About the poems: Before I wrote “A Brief History of Cutting,” I had the chance to interview the poet Jeffrey McDaniel. I asked him how participating in Slam in the 90s had influenced his written work and he told me an anecdote about being at the Nationals one year and feeling unhappy with the poems he had brought with him. So he began to cut them with scissors—into different lines, phrases, and fragments—and rearrange them. Slam, he told me, was about showing all that you were—without the ability to hide behind a persona, never mind the page—in just a few minutes. I began to search through old diaries, unfinished poems, and fragments of my own and, from them, compiled an enormous list of lines, out of which I wrote “A Brief History of Cutting” and other poems. The poem's title is both a reference to a series of McDaniel’s poems as well as an account for its construction.
In “After Laughter,” the result of much revision, I tried to write about a humorous subject—specifically the world of gags, pranks, and practical jokes—and make it as cold and joyless as possible, which was fun.
I wrote “My Best Fiend” after watching the Herzog film of the same name. It is part of a series of film poems.
The artist's space.
Murder Three, Summer 2016
Crow Hollow 19
A Brief History of Cutting
Cutting myself in the kitchen feels almost as good
as cutting myself in high school. It’s exciting,
like reaching underneath the furniture to tear
sticky pennies from the floor. Back then, my soles were
black as the insides of constellations. Things used
to be simpler, sure; but bigger too. I mean, Abraham
just couldn’t get it up & look what that led to. Remember,
we cried when Pluto was no longer a planet?
Since then, some things got a little murky, though I kept
myself busy licking the pistils of all the finest
flowers, swallowing all their pollen. I was still licking
the last of it from my lips when I realized
I missed a message somewhere, must’ve got lost
in a colonnade of Sundays, because now everyone’s
all proud with good habits & unchapped lips. No more cutting
miniature roses & encasing them in the glass
of cracked pipes. No more scribbling koans in traffic on the backs
of receipts. No, now everyone’s found some new cause
to devote themselves to. Yeah, it seems everyone’s getting
closer to knowing their real names & I agree,
it’s great. But as for me? I just dream of cupholders
the size of tree trunks, teeth chiseled from ice-
capped peaks on Pluto’s moons, & pulling on the chain
to start my dad’s old lawnmower in Paradise.
In the drafty room, the retired clown waits for the sun
to get out of his eyes. His glasses steam & his red nose runs
slurping up hot silly string soup. Sitting between Chinese finger traps,
chattering teeth & latex masks, piles of fake vomit & dog crap
on the carpet, Groucho glasses & black eye kaleidoscopes on the mantle,
he watches his dead skin swirl in the window. Lights a gag candle.
Feeds catnip to his pet pigeon Dove, mollycoddles
his lapdog God. Drinks straight from the breakaway bottle.
Licking the bitter edge of an envelope, pays off his last phony
parking ticket, scratches out joke lottos, recounts his monopoly money.
Every minute, in another room, another cuckoo clock goes off.
Entering to find the light switch dead, he passes over itch, sneeze, & cough
powder, decades-expired, empty cans of nuts, missing
or detached spring-loaded snakes, seltzer flowers: listens
past the stink bombs & whoopee cushions for the snatches
of electric birdsong. Relights his last exploded cigar with dud matches.
My Best Fiend
As if by something beyond comprehension drawn—like gold
from El Dorado or the ear-tickle of God’s drunken whisper—Kinski
reeled through another tantrum, stomped all over the set. Petrified,
the Amazonian natives stood by in silence, put off by the German’s wild,
roving eyes, a blue so clear you’d swear they were siphoned from Narcissus’
mortal puddle. I remember that a synonym for unclouded is blinding
as my own night paces in place like a restless extra. Nataly’s
face lights up like silver-bright water under a familiar blue moon:
I know this means her phone is on, means that even she’s grown
weary of these directionless rants. Like last night’s when I kept us—
kept her—up past two, following my usual route, first twisting
her words until her overtired eyes fill with fire, wherein I begin
apologizing, humiliated, then unstoppable sobbing—her bearing my
boring gravity, me whispering, “I’m having those bad thoughts again.”