That too counts as architecture this time around
And suits you. How the shiny fabric changes color
Becomes a way of knowing about yourself by not
Reflecting on it much – O to die among such
Opulent miseries of the common man of surplus
Vents and pockets! On the grass the lower gentry
Acted out scenes from the life of the macroeconomics
It knew best, returning often to the part where
Everyone pretends to be the miserable of the earth.
Children with their outsized backpacks file past you
And your own youth and a comic terror like a thought balloon
Bump each other eagerly while the bailiff
Laughs like fire. Jail isn't everything it's cracked
Up to be, is it son? At least the security state is good
To its family and friends and in that way is an example
Of how the fabric changes color if you're willing
So as to conceal you from the sky — kudos to the
Aesthetic overlords. The Franco-Prussian War
Was known for peripheral railroads and rat-eating
In the bright sunshine, heavy with love — at least
We all believed it deserved the name of love against
What counted as an architecture that time around:
Tattered suit, cool grenier, patriotism — the second stories.
There was a restful Mafioso feeling in the great museums
Of the present and order was the terror of the day
The same way safety was: the triumph and the grave
Were everybody's temporary tattoos and then the festival ended.
I typed "hate" into the box. I thought I would break.
That's the punctuation that lets another sentence begin
To flower, spattered with provincial dust and mud
In the gully running alongside the Way of the World
Insignias, choose your favorite, some say Vanitas
Is just Renaissance for skullfucking, some say
The bronze will turn to gold just before the end
Stop by which we periodize the swoopings of the dead.
Few of us have ever visited the Tokyo Stock Exchange
Without bursting into flames of laughter beyond
The circling glass, or the Siemens plant in Karlsruhe
Without feeling a little gursky around the edges
Of our own scheme, believing it to be another's.
Does the great peace ever come, or just booty?
It's not just the pirates that say "aarrrr" in the late
Style of an earlier age, it's the street-sweepers
Shrugging off the panic of the day almost successfully
Under Table Mountain in the medium of grit
That you have come to call life, filled with lifeyness
That flashes green at the last second and leaves
The money on the dresser before slipping out into
Its playtime. Someone's built a roundabout
Way of saying so. That someone is you!
You loved a darling robot with garland brow designed to
Speak its one true name that you forgot over and over,
Though the procedure always takes exactly nineteen minutes
Fewer than the movie version, crackling with
Small red stars that eclipse the center of the sun.
It's hard to call that a reverie Joan, but kids
Will pick up dreams where you left off,
Perhaps thinking they are a new kind of candy
Called Yes-or-Yes that makes it harder to decide
Which book to read next, or which leaves
To paste onto its pages — it's the season
Still without a donor so known only as "Season 5,"
In which we've lost key protagonists and the cyclical
Sense of things, where life is always nearby but
Backing away from us, as if it knew we wanted
More than we do. Okay. What does it want?
I think it wants to see leopard vs. orca
But without the high moral seriousness that comes
To function as giraffe or referee for whatever monkey.
There are only so many hours in the day and then some.
Think of red-lipped John of Patmos holding up his pen
As if suspecting his eros could no more withstand
Real scrutiny any more than last summer's wistful theme song,
Lions After Slumber. The piece of cake of the world
We know has blocked our hunger for another one
And it's been getting pretty...valedictory?...in here.
That too counts as architecture this time around
The lake with you and in memory of your entourage
Of wishes. Welcome back. Greeted by cherubs
Wafted by the day's sweet incalculable irony
Towards a narrow shore where water-droplets
Arrange themselves into the emotion called "thud"
In the minor literary language of the cavemen,
Borko and Squonk and Ludovico. The gang.
I wanted to spank those cherubs with Maleviches
But nothing you can do with negativity will make a mark
Like our dark branding does. Go home and download
The possibilities before rational choice bangs
Down the door, or face the consequences
And...well, you can't spell dance without dna.
Hell you can't spell Shining Neon Seraph Heart
And expect to walk away unchanged, kissing the police
Is thankless but somebody's gotta do it. And you
Were the feelings the firemen started to have
At night, you were what they waited for when
The clock drained itself of light and then began to fill
With sand: a minute of life in which the perfect
Escape meant never quite leaving after much preparation
And a call to a cab. You blink. Your eyes stream images
Like there's no tomorrow for images. Flow my tears the
Way you will with people on the verge of not even trying
On those costumes that make an afternoon bubbly
Bubblier bubbliest and an evening louche until terrain
Begins terfall. Ouch! The weather of this song
Is how it kids itself, going I'm still real, I'm not
Reducible to structure or the tympanum's chance
Encounters or a shot at glory on the second-tier
Circuit, state fairs and interstate projects. It was
More than anyone could ask for and at the same time it was
What the day, having no choice, was made of.
