The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 22–JAN 23

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DEC 22–JAN 23 Issue


At Too Great a Cost

putting all the blame
on the king of my subconscious
who dominates my dreams
for whom I tell lies asleep

in a battle for the path
to prevent actual warfare
with only a turquoise ring
versus the armored vehicle

hours at night to think
how I don't recognize the sound
none of the hallmarks of a song
talking with bells and drums

where marriage deletes
archival feeling
music resuscitates
the boys next door

weeks passed like this
in a cabin consuming toxins
like a mushroom
like a novice

I don't notice the loop
until halfway through again
and then I stop the tape
and then the king is gone

Burn It to The Ground

I have been a miner for nothing
bid farewell to hope
entering the glass box building
of the institution

Thought I could absorb
redirect ire
make my mind a product
Fundamentally trash burns

But it's not the only thing
Hostile architecture
and polymers
I too was burned

A rotten apple prepared me
for body blows
to forget what I knew
What's the difference

between a board of trustees
and a pile of garbage?
Trash knows its purpose
can burn and change

A soldier for nothing
but the other soldiers
Too often a pony
on display or parade

Little flower in the lapel
of the tyrant
Little advocate on
the devil's shoulder

On Violence

of course in the complexity sometimes
programmed to resolve it
dissonance is not a problem I repeat
information reels in one loop
organized like film in metal cases

some problems are solved by violence
I'm picturing the wrong face all day
I can't have a gun because of Chekhov
but I carry a boxcutter or pruning shears

I do not believe in the neoliberal urge
to hold individuals to a higher
standard than the state
or our commanders

he had a taste of it and often wished
he'd killed the man he almost killed

I can adopt an academic view
and with no emotion at all
report that many masculinities
are completely predictable

Wrongly I thought the incident
damaged the man when
it merely fulfilled his destiny
Remember this
most days are exposition
No one uses the toilet in movies

The man could make anything a weapon
I troubled a category or two
solved a problem with a brief cruelty
the head of John the Baptist on a platter

Wave and Wave

A wave turned and some personnel changed
A period of time passed and the cast of characters
After a while a crocodile
An era ended and I didn't recognize anyone
A page turned and I could not continue
A nip in the air and the area now unwelcoming
A shift in wind and the air became gauzy

Almost rerouted a significant pause
Followed by resumption of activity
He wondered if he was making the woman crazy
And got a little thrill from the idea
I found a special rock and dreamt
I touched my lover in a classroom
I further licked his fingertips covertly

Every action another open secret
Fifteen years half-mourning exclusion
I was a thin problem he was of it
The hurricane I wanted to be
In corners and under tables the scene
I'm in a towel at the hotel pool
I can feel the looking at my halo

In a doorway pulling up a borrowed dress
The committee did not accept my plea
The red escalator descends fast
Beneath the riverbed a god of death
The men pursue their stillborn careers
I had more sovereignty as a castaway
Though I did not learn to love it

No Survivors
                “Considering how exaggerated music is”—Leslie Scalapino

Considering the thickness of materials
Considering the look of the sky
Considering how busy the animals seem

Steeped too long in misery
a faint stink accumulates
as you retell the story again
that you want to be true

A patch of skin burns intermittently
at the touch of metal or water
No one gets out alive and even
some get out sooner than that

And this other pain too--
Considering how perforated your heart is
Considering the background noise
Considering another search of the rubble

Across the Dark Pavilion of my Heart

I should have a cup of hot tea instead
of what I'd prefer to do
which is get stoned and fall asleep on the couch

I will instead hit a medium tone in between
where I retain the self-awareness but less
of the performative gestures of freedom
like falling down and forgetting things

Baldwin, Cave, and Berrigan are who I've been reading
and I wonder if the male perspective is
what's got me feeling blue
it's so inflexible in its confidence

I do have freedom and that's what is confusing
the choices I need to activate
rather than push through like I'm in a cobweb

If I write a poem, it'll come out a litany
for what I can't control: animal, vegetable, mineral
I don't mind watching the sun move
“it all sounded a bit LA to me”
but my friend suggested a new kind of therapy

I'm boiling some water now
so I did do it, I made the tea that
says it's from the forest in Bulgaria
I'll trust anything at the market

I look up at this purple cabbage bigger
than the moon on my wall and
my neck aches and I think of who to blame

The new Berrigan book makes me wonder
if the plastic gears in my head are enough
if I could turn on a faucet
I was only trying to help
and what did that ever do for anyone
including me at my least ironic
who is the real faucet around here
let me ask you this

Will I notice the gate to pass through
or will I miss it while I'm being too serious
I have ruined entire weeks intervening
I tried a prank for a change of pace
but it didn't come off
some fundamental daydream

I was wondering if I could notate thinking
arrangement with a funny feeling
the tea turned back to earthen matter
The salt in my throat doesn't fade
I can keep a thought alive

I stepped away and left no zero
a velvet curtain to keep clean
and an incredible purple cloud
I kept getting into these situations
Under my thumbnail the skin burns
from the pepper I cut up earlier
An aggravation I have to wait out
It's a deceptively simple process

title from “November Twilight” sung by Julie London (1956)


Krystal Languell

Krystal Languell is the author of four books of poetry, most recently Systems Thinking with Flowers, selected by Rae Armantrout as the winner of the first fonograf editions book contest. She lives in Chicago.


The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 22–JAN 23

All Issues