I take my shoes off.
The once-stiff leather
is now soft and pliant.
It fits me comfortably.
It tells me
that after a long day,
I can take it off
and feel relief.
I take my pants off.
(It seems they need
I rifle through my drawers
looking for a particular pair
of shorts, warm though thin
with reflective piping
down the sides just so
I am seen by oncoming cars.
I put a sweatshirt on.
I lace my running shoes up.
I make sure they are tight.
I knot the laces twice.
I stretch, free in the air.
I start walking.
My goal is each puddle of light
on the sidewalk. To not
think of anything
except the next one
and the next one.
I take my shoes off.
Variations on a Theme by Ivan Argüelles
“I say let me die in mozart’s
Mozart’s unfinished dictionary
where death is yet undefined,
with so many requiems
so much finality, such heavy
unquestioning certainty. So
I cannot die in his unfinished dictionary
try as much as I could never
hear the trill or some cry
of violins snapping strings
and say with a face utterly lacking
and creased, a voice trembling
not here and not I.
Mozart’s unfinished dictionary
The dictionary has his name on it.
The dictionary does not have his name in it.
Mozart’s name is not his music.
His dictionary’s music is yet unfinished.
The flipping of the pages creates
music through means as yet nameless,
through the finished and never-to-finish
process of reading.
Mozart’s unread dictionary.
The unread dictionary without Mozart’s name in it.
The unfinished dictionary Mozart unread.
The dictonary he unread out of existence.
The dictionary of Mozart’s unfinished reading.
The reading of Mozart’s unfinished dictionary.
The non-existent Mozart’s dictionary of existing things.
I say I cannot die if not in Mozart’s dictionary,
where death has no heading,
needs no mentions, has no aim.
I say I must be unread through Mozart’s dictionary,
not-yet finished, not-yet born, and if I must,
I say let me die there, if I must,
and if you will let me, for after all,
it is an escape from memory.
I say unremember me by forgetting my name,
in that dictionary where even it defines itself,
nameless in itself.
I say let Mozart bury Mozart.
Let him die if he must, and let me,
if I must.
… by whose stellar time too late?
The lover’s body becomes geographic.
Love is cartography, exploration.
All the attendant features: bones, mouths, muscles, lips, hair—are transformed into terrain.
The lover may be aqueous or terrestrial.
The lover’s body might take the proportions of hills and mountains.
It might contain secret valleys.
To love is to explore, to chart in the belief that to do so is to own.
And that to name is to own.
This impossible fascination with nomenclature, with definition (of spaces, of thoughts, of boundaries)—is turned into congress with the divine.
The lover’s body is a sacred space made comprehensible by going over it slowly, almost painstakingly.
The exploration of hands, of skin against skin, of mouths.
The lover’s body is a world—fully formed, and yet unknown.
One forgets those who had crossed the frontiers of the lover’s body before.
It is unnecessary.
Love erases the world of the lover’s body, making it previous.
Every such journey of discovery is new.
New eyes, new hands, new skin.
The sinews and mountains and muscles and seasides are refashioned, remade.
They return to their primal newness.
His first wife the poet
descended from Tatar horsemen
of the steppes,
he left her bones in Siberia
and took, tightly bound
in a leather folder
her letters and her poems,
he took with him to his exile
across the Siberia of the Pacific
a lock of her black hair;
their son, lost stillborn
among the wastes.
His second wife
my father’s mother
smuggled ancestral silver
out of Macedonia
before Tito’s partisans
took power. It’s her nose
on my face, he says,
a nose compliant
with the rest of her face
but complicit and foreign in mine.
Two wives, two children,
one lost of each.
He plays chess in the park
with his neighbor downstairs,
old David Sarkissian from nearabouts Yerevan
who was second violin
for the State Orchestra
but he too left his homeland
to live by the sea.
My sister and I used
to play with his grandkids
chasing each other
and into alleyways with
all the while screaming
like snot-nosed hordes
promising no quarter
or terrifying retribution.
Every Thursday that summer,
like clockwork, my grandfather
would take his board and bag of chessmen
and me and my sister
and wait on the curb
in front of the apartment building
for his silent friend to come out
with his two grandsons
and while we would bound off
for yet another war
the old men, one with his clacking bag
of wooden chessmen, the other
with one hand in his pocket,
another holding a pipe
would walk like priests in procession
minus miters and robes.
My grandfather proudly wearing
his Order of Lenin
on his brown jacket,
this afternoon he sings
folksongs from Ukraine
with the rest of the choir
for the festival at the park.
It leaps and prances,
It had leapt all over
while I dreamt in early summers
like this of how it would
be like to be old
and of grandchildren
who would cry
at the sight of my first
As I dream
now of earlier summers than this
when I used to hear him sing
his songs that seemed to strut
on stilts across
the vast syllables
of his language
the great rumbling
beneath the earth
(in less idyllic times)
that something cataclysmic
since I was not supposed
A heatwave in the city. I wake up drenched in sweat, clutching at dreams of you.