But if you are what you say you are
And the future remains a bunch of searchlights
Caught in each other's glare, then we're looking at
The sense of what comes before us and remains
At the same time and possibly twice in both directions
As a kind of hope, like that estuarial voyage beginning
Blue and ending white-hot when the air traffic
Finally admits it's beat and gets a real job.
That was 1981. Later several of us wrote the code
Designed to replace us and collapsed giggling
Into the back page of "the most sensible publication
For the uncommon man." Hieronymo's for sale againe.
And you've been drawn into a world of poetry
Like some stupid Casbah structured like the unconscious
Wishes of the drinks they're serving after hours when
Language busts in dressed as the police. Memories of
The old marketplace, that light opera laid over
The libretto of what happens, the chorus of haircuts
And shaved heads. Then I entertained the troops.
Haven't you heard? — my fox-trot style is unstoppable
And you can tell the Castles I said so. Back in 1914
It was Christmas Eve for a few months and sisters
Of mercy patrolled the area between the armory
And the future the kids called Dialectical Alley.
Teen wizards. Elsewhere we are just impostors in this
What do you call it again? Fete sans fin, weltpartei, something
Suited to the way it felt to be alive when only six
Words could turn the future into the present, not
By harrowing hell so much as jiggling the handle
Absentmindedly, which was the only way to approach
The heart of the system at its ides or unauthenticated
Make our way to the peacock pavilion of the present
Morass. We are all transcaucasians now. Check it while
The lines redraw themselves as if by magic, the magic of
The unaffordable becoming cheap and cheapness coming
From the future. Spectres of Doctor Who's a timelord now?
And which one of you is Marx? Waiting for a Saturday
Takes two hours of overtime and a dreamy cigarette break
Rereading The Perils of Milton and Maynard as they
Hokum it up with those hopes messianic on the road
To Rouen, duck! They're coming in for a landing
Or two before lunchtime and then its back to the grand game
Or the war of position where you stay out super-late
Singing a little ditty I like to call "Polish the Volatility!"
Whose refrain will take you all the way into the whistle register
Before leading you back to the one you loved
In cordoned-off parade days like it was the only
Chance you'd have. A pause, a lemon sigh, and the books
Stacked high behind you almost add up to feeling
Something that's traded on the brain markets
More or less frantically depending on the time.
We had been trying to find a new name for time
And generally came up empty-handed, though
Strangely refreshed as one dipped into a pool of
Phosphorescent, wriggling futures might think, "Hey,
The future is awesome! Video fidelity off the charts
And oh my god that one kid's hair is really long now."
There was nothing to do about it and after awhile
Your fingertips got cold: frost and ice-wine
Purled in the gutters and didn't you still love it
When the gray sides parted to reveal more gray
Like atmosphere, austere, receding and whether
Or not you knew it, free — like a free ride on the banks
In the lingo of the Metaphysics, we called it a bank run
But later they changed it to The Flight To Quality.
Peasants hissed or gawked as our carriage passed
And we gawked back, stunned, stunned that anyone
Was left alive and free out there in the pretty periphery
Where nations rise and fall — roads, canals, and bridges
Being the acne of adolescent empires. Later, scars.
Not everyone can be a coal miner's daughter
And one day come to testify on how things
Expand themselves, corn produces more corn,
Thoughts more thoughts, and still the surplus tries
To make a little Scotsman out of everyone
And I was all like mmm yeah the Enlightenment
Is gonna rock this year. Computers and potatoes
Taught me more than I'll ever know and now
My sense of equipoise is just, whatever happens
Is nine tenths of the law and the rest is interest
Or a long indifference curve — so the little model
Becomes a presentiment of how we would live
Among the giants, climbing beanpoles, guessing
Again. But please, is there any more of this?
You bet there is. It's what holds a city together
Against the centrifuge of overdevelopment and speed
That orbitals were built to manage: if A =
Apples, this was a happy life. But the citizens' orchard
Is a figment on the diamondized screen at the back
Of your mind, and not in a seventies way. So bless your
Heart and curl your toes as long as you're ready for the role
That awaits you like tomorrow's fresh suit laid on the bed —
Like a minor magister of finance at the first June
In several years. But everybody loved May.
There were afternoons around the Stammtisch
And the birds knew our names and pecked at our crumbs
And rolled up their sleeves so we could get to work on
Abstraction as a lifestyle that feeds itself
Concretion: windows, walls, ideas, everything.
[Chris Nealon teaches in the English Department at Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of two books of poems, The Joyous Age (2004) and Plummet (forthcoming, 2009). Joshua Clover teaches at the University of California, Davis, and is the author of Madonna Anno Domini (1996) and The Totality for Kids (2006). He has a newfound respect for acid house 20 years after the fact, particularly the subgenre he identifies as "winter acid."]
Copyright © 2009 by Joshua Clover and Chris Nealon, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.