Rumpus Original Poetry: Two Poems by imogen xtian smith





body clocks
    after Etel Adnan

All your life spent grasping at threads—less no ideas but in things, more just things as you meet them—clusters of ideation, spores spilling forth forming time. You’re forever holding space for grief, adjusting to surveillance & deregulation, eco-nom-ic down turn spell spiral for the working class—sometimes poets too—everyone sick & strident chasing universal global health. You wonder how you’ll live through this, bring body from bed to table, fork eggs runny while governor rambles—zone out, come back—splash tap to face & dream magnolias match your skirts. All the politicians say we’re at war & the war is a virus much unlike other wars. You stare at the wall, ponder violence, the allure of ascribing valence to chaos & suffering. Less than two weeks ago your mother died of cancer. Cellular clusts of meaning made manifest & pioneering, ovaries to brain, metastatic. You’ve barely cried, judge yourself for that—must be hollow deep down, too familiar with loss. Maybe that sweet kid inside is frightened to look. People will say she fought the good fight & the metaphor reproduces itself—song on repeat, cancerous cells, every body in various stages of decay. How does one keep from crying, what with day rolling forth like that? There’s a war on, the lacquer on your nails keeps chipping. Your new facemask is fabric of flower & vegetable taxonomic print—everyone getting feisty, letting eyes & brows do the cruising. You’re hot for it, desire all contorted, a caustic squeeze snuck through minus regard for social distance. Is this war? Were you ever alive in a time of not war? Manhattan stands phantom, stolen & gleaming, several miles through pane. Magnolias, hydrangeas, the rats down below, each pigeon & finch swoops close & real. Your muscles ache walking kitchen, living room, climbing four floors to front door growing tighter in the quads, upper leg dull, constant life of decay. Hands cracked from washing, wash again—the fruit before eating, the mouth with paste, doorknobs, toilet handles, dial on the bidet. Each surface is battlefield, a site for contagion, opening another state unstable. Light electric, stab grass nostalgic—thunder-clack reanimates your dirty south youth, now sun cloud view from fire escape. The body clocks time but time doesn’t pass it. You’ve returned to your room & it’s warm there, plants & ambient sound, Music for Airports on Sunday morning, spring cum northeast. You slept twelve hours only to nap, tired of food & fighting. It’s not for food’s sake reflection sickens, leads cloth to cover & blind. Too much skin here, not enough there, this member at odds with heart head & assignation, desire lines white worming belly, thighs, breasts. Teeth yellowed with coffee stain & cig. Nothing about your bones adds up, set against royal taxonomy. Surely, you ideate, a time of war. How novel. The usual has always been un—notation asks submergence, duration. Days prior were likewise banal—you’d walk to the A by way of bodega, dodge hollers, smell weed, opt this stop over that, arrive at work, to school, the library, park, the club with streaming bulbs & porous floors awash in humxn juices. You’d make it home somehow, circling back, texting some body i’m safe i’m here. Then as now you’d read words, watch porn, get hooked on the next limited run, pass out & tremor, note date, following date, scribble little phrases on a gridded pad. Days echo—still. You stare at the wall, carry loads back & forth from room to room, two housemates & everything your body holds latent. This is a time of peeling, of slow reveals, themselves held latent for who knows how long. Amazing, you think, how the same things happen, slightly askew, war or no war, only there is never any not, any no, you know?


sunday morning malaise

do i just need to get fucked or is it something more

a humxn cannot live on iconic st marks poetry femmes alone

who says that i said that

if an asteroid strikes earth this century

some clever soul will project a giant meme across its space face

someone’s sweetie checking out someone else’s sweetie checking out

Beyoncé’s natal chart & the people in their glass towers

east Williamsburg wherever will laugh & laugh &

who can make a moral response

i don’t care that Notre Dame burned but am quite interested in humxn labor

does that sound blasé    is language a temple

reading A’s chapbook    words about writing about writing about the riot

books stacked by my bedside

Fanon yes & Césaire & Acker    Cooper Erdrich Killian Lawlor Loy   Morrison Moten