In my mind, the City only exists when shrouded by fog. Some small irony there: it is more fully itself when far less of itself is seen. When after ten feet, all vision is clouded, or when, in the very early hours of the morning, one’s own hands cannot be seen and the taxicabs wend their way through twisting streets down hills after our long evenings out doing god-knows-what and getting drunk on our own abandon and on our own youth and our own words. The great illusion of the fog is that what it conceals would never end. There are far worse lies to believe, far more damaging ones.
And the heartrending cold emphasizing only our fear of loneliness as we stare at dancing people through plate glass windows, the strobe lights and the smoke making the seething mass of bodies seem for a brief moment beautiful, until we turn our backs to them and stare out at the parking lot flicking our nth cigarette in a contest to see how far they can go.
But there is a heatwave in the city, and I wake up from dreams, clutching at memories of another city, less harsh than this.
I’ve been moving along as in a daze, as though I were sleepwalking, and that this illness doesn’t concern me, that I feel as though I am not the one who will suffer the consequences, who will die. Have you ever had one of those dreams where you knew you were dreaming and yet you continued in the dream, and that the realization didn’t harm your dreaming? Or one of those days where you question the veracity of existence, where you question everything around you—if they’re real, if you can actually touch them, if you are really breathing and walking and continuing on with life? Or whether it’s all just a big game, a simulation, a dream? I feel like I’m in one such state, the uncertainty, the feeling of utter and terrible lostness. The confusion of the man waking up in the morning, bleary-eyed, limbs heavy, a restlessness in his head even while he had a full night’s untroubled sleep. Sometimes I feel like I’m observing somebody else, experimenting with reactions, with life. And that none of this concerns me. But then it does.
What is terrible about it is that sometimes I forget that I am sick. Sometimes it feels exactly like I’ve always felt—that I am still myself from the last time I was well. That I am still me, despite this. It’s good that I forget. But then it’s terrible when I remember what I have. It’s terrible because it comes like a sudden blow from the inside, something I would never be prepared to face, never be comfortable with, something which I know eats at me exactly like poison does because that is what it is. Poison, metaphoric or otherwise. I know that everybody keeps on telling me that I am too hard on myself, but in moments of extreme despair, I look into the mirror and whisper that—poison. I don’t know why I say that. It does nothing. It certainly doesn’t help.
Though for the record, I want to say that I have no desire to participate any further, that I am tired of playing along. Such statements are empty until I take a fatal step.
Escape. This inescapable Earth. The inescapable body. Only so much flesh, only so much weight, so much filth, so much that would decay, that is decaying, that dies yet lives. This inescapable Earth. I cut my hair. I am still myself. They take blood, and yet I am still myself. If I lose my sight, if I lose my limbs, I would still be myself. Well or ill, I am myself.
And at the risk of being repetitive—I am myself. To change this has been the aim of every single individual in history. All quests seek to efface the self, or to become the self which the individuals wishes to be. But nothing changes. Ineffaceable, irreplaceable, immutable.
But if only it weren’t so.
The past few weeks have been terrible. Bad news piled atop bad news. I have the time to write poetry, but I won’t. I’ve decided to stop writing poems for the mean time. I have been writing so little anyway, so intermittently, so dispiritedly that it hardly makes a difference. Sometimes lines come to me, but I abandon them. I have been caught up thinking of this one thing, this one definitive, all-encompassing, caesura. It draws borders with its silence. It circumscribes. It limits. It defines when I would have much preferred non-definition, non-linearity—uncertainty. But it defines and limits and names and categorizes and puts into bags and vials and test-tubes and life is suddenly so finite.
But life is finite. By nature, we are not given the choice of infinity. Finiteness is the gift of man, after all. And here I was, the child who thought so sincerely that he would live forever, that he would want to live forever—that nothing could take him down. Here he is, human after all.
What I have been doing was reading poems out loud and recording them, for myself. Poems from Szymborska, from Transtromer, from Milosz. For that eventuality, for the future, for when—. No. I read them so I could listen to poems while I take walks. It’s rather weird, but I can’t ask anybody else to do it for me. Even if I hate the sound of my own voice (don’t we all) I persist. It’s calming.
All for now,
I feel weak. Today they drew fifteen vials of blood. Fifteen. I never thought I had so much. And the nurses and the receptionists and the doctor—they were all nice and cheerful and smiling. They reminded me vaguely of you, and of us, and of small jokes made to make light of some looming disaster.
As I sat on that chair with movable arm-rests, placing my right elbow down on the padding, as she told me that it would hurt, but only a little, and that I shouldn’t look or else I would panic and make the whole thing much worse than it should be—I read the instructions of how to operate the laboratory centrifuge seven times over. Seven times over, but I cannot now for the life of me recall a single thing it said—only that fact: that it took seven readings of those instructions for them to finish drawing blood.
There were others in the clinic’s waiting-room. Waiting for their own doctors, waiting for blood. Lives circumscribed by doctors’ appointments, by trips to the pharmacy to refill prescriptions. The days counted, not by minutes but by pills.
But as yet, I am alive. I am still alive.