Joshua Aiken

 

We Watched Roots in 8th Grade

Here’s the rundown. You spend 5,000 days as a specter in the suburbs, listening to Ashanti and Maxwell, coloring yourself in and scribbling yourself into the very sketchbook, which erases you. This is how race in America works. Somewhere, on the bus, on the walk home from school, in math class, in your advanced reading class, in the library, on the debate team, in the locker room, in the bathroom, in line at the water fountain, on the stage at the end of year the ceremonies—somewhere, at some point, on some day, you are the only black person in the room. And, more often than not, you’re learning from someone white. Or you’re not. Euclid is not the only thinker a person should know. So let’s say you’re not the only black body dangling in monochrome space. Someone has still scraped your tongue. Taught you a language where the word good refers to the good school, which refers to being white.  You know that the school you go to is the best school in town and the predominance of whiteness is true in a numerical sense. Thus the school you do not attend is either a bad school or a bootstrapped school or a lucky school or another rationale for the here-now of life. You start watching Friends. You misunderstand Hurricane Katrina because you live in a place where you can misunderstand. You delete Luther Vandross from your mp3 player because there is not enough space. Which way does the double arrow point? Why is what is good, good? Who is alive and who is a good? At some point the black boy dropped in the 21st century bangs his head against history’s swollen door; history being the silence of every classroom, every classroom being the locale in which he cannot be understood. He is a set of questions. They are buttressed by his textbooks, enhanced by his television set, compounded by newspapers, enhanced by other manifested destinies.  These questions unearth him; they constitute the night. Police officers covered up killing a disabled black man in New Orleans the year he is in 8th grade but this is not what he is meant to know. These are his hours, these are the unraveling of his days. The people he sees in the world who are poor or sick look like him. The people we are to be afraid of look like him. Or look like a faith or like an entire continent or look like a “not from here.” Not of the settled state. All of this is to say this is how the groundless work. How the swingset after a certain hour isn’t a safe set of swings. How we fashion a lexicon of dreams. Of choice. Of false promises that he will inevitably learn. Racism texturing his living. History: never the point, Human: never how the black boy in the 21st-century can be encountered. There are no chalkboards in him. Just droplets. Just vinyls, just unlivable tunes. Milliseconds. Or thousands of days. In truth, he learns alone. Abandoned, untethered, and alone. Outside of the schoolhouse, a tree falls. Sonically, he is alive. For there are other ways, always echoes, sounds underneath sounds. He learns by looking at the portrait of Jesus—who is black, always black—which his parents place in the hallway in every house they ever live. How necessary it is that this is a thing they do. How quietly the past speaks. How important it is how we learn. How we listen. How urgent it is to believe that we are worth being saved.

 

**

 


Soil, Sediment, & the Song

when? when does blood trickle
backwards, sudden furling of flora
that has already bloomed? how
does life re-enter the body? myth
of a creation, but the casket is real.
i regret ever thinking that blk boys
in the ground need beget a thing.
give life back to the blk boy, bite
into the empire and give our lives
and our living back. the tree from
which he is hung is what produces
the casket in the grave. stop using
this world to kill us. it need not
flow this way. god, will you shake
us? will you admit the thunder is
yours? please ruin us, us perimeters,
us allowances, us who spend energies
on anything but. please ruin us?
please ruin us, so all of us can finally
be?

 

**

 

Drawing Flowers on Burning Linens

Sketching on my skin again. Postcards to my severed hands. Splitting hairs. Scanning the skin. Army men. Marching the terrain, crawling, crawling, crawling. Walked all over. Grab the mirror and tell it: show me exactly what I want to see. He loves me, he loves, he loves me. And soon enough the devil’s claws weaken and wilt. Soon enough bed sheets are not a place to hide your limbs. I told myself I was deserving of love today. I told myself that destruction would not destroy. I took a look at our dry crumbling earth and prayed to the rubble. The world once whispered my body a lie. It said: you, body, you are not true. And then flowers bloomed. They lined the way. Out of my bedroom, past the sun room, towards the dark wooing moon.

