The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 22–JAN 23

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DEC 22–JAN 23 Issue



Pliny perceived earthworms
I see ash on the Prius

the less like the past
the future is

the more it takes
place in real time

daily pummeling growth
tedious ramping skyward

“the future that is
full of jobs for poets
at $90,000 per year”

first installment
and exhortation

Karin said it has to do with
the emulsifying of a shape

into figure
a process

of labor and sentiment
or music in war


The grass reaches up overhead and braids its faint dream with the horizon. The earth’s lengths, the
sky’s tread have been miscalculated, or otherwise exaggerated. Clouds sharpen on the hillsides,
monikers dropped. Bluebird, a budding sequence, albeit retractable, signifies a sort of hovering in
place. Sun, stars, equator, azimuth. Turtles spawn in the sewage ponds. It’s hard to describe the
gravity-less chamber. Desire flakes inside it. Future-threshold-cum-sudden-conveyance. The
moment we enter the body reorients around this deafening new principle. Italics? Remember, we are
parallel to earth, gathering our thoughts, afraid to inch forward. The apparatus needs input; the
input needs signage. Subtle intention has a way of obscuring the obvious. I am a small ponderous
mechanism. Seated beside the module. The being awakes, startled. The future answers by roughly
lowering the shades. Life and death expand in a series of rotating circles; it’s unclear which is the
innermost—also, which the outer. Entry prefigures its strain on the imagination. Scenes on earth
seem rushed in comparison.


Fawns and beasts dance
to good music. Oaks sway,
flies find the inside
of cups. A centurion is said to have
punched Virgil, who called
the cops. “The young radical
who becomes a supporter of
existing institutions.” Dabbles
in cosmogony. Gets Horace
paid, too. Were friends
warning him to not
become a tool? Yeah, I have
been paid by the state at
times in my life: to clean
equipment at the gym, teach
kids, check in and out
books. Never
                                that much. And not to
be a poet. These days
that work is done by
trolls and pundits—listen
closely to the curses they cast.
Minor colds, daily spells,
inventions of likeness
and musical dissonance,
all these make the placebo
perfect, mere
                                ambiance dissolving
into blue flickers of sensitivity
until the indoctrinating eye
of the eclogue
concentrates elsewhere.
Cynics were the original
epicureans. Some say
the eclogue was devised
by Theocritus in the third
century almost out of
whole cloth. Others trace it
back to the Homeric Hymns
of an earlier phase: cool grass,
thin air—the
                                alpine flowers
on Ricola Originals. Does
beauty come first or did
wealth? Every so often a
telluric daze falls over the world
like a key change, predictable
yet hazardous in its staggering
conviction. Lips turn purple
from some fugitive coat
of sugar: speech, bloodred,
etchings of amaryllis.

Eclogue: Reprise

Daphnis, no, I don’t
want to know what love is
but I bet we’ve already
been exposed. Love is life
to the max, all the pain
and sorrow, wired through
cables, cybernetic and
extensible, across the flowering
field and below the boisterous
sea. Love is like carbon
entering the Arctic vault
tons at a time, befouling
seas, taking vengeance
on earth, dumping all this
material here theorists muse
over and we labor under
between dissent and decree
like some ahistorical ploy
so cruel in its conference
as the black oak up
the tall ponderosa
climbs, plumbs
but never more
than halfway. Bound
by these untenured shoots
I fume in my madness
a dizzied squirrel, hating
birds, getting poked
by pine and ignored
by thrush whose song
gives glands the time
they need to make
the goosebumps
I wish upon no one
else. Echo, psyche!! The
data is bad: I’m afraid
nothing is real and
description is pointless
yet I feel it in my heart, a
raging fire whose fuel
I cannot find, pure
torture at any temperature
like frozen peas suddenly
brought to a boil—I guess
I will depart and re-
tune the songs it should
suffice your poet to
have sung. Ugh. First noon
now night, snuck aloft, now
look, just look at me biting
my fingers until they come
off. Twice in the past
I don’t know, maybe
months, I’ve had
to go to the nearest
hospital and explain
how pathetic I am as
they drain the puss
from the nail. Why love
is it like this?? You’ve mined
the pit of my soul and
life’s frayed swivel speaks
to this. My friends
tell me not to draw connections
but my philosophy blasts
their contentions to shit
and tokes remaining schwag
endowing me with
poisonous faith and
unfavorable karma
and blasts their words
to silt that chokes once
amazing brooks—no more sienna,
emerald—to the north
and south. Now all realms
suck!! That’s enough my best
friend says, but even
her voice sinks into the
contaminated pit so
treacly and treacherous
a family of geese lands
only to wither quickly
into mush. And to think
in flight they’d have been
a wedge or skein!! Me, I can’t
even think that hard, don’t have
wings to fold, forlorn, my skin is
dead hair in a wreath and all
stained are my clothes. These
sandals don’t fit. Or maybe
they do, just love turns every
inch to shit. Are the lights all
off?? Please let me circle this
drain in the dark. I can’t see
into the future, at least
there’s that, though I’m
terrified of what love will
do next. Pound down the door
while I’m strewn on the couch,
plug up my ass, playing
porn or solitaire on the phone
I carry with me like an
impenetrability charm.
I have to remind myself
you, hey, the one that looks
like an awkward figure eight,
with supplicant face of wax
when applied, whatever
catches your attention doesn’t
pass for transcendence—you
were not designed in a lab
at Stanford. Of course, a friend
later tells me this is logically
inconsistent and she’s right, I always
get ekphrasis and analog wrong.
Everyone says I’m too negative
to be loved but I say I
deserve it more. I can list
the names of birds and trees
what else would a true
love want?? Before I used to be
so abstract in my horror
at the world’s affairs, a fellow
beachgoer and mellow
Greek—now I’m that asp who
strikes feet in the street to notify
them of the nature of empire.
It truly is that bad. My song
is like radioactive decay
forever breaking down but
never going away. And me
and my love are those
two lines always approaching
but never to touch!!


Jacob Kahn

Jacob Kahn is a poet and editor living in Oakland, CA. He is the author, most recently, of Mine Eclogue (Roof Books, 2022) and the chapbook A Is For Aegis (DoubleCross Press, 2022). He is an editor of the poetry chapbook press, Eyelet Press, and reading series, Islet, which he cofounded with Sophia Dahlin in 2019. He works at the Berkeley Public Library, and for Bay Area arts organizations, including The Lab and Small Press Traffic.


The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 22–JAN 23

All Issues