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The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2020

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JUNE 2020 Issue
Poetry

The Scatterer


The scatterer looked over at me
and smiled, the eyes bent slightly
as if considering to include a gesture
of apology or articulate a justification.
I looked back blankly, indifferent,
perhaps even a little insolent about
this latest reversal. The truth was
I enjoyed the fatigue in my shoulders
and my legs, I clung to them as to
an icon, a gift from someone who believes
in the power of signs and their eventual
delivery to justice and reward earned by
persistent showing up and listening and getting
what is called “work” what is called “done.”
A gift from someone who says they love me,
who has not yet been visited by the scatterer,
who has not yet betrayed me, either by
wanting more, from someone else, or wanting less.


*


The struggle with maturation, growing up,
is partly a wish to evade mortality, partly
a refusal to accept that survival means
compromise, and partly the paralysis of
choice, of irrevocability, a word so close
to vocabulary that it often refuses to be seen
near it. The darkness ended late that morning.
I was immersed in a bath of global networks
of dark money, hot money, blood money,
well-washed money. It was not my money.
I could look but not touch, the kind of
relationship you can use as a sleep aid but
not much more. Sometimes we look at the money
together, and we read no more that day. Today
is not that day. It is a mitzvah to eat.
The heart opens and shuts like a jewelry box.
There are signs that, when new and wet, resemble
poems. Then they dry and circulate and the whole
shebang has to find a curious child to notice
them and unwittingly incubate a new world system
from them after unimaginable upheaval. Just like me.


*


The trunks in the comic book store were stenciled with ads to work for the UN Ranch down the street, and I thought about it. I went down the street and checked in but all the shower rooms were occupied. There was rest, and I took it. I felt the sunlight in the shade and heard the quiet in the gathering wind. I wondered at the base, at the collector, at the emitter. There was a refusal to move, and then as if a switch were flipped, suddenly there was a whole ocean of time and will. We slept as every book read itself aloud and all of us came to know all of the stories, as well as all of the kinds of people in them, as well as all of the kinds of people who tell them. We were training in our traveling to be the capricious authors of entire civilizations. We were training in our infinite sleep. And then, without warning, the train stopped.


*


The silence gets back to me, eventually, to say “no” and disappear again. It is reassuring in its way, which is not to reassure. I am restless and want to reside somewhere adequate and semi-permanent. I want to lean against a wall like a long-established rule for human behaviors with no known persecution side effects. Above all I wish to stop suffering in this pleasant enough treadmill of not quite living. I love solitude and am terrified of being lonely. So when I’m displaced yet again by the scatterer, what will I be keeping my eye on in the dark, how will that evacuated landscape cry out to me to demand mute companions. Poems with nothing in them are cursed. Poems with too much in them never get off the ground. Poems with the ambitious children of the administrative class reproducing their lifestyle of preening, flattering, playing a single note four or five times, then evaporating… the silence looks up and nods.


*


What a strange feeling, discouragement — the darkness massed on the horizon where the sun should have sent its blue emissary by now, and the paper and pens and stacks of books gathered patiently for the arrival but no activity in the customshouse, no hum of prayer or foreign language, not even the echo out of time of radio advertisements, the appearance of men in suits and hats somehow forming an indestructible residue on the high walls and basement bathrooms of time in auditory form, sports scores and hearsay continuing to transmit, or perhaps these signals were broadcast years ago, and are only arriving here in the dark now. At first I prayed for the Scatterer, and then she disappeared to another country and I forgot her, and learned to pray by older rules and without names, and now I look to my left and the dog is licking the air and I’m unsure what to do next and more importantly where to do it.


*


What we now know about the calculus — both the collection of infinitesimal curved areas and also the mineral amalgamations that eventually remind us that feelings are actions and we ourselves are “series of tubes,” as a dim senator once described the internet — is that it is not properly considered a subject for before-and-after comparison, like the knowledge of counting, or arborism or innocence and experience, but an effort, voluntary or otherwise, toward maximizing our experience, our unitary experience. Am I Jewish? Am I Catholic? In my case I am preoccupied with what I am and what I am not goes unattended and inadvertently unoccupied, a so-called quantum of Americanness Whitman recognized he was condemned to, and commended us to make the best of. And in our turn, we imagined a world of “best of” — and disappeared into a fractal of the natural distribution — best of best of best of best. Hubris. The tedium of infinite charm. My late friend cultivated Stendhal syndrome out of terror of a life either in administration or as a gangster. I think now he recognized they were one and the same.


*


What have we learned?
Was learning supposed to be a group project,
and if so, how will it be graded?
Will I get credit for time spent stupefied
by the grandeur of stupidity…
As if there were such a thing
as a “mature audience.” You sit there
with the superannuated and they too
laugh at the predictable misfortunes
of a hypothetical random sample.
Who can blame them, though,
what were they supposed to do
with their survival and its bulk experience,
playing the hits for elite criminals,
the kind that don’t get caught.
But you know, in the aftermath,
if any of the artifacts remain,
we’ll be lucky to get anything more
than pity and disgust. Mystery,
stupefaction, at that great distance
are a long shot. Nervous laughter,
then back to the prayers.


*


My imaginary friends keep becoming real ones which creates new vacancies in my imagination, which runs downhill and laughs under the overcast spring sky currently four to five months away. How will I get there, on foot? How opposite of charming. I look like a forgotten tennis ball but I feel like a volunteer strawberry, not a strawberry at all, an aggressive invasive like fire or water or… what are the other two? We should write this kind of information down for later use, the way we dry the deer meat we can’t eat during the ritual, the great dance and song to thank the language god for the bountiful concepts of time and delayed gratification, which, truth be told (more concepts!) often feel a bit like scams. But Jeremy from three caves down says he’s working on “a chewing gum factory” which will automatically produce toothsome rectangles with dusty geometric patterns on them, wrapped in crisp foil and kept dry for when we’re hungry but for some reason don’t wish to eat. (I do like chicle.) Oh that Jeremy. In the time of the rains. Something to look forward to.


*


The plant eater stops and looks into the vegetation with the despairing cynicism of a comic book scholar. My heart listens for the migration, for the magnetic field my restless brain stays tuned to to wobble its little thrill and empty the trees, darken the parking lots, overtop the box store roofs with dense, damp insulation. Indoors, it’s the flood, miraculously peaceable or generally depressed. I don’t have an opinion about it, I just want to feel safe and loved, and that my love has landed. It flies off without me. I search the sky without a contract. Tomorrow I will rise earlier into a deeper darkness and the texts will be swaying in a mental breeze, and i will go bask in that solitude until the sun rises, and the call of my love will echo in the distance and I’ll look for it and wait as long as I can for another sign, although I know one sign is already an allotment. It exists. I am patient. The plant eater stops and looks, then leaves.

Contributor

Jordan Davis

Jordan Davis’s most recent book is Shell Game (Edge, 2018). His poems have appeared recently in Can We Have Our Ball Back, Kanstellation, and Wax Nine. A new collection of his poems is forthcoming in 2022.

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The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2020

All Issues