 

**


JOSHUA AIKEN is a Pushcart Prize-nominated writer whose work has been featured or is forthcoming in publications such as Nepantla, juked, Winter Tangerine, glitterMOB, Assaracus, and TENDERLOIN. He won the 2016 Martin Starkie Prize for his poem “Disappearing Act(s)” and is a proud alumni of WU-SLam, the spoken word poetry community at Washington University in St. Louis.

Peter Milne Greiner


AGNES MARTIN’S DRAGON

Call the end an end but we never can

precisely All

that human touch is all

too real now Avoidances, storm

clouds gather their intentions

and compulsions and compulse and reason

and ungather Steady seismographs

measure inexorable stresses

Iron Ages spread

across the lost hemispheres

I walk the gardens in search of ritual

Instead I find the cure for the ingredients

of public domain

There is no public

but the ingredients

are the domain

Unrandomly the waves

send their events

through the food chain

Logic lodges its sign

in my obediences

and the sign remains

there like a hieroglyph It resists entering

the courtyard mosaic

The sign drifts

through limestone, through citied cliffs,

through my millennia-feeling minutes

Medicines, mesas

Cottage bedding

Fossil that records the subtle traumas of speciation

Sunlight off the sea fades the wallpaper

I circle down slowly through a layer of vapor

to the city, to the dormant volcanoes,

to the ruins

of cities that face the ocean and refuse

to speak

Pain relief is painful

Escape, agony

Paradises offer up their fruit but I hate fruit

I leave the Earth-half of horizon as blank as it must be

to satisfy everyone All that is human touches the other

magnetic Poles

out there

Frozen beaches, gales,

desolation murmuring its antilogies to endangered animals et cetera

The grains of sand in those beaches number

in the thousands, thousands

There are more grains of sand in those

bleak beaches than minutes I have spent

in desperation searching for a way to get

back to them,

but not much more, not for much longer

Because I’m starting to get it

They’re escape routes

Stationary stationary

I can hide everything I’ve done and said there

as words, but not words like these

This desert is unprotectable

Projectile is a type of weapon

Gyres are a type of guidance

Birds of a desert mock me forever

My illusions lecture me about how real

they are and I listen to be fair and professional about it

When I was a stoner I dreamt of long red bricks

They weren’t bricks

They were places in the floor

Small places

where you could fall through if you were microscopic Stuff like that

is all it takes to put fear in me fleetingly

Barely, here is my substance

Barely, here is my data

Barely, here is totality’s defeat of spectroscopy

Sad walls Built by aliens A touch-all

I built these buffers, these buffers that

crisscross my empire like aqueducts I planned the sacred

cities myself, I planned their

sacred platforms, their centers and excavations,

their lairs and their hoards,

but my plans were not approved

When I was a roofer I dreamt of diverted sheets of rain

We’re not here and there’s nothing there except a vault

and if that’s a vault this is a strange tomb amongst many

rupturing in the Earth like an appendix and if that’s a vault

this is a pond and this is a pool with a degree of abandonment

JG Ballard could be proud of

It is so huge

It is so immaculate

I look down at the immaculate floor and up at the ceiling

and that’s my own special domestication of special relativity,

my own special eyrie from which I generalize fear

Pyramid Plant, Cathedral Plant, Macreduct

I would call the perfectly good explanations flawed

Aliens, too, infrastruct my vanity, my famous plumbing,

the sleeves I keep my records in

“Place is completed through the word,” Marc Augé reckons

Fancy words for division

Rupture Fault Chiasmus

protrude from the body

like cribbage pegs

There

is something unknown

about the difference between things in general

What is it I wonder dismissively

Runner-up flag designs for my other

country, the archipelago

The canali run through it there, too

Stripes

Quadrants of sovereignty

Outward to something like aether,

like ocean that accepts them with

questions, allegories, tell tale signs,

fabulous reluctance

Every pyramid has a capstone that

makes the enemy your name

**

PETER MILNE GREINER is a poet and science fiction writer. His work has appeared in Fence, Motherboard, Dark Mountain, glitterMOB, and elsewhere. His first full length collection, Lost City Hydrothermal Field, will be published later this year by The Operating System.