Monday, December 17, 2018



A Partial List of Omissions
For Mel Chin

Here between Spain and Technetium we should find, for instance, the genus Spalax, those blind mole rats whose eyes are completely covered by a layer of skin; their eyes are eyes in God’s memory alone. Here too one should learn about undesirable electronic messages and pork-based mystery meats of whose name I have no need to remind you. In Spaoh, in the state of Sarwak, I would have you know, a salted pufferfish known as Ikan Masin Buntal is the local delicacy. And wouldn’t it be nice to be shown how to prepare spätzle, whether savory or sweet? Speed of light, speed of sound, speed metal—where are they when we need them? Spin doctors, spin-offs, and spinning jennies belong here too, along with the stab-in-the-back-myth or Dolchstoßlegende according to which the German army would have won the Great War had it not been betrayed by the country’s craven civilians, and statology, that pagan worship of the state proclaimed by Giovanni Gentile in the name of Mussolini and decried by Pope Pius XI—all these layered together between a book’s covers like a submarine sandwich, which likewise remains to be described, as does the residence of the medieval kings of Hungary, the city of Székesfehérvár, now occupied by Ford and IBM, among others. Teabagging, once mentioned in Sex in the City, is considered nonconsensual in the context of hazing rituals. In Tebnine, east of Tyre, the inhabitants often dress fashionably and hang out in various cafes of an evening.

Other volumes may ignore, or so I imagine, the Abenaki, among whom there are no tribes recognized as such by the Bureau of Indian Affairs; perhaps the district of Atocha in Madrid is mentioned but not its railway station, which we are forever leaving. And what of the river Bzyb, in whose upper reaches grows the colorful bellflower Campanula mirabilis, whose profuse growth of one hundred flowers per plant has earned it the title of “Queen of Abkhazian flora?” Or of Denys Corbet, the “last poet” of Guernésiais? Likewise I’ll wager you’d seek in vain for Tad Dameron, evening gowns, Gebirgsjäger, Louis Hjelmslev, or kalimbas. Not that I’ve looked. But imagined omissions are not necessarily imaginary ones. Muar, the hub of the Indonesian furniture industry, boasts four Pizza Huts, but in none of them can you purchase ptasie mleczko, a chocolate-covered meringue or milk soufflé candy whose Polish name signifies “unobtainable delicacy.” Still, none of these can be found missing from an Encyclopedia volume covering Spain through Technetium, and likewise only elsewhere would we feel the absence of ubiquinol, Watts, or the Supreme Court’s decision in Yates v. United States, which J. Edgar Hoover declared “the greatest victory the Communist Party in America ever received,” let alone any hint that the word “zydeco” might derive from the delicious phrase Les haricots ne sont pas salés.

First published in Mel Chin: The Funk & Wag from A to Z (Houston: The Menil Collection, 2014)

The Selected Cosmos

Tangled breath. They said
it wasn’t finished yet. I also
heard myself say that
and didn’t know what
to think. Good feelings yesterday
don’t help me today. In the meantime
I’m an ordinary mortal
and have never known
more pleasant trial. Magic: not
what I’d call a downfall
though (yes) a threat
to house and home. More the birth
of surprise, a swamp
of divergent views because, after all,
can the mind ever be fully
occupied? Thoughts are instant
and without rash consequence
—preferably. We went in search
of places words go
to make out. Of frenzied sun.
Unholy racket. The sky
makes even less sense now
but as a map of ways to lose
your way this fresh
evening air may force the door
of departure. How open
your mouth could be. Two mugs
exchange halos on a late bus
downtown. In truth, dissenting
orations make for fine
funerals. That’s all the air
in my nostrils for now. Hardly two
breaths to my name but living
cautiously like grass that bends
before each wind. Mouths
of religion, minds of disbelief.

We wanted more lovable
gods, a blind sky tossed
over distracted misdemeanors.
Or Godzilla, a way of making
radiation visible. But who will tell him
this is poetry? It’s always
sort of, isn’t it? Listen
to its resistance. The door
shuts the house. Swans glide
like shadows of death. The park fills
with Sunday people. Quiet
your throat. This,
the candid hour.

First published in Bloodflames Revisited, curated by Phong Bui (New York: Paul Kasmin Gallery, 2014).

Christmas on Earth, Noon on the Moon

Grainy secrets for a newer sea
that star took place so far away
we watched it myopic from the belvedere

a solitary eye cuts light into words
from which some intimate plasma spreads
pale yellow in sudden cracks, paying no mind

says yes to all changes to past tense
its stories sensibly filed under dramaturgy
sometimes hard to make out what color they are

sticky vowels dribble into them
from a clockwork heliostat, an antique
they loiter damaged around the loved one’s thighs

nibbling at some sugar maple gloom
sweet knowledge saved up or drowned
in the stifled promise of an airless year.

First published in Noon on the Moon: Poetics Series #4, ed. by Fiona Bryson and
Keren Cytter (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2015)


Barry Schwabsky is art critic for The Nation. His most recent book of poetry is Trembling Hand Equilibrium (Black Square Editions, 2015). His new publication is Heretics of Language (Black Square Editions, 2018).