is a funny drug and used to make me a DISTRESSED PERSON, one who cried in bedrooms and airports. Once I bawled so hard at the border, even the man with the stamps and holster said Don’t cry. You’ll be home soon. My DISTRIBUTION
over the globe debated and set to quota. A nation can only handle so many of me. DITCHING
class, I break into my friend’s dad’s mansion and swim in the Beverly Hills pool in a borrowed T-shirt. A brief DIVERSION.
My body breaking the chlorinated surface makes it, momentarily, my house, my DIVISION
of driveaway gate and alarm codes, my dress-rehearsed DOCTRINE
of pool boys and ping-pong and water delivered on the backs of sequined Sparkletts trucks. Over here, DOLLY, an agent will call out, then pat the hair at your hot black DOME.
After explaining what she will touch, backs of the hands at the breasts and buttocks, the hand goes inside my waistband and my heart goes DORMANT.
A dead fish. The last female assist I decided to hit on. My life in the American Dream is a DOWNGRADE, a mere DRAFT
the reasons for which our blood is drawn in the prison camps of Lake Michigan are not communicated to us
the reasons for which we are imprisoned are also not communicated to us
it is often said on the shores of Lake Michigan, which is the Bay of Valparaiso, that we will die for reasons we do not understand
we do not understand why we do not understand why we will die
we do not understand why we do not understand why we are imprisoned
we do not understand why we do not understand why we are paid or beaten or loved
we do not understand why last night the authoritative bodies loaded up four ships worth of prisoners and why those boats are half a mile away from the beach, booming dance music, baking in the summer sun
we do not understand why the authoritative bodies don’t sweep the carcasses of the dead pets and washed up animals off the beaches on which we walk and sleep
we do not understand our relationship one body to another
at times the authoritative bodies tell us to touch each other
at times they tell us to feed each other
at times they tell us to beat each other
at times they tell us to pay each other
at times they tell us to protect each other
at times they tell us to kiss each other
at times they tell us to probe each other with forceps, needles, and wooden skewers
at times they force us to force each other to drink dirty purple milk and to eat rotten bread and vegetables
at times they tell us to stick juicy oranges into each other’s mouths
at times they tell us to kick each other and call each other offensive names
at times they tell us to chew and swallow everything
at times they tell us to curse and laugh and hiss
at times they say: pretend you are an immigrant and hiss for us
at times they say: pretend you are not an immigrant and speak as if you are not a communist
or they say: your faces are organs of emotional communication: smile or frown or cry
or they say: pretend you are a machine and that you do not have a soul
or they say: you are nothing more than a piece of data to be aggregated, to be disaggregated, to be sliced and diced into the most minute units so that we can understand how the body and the city and the nation whir and wallow and tick
or they say: you are a human machine and you must explode
there is good money, they say, in emotional responsiveness
and at times they pay us when we laugh or snarl or cry
or they say: there is nothing to be gained from emotional responsiveness
so they beat us when we laugh or snarl or cry
and they say: you have shame in your eyeballs, you have love in our eyeballs, you have pain in your dimples, you have guilt in your mouth, abjection in your lips, joy in your nostrils, anger in your cheekbones, love in the bags under your eyes, passion in your eyebrows, fear in your chin, disgust in your forehead, disaster and promise and despair in the furrows of your face and in the murmuring economies on your rotten carcass tongue
Daniel Borzutzky, The Performance of Becoming Human, 2016.
So there in Number Eighteen Rugby Street’s Victorian torpor and squalor I waited for you. I think of that house as a stage-set – Four floors exposed to the auditoriums. On all four floors, in, out, the love-struggle In all its acts and scenes, a snakes and ladders Of intertangling and of disentangling Limbs and loves and lives. Nobody was old. An unmysterious laboratory of amours. Perpetual performance – names of the actors altered. But never the parts. They told me: ‘You Should write a book about this house. It’s possessed! Whoever comes into it never gets properly out! Whoever enters it enters a labyrinth – A Knossos of coincidence. And now you’re in it.’ The legends were amazing. I listened, amazed.
