I bribe them with time, humor, money; nothing works. It’s like one of those gas heaters in a British spy novel: each morning I wake to feed the slot with coins.
I’m having a hard time with the celebrity baby news on the Internet today. Because I am an idiot. And the babies of celebrities do not die? Or they have enough money and time to keep trying
till one stays all day.
The backyard is just a skinny nub of lot and it’s grown with weeds like where they found the Black Dahlia.
I’m on hold, so I have time to daydream and read abstruse texts.
It’s like the old medieval joke about the miller, his daughter, and the comet that crashed through, incinerating everything.
What did you name her. What was her name.
Back to the movie: there’s a young man trailing behind you on a train and it’s River Phoenix.
He’s another blond, your son, lover or double, and no matter how many times you cut the bolt or flip the switch like a dream he still hangs on.
I’m tired of this scene. And I don’t want none of it
—except the bob and River Phoenix.
“like a dream he still hangs on.”
Joyelle McSweeney is the author of ten books of poetry, prose, plays, and essays, most recently the poetry collection Toxicon and Arachne (Nightboat Books, 2020), and The Necropastoral, a work of goth ecocriticism. Cofounder of the international press Action Books, she lives in the Rust Belt.
Originally published in
Our spring issue features interviews with Tiffiney Davis, Alex Dimitrov, Melissa Febos, Valerie June, Tarik Kiswanson, Ajay Kurian, and Karyn Olivier; fiction by Jonathan Lee, Ananda Naima González, and Tara Ison; poetry by Jo Stewart, Farid Matuk, and Joyelle McSweeney; a comic by Somnath Bhatt; an essay by Wendy S. Walters; an archival interview between Barbara Kruger and Richard Prince; and more.
Li Young Lee