& Qia Miaojin    Jeanette Winterson

Halal If You Hear Me    them break beat poets my friends inside

very few things known    i talk a lot about

pinecones    floral arrangements

all my plants are phototropic & maybe i am too

somewhere many genders are rioting for potable

water    safe abortions    a whole police department’s accountability

& so on & so forth & what does it mean not to riot with them

to support the burning from a safer space

everyone says a map is violence

i say today i’m gonna show up for me & me alone

though all the land is occupied

the other day i was doored by a Nissan & walked away without a scratch

sometimes the uphill path really can save your life

i mean slowing down

last week i sold the body of my labor    made several hundred    said ok

american money dead white killers in all our pockets

to believe in the trajectory of western civ one must believe the Greeks

were talking to the rain soaked Picts & Gauls    which they weren’t

do any of your crushes know your name

are Medusa’s pubes also snakes

i love that Velvet Underground jam but only on sunny sundays

when i happen to actually be in love    which is rare    which is why i’m jealous

of Eileen in Chelsea Girls always in love always in flannel

today    get dressed for it    listen to Kelsey Lu

so what if we’re both bottoms i’m sure we can make something work

Lenapehoking Pacific St. Crown Heights Bed-Stuy NYC Richmond Chesterfield

Watauga Dameron Sutherland Skye Ancestry DNA the Surveillance State

i am lonely & come from somewhere

James River East River Gowanus Canal Riis Beach Atlantic Ocean Straits

& Narrows deep channel i once witnessed lightning over the Dalmatian Coast

am white queer monolingual born of plastic hi fructose amnesiac

buy my femme cock a ring & shop butt plugs on-line when feeling particularly kind

to myself    my belly slightly round    my armpits musty as potting soil

B & P & i wonder when academics & admins will say ya know what y’all got this

but what happens once we’re on that office window clean liquid tenure trip

these passion fruit seltzers are hella expensive

glass towers rise so high the neighborhood the nation the Queer Nation the associations

litter & shade

i don’t think literature does what non profit lit orgs think it does

& still i hope to win a Lammy

blue bell floral with trillium & hints of pink    several dollars per yard on Fulton St.

frontier is a myth a tar pit a suburb a café called outpost near my house

i wonder what pplx are thinking & how they can be so casually heartless

empath    i hypocrite    read sign & silhouette for filth in all my filthiness

make a list to share my asking—

what is a page    what is a foot against the pave

shaped like a round

shaped like a pillage hole

shaped like a bread pan

shaped like insert card

shaped like i am gentle & don’t wanna hurt anybody

shaped like blame the MTA

shaped like i haven’t learned how to say what i want or am just too

shaped like a mess

shaped like descended from outer space meteor

some of us crashing all over someone else’s beachland

it made me blush when S let me wear her pink FILAS at the reading

venus in capricorn i keep my mouth shut

everything matters but knowing this won’t make you radical

won’t make you a good poet & being a good poet won’t make you radical

a pinecone is an organ either soft or hard & gendered by pplx in lab coats i guess

my body has no name

we see one another across a crowded space

it’s priceless    sweet cuisine

please bring your poems to the riot

read & rally or immolate but show up nonetheless

i don’t understand my language but the vowels are braced with anguish


Photograph of imogen xtian smith by imogen xtian smith.

imogen xtian smith (fka xtian w) is a poet, performer, and curator. Their work has appeared/ is forthcoming in Cosmonauts Avenue, Nat. Brut, Apogee, The Poetry Project, and Peach Mag, as well as We Want It All: An Anthology of Radical Trans Poetics. stemmy things, their debut collection, drops from Nightboat Books in 2022. A femme brat and garden goth, imogen xtian lives in NYC. More from this author →