I lived there alone. Sat alone At the hacked, archaic, joiner’s bench That did for desk and table, And waited for you and Lucas. Whatever I was thinking I was not thinking Of that Belgian girl in the ground-floor flat, Plump as a mushroom, hair black as boot polish: The caged bird and extra-marital cuddle Of the second-hand-car dealer who kept The catacomb basement heaped with exhaust mufflers, Assorted jagged shafts of cars, shin-rippers On the way to the unlit and unlovely Lavatory beneath the street’s pavement. That girl had nothing to do with the rest of the house But play her part in the drama. Her house-jailor Who kept her in solitary was a demon High-explosive, black, insane Alsatian That challenged through the chained crack of the door Every entrance and exit. He guarded her, For the car dealer, from all, too well finally. Not, seven years in the future, from her gas-oven. She was nothing to do with me. Nor was Susan Who still had to be caught in the labyrinth, And who would meet the Minotaur there, And would be holding me from my telephone Those nights you would most need me. On this evening Nothing could make me think I would ever be needed By anybody. Ten years had to darken, Three of them in your grave, before Susan Could pace that floor above night after night (Where you and I, the new rings on our fingers, Had warmed our wedding night in the single bed) Crying alone and dying of leukaemia.
Lucas was bringing you. You were pausing A night in London on your escape to Paris. April 13th, your father’s birthday. A Friday. I guessed you were off to whirl through some euphoric American Europe. Years after your death I learned through desperation of that search Through those following days, scattering your tears Around the cobbles of Paris. I deferred for a night Your panics, your fevers, your worst fear – The toad-stone in the head of your desolation. The dream you hunted for, the life you begged To be given again, you would never recover, ever. Your journal told me the story of your torture. I guess how you visited each of your sacred shrines In raging faith you’d catch him there, somehow, By clairvoyance, by coincidence – Normally child’s play to a serious passion. This was not the last time it would fail you. Meanwhile there was me, for a few hours – A few pence on the fare, for insurance. Happy to be martyred for folly I invoked you, bribing Fate to produce you. Were you conjuring me? I had no idea How I was becoming necessary. Or what emergency Fate would make Of my casual self-service. I can hear you Climbing the bare stairs, alive and close, Babbling to be overheard, breathless. That was your artillery, to confuse me: Before coming over the top in your panoply You wanted me to hear you panting. Then – Blank. How did you enter? What came next? How did Lucas delete himself, for instance? Did we even sit? A great bird, you Surged in the plumage of your excitement, Raving exhilaration. A blueish voltage – Fluorescent cobalt, a flare of aura That I later learned was yours uniquely. And your eyes’ peculiar brightness, their oddness, Two little brown people, hooded, Prussian, But elvish, and girlish, and sparkling With the pressure of your effervescence. Were they family heirlooms, as in your son? For me yours were the novel originals. And now at last I got a good look at you. Your roundy face, that your friends, being objective, Called ‘rubbery’ and you, crueller, ‘boneless’: A device for elastic extremes, A spirit mask transfigured every moment It its own séance, its own ether. And I became aware of the mystery Of your lips, like nothing before in my life, Their aboriginal thickness. And of your nose, Broad and Apache, nearly a boxer’s nose, Scorpio’s obverse to the Semitic eagle That made every camera your enemy, The jailor of your vanity, the traitor In your Sexual Dreams Incorporated, Nose from Attila’s horde: a prototype face That could have looked up at me through the smoke Of a Navajo campfire. And your small temples Into which your hair-roots crowded, upstaged By that glamorous, fashionable bang. And your little chin, your Pisces chin. It was never a face in itself. Never the same. It was like the sea’s face – a stage For weathers and currents, the sun’s play and the moon’s. Never a face until that final morning When it became the face of a child – its scar Like a maker’s flaw. But now you declaimed A long poem about a black panther While I held you and kissed you and tried to keep you From flying me about the room. For all that, You would not stay.
We walked south across London to Fetter Lane And your hotel. Opposite the entrance On a bombsite becoming a building site We clutched each other giddily For safety and went in a barrel together Over some Niagara. Falling In the roar of your soul your scar told me – Like its secret name or its password – How you had tried to kill yourself. And I heard Without ceasing for a moment to kiss you As if a sober star had whispered it Above the revolving, rumbling city: stay clear.
A poltroon of a star. I cannot remember How I smuggled myself, wrapped in you, Into the hotel. There we were. You were slim and lithe and smooth as a fish. You were a new world. My new world. So this is America, I marvelled. Beautiful, beautiful America!
Ted Hughes, 18 Rugby Street [In:] Birthday Letters