National Poetry Month Day 23: Daniel Borzutzky

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Written After a Massacre in the Year 2018                                   

          to see is only a language
                     – Samuel Taylor Coleridge,
                     “Written During a Temporary Blindness in the Year 1799”

 1.  To see is only a language and I can’t speak it today.
      They’ve wrapped a heavy blanket over my face.
      The cops deliver the influenza.
      But before injection they need to wait for someone
      to fix the central heating. No one wants to interrogate me
      until they fix the central heating. I chatter
      with the broken refugees in this prison.
      Our faces wrapped in darkness.

 2.  A list of frozen bodies. A lost list of unclaimed
      bodies. A lost list of privatized bodies.
      A lost list of bodies they seized. We are the lost
      list but we don’t know where they keep us.

 3.  The border bisecting the infected fumes of the infested
      factories. The utopia of statelessness.
      The utopia of transience. They tell us
      Lake Michigan is the Central America of the Midwest.
      They send us here so we can share hepatitis swabs
      with dirty immigrants.
      Hold onto your DNA, refugee-citizens.
      The only question about life is what does it mean to live it.

 4.  Financiers selling bodies, speculators selling
      blood and sperm: they slink into the webs of the city.
      They tell me I don’t have the right to grieve over
      my own body.
      They tell me to pray and to grieve is illegal.

 5.  What did he shout before he massacred the grandmothers?
      What did he shout before he massacred the worshippers?
      What did he shout before he massacred the nurses,
      the silent, praying skeletons?
      He was on his way to the river the blood would
      never reach. He was on his way to the nazi meetup
      the blood would never reach. The stock market just opened.
      The exchange value of a slaughtered Jew is like
      the exchange value of a slaughtered Jew. If your
      body is on fire a private firefighter
      will put it out much faster than a state one.
      The death of a sensuous lung.

 6.  The song of the ram’s horn by the river. The early
      Americans march to meet the caravan in the desert.
      An authoritative body tells me I can’t
      disembody my body without disembodying
      the collective body’s body and if I
      disembody the collective body’s body
      then I will have to disembody the imagined community’s
      body and if I disembody the imagined
      community’s body then I will need to ignore
      the fields of multiple destruction today.
      I dip my finger into a cup of blood and wish
      for plagues to destroy the emperor. I need to
      destroy the nation-state but when will I find the time.

 7.  The bourgeoisie pay taxes to kill immigrants,
      bathe in the cryptocurrency of a bank
      that will never exist.

 8.  The song of atonement at the river sings:
      Pray harder and the massacre will go away.
      Pray harder and the massacre will not turn into another massacre.
      Pray harder and the rich people will become poor people.
      Pray harder and the slaughterer will turn into a butterfly.
      Pray harder and the thirty million white males with guns
      will turn into
                   a river of testicles rolling down the street.
      When they repossess my body
      my heart will soak in petroleum and my mouth
      will be a baby in a cage.
      The poetry of the shattered bone
                 in the flame of the human document.

 9.  The catastrophe is caressed ad nauseum.
      The greased-up multitudes are not afraid to say
      the same thing over and over again. Death leaks
      from their shoes and the slaughtered Jews are like
      slaughtered Jews. I dream about returning to a
      prayer that doesn’t exist. It disappeared yesterday
      when they assassinated the morning and turned
      our life into spectacle.

10. You hid behind the soldiers with machine guns running
      down the street. You were praying for plagues and wishing
      your parents would come out of the building alive.
      The worshipers of the dead trees knew
      where there is a first kill there will be a second.
      Where there is a third kill there will be a fourth a fifth a
      five hundredth. The anecdote destroys the analysis.

11. The emigrants split their bodies into communal
      assets. To assimilate they must stand by the river
      with a prophylactic angel in their hands disguised
      as a rocketing hedge fund. In the rupture,
      in the rubble, in the pathological eye sockets,
      in the counter odyssey of the whites of your eyes,
      in the parliamentary assault rifle, the
      parliamentary machine gun splatter,
      the illegal bodies in cages are painted over
      by the analytics and mathematics
      of the hemisphere. How do you quantify the broken
      toddlers rolling on the ground? How do you quantify
      the murmuring grief of the Americas?

12. Marines medicate mothers and mix their milk with
      mononucleosis. Millionaires multiply
      in the machinery of mourning, manufacturing
      mausoleums for martyred Marxists in Mercedes.
      Middle managers mistake manipulative
      merchants for munificent moralists. A military
      massacre on the municipal motorway is like
      a military massacre on the municipal motorway.
      Metaphysical mayors mediate the mythology
      of mystical markets while monitoring the murders of migrants.

      My mouth is filled with worms.


Daniel Borzutzky’s latest poetry collection is Lake Michigan (Pitt Poetry Series, 2018). He is the author of The Performance of Becoming Human (Brooklyn Arts Press), recipient of the 2016 National Book Award for Poetry. His other books include Memories of My Overdevelopment (Kenning Editions, 2015), In the Murmurs of the Rotten Carcass Economy (Nightboat, 2015), and The Book of Interfering Bodies (Nightboat, 2011). His translation of Galo Ghigliotto’s Valdivia (Co-im-press) won the American Literary Translator’s Association 2017 National Translation Award. He has translated poetry collections by Chilean poets Raúl Zurita and Jaime Luis Huenún. He teaches in the English Department and Latin American and Latino Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. More from this author →