from Scale model of the world (inexhaustive)
These are excerpts from a book-length poem, Scale model of the world (inexhaustive), which I wrote between July 2010 and June 2011. The poem takes archival material and threads it through my own histories of migration and transformation. As a whole, Scale model has two sets of concerns: its first and primary concern is the value of the human being, and especially the human body, both in particular and in general. Its other concern is the archive, not only as a source but as a conceptual, political, and structuring device. In Scale model, I enter the archive in order to bring things and people who ‘only’ exist on paper into the time of the poem, knowing that what I write will one day become part of the archive. This transience means that what has been forgotten can return; what has been erased can be rewritten (and not only this time, but again and again); what is excluded can be centralised. The poem, I hope, offers these possibilities for everyone, all the time. Its inexhaustiveness calls for a continuing documentation of the world, an endless complementing of all stories by all others yet to be told.
“….to toss into the Ghetto everything that is
characteristically dirty, shabby, bizarre, of which
one ought to be frightened, and which anyway
has to be destroyed”i
Law forbids the “exhibition [of] any deformed
human being or human monstrosity, except as
used for scientific purposes”ii
“I am so glad to be up here. I was always sure it
would be beautiful”iii
Music behind like someone playing the piano in a next-door house.
This happened in Venice, too, narrow court our kitchen opened on. We heard
them while we learned to eat pesto and not vomit sea water and stand
during crossings. The music of the Vivaldi museum. At night I left my
green shutters open and light came in. Music came in. Alone at my table I
made a calendar only to remove days.
The city dressed in laurels and birds who sing human songs.
Or a car stopped at a red light.
Nothing makes me feel as present in my body as singing.
I can imagine singing with you now, not particularly you but every you.
The disappointment when someone I loved turned out to be much less than I
imagined. You can’t help that. You just leave them and lose what you lose
and move along. There is nothing to see here.
It could be an arrow of tar on fire in a city night.
A siege in a city that doesn’t quite exist between the present and the past and
future. The holy darkness. Or light. The course of history.
Watching a musician I have never been in the room with: I fall in love. There was
an accident. The accident was belief, they say, or, the accident was beauty.
Superstition. Air travel. They know what they’re talking about. They’ve
never heard him play.
Meeting one person recalibrates everything. Montmartre is brought into
being and then the north of France disappears.
There are wild boar living in Berlin—three thousand of them. Some facts are
incontestable. The wholeness of the world, the light.
Easy enough to say this isn’t daring against a horizon extending because you are
who you are.
Some days the horizon fits inside a plastic egg. Some days I can’t see past my
garden and its continual thirst.
So build: maps, atlas, census, tables, tablature, reckoning.
All people who have ever been born and all people who are going to be born.
You’re right about risk.
You’re right when you accuse me of laziness or fatigue, and you think I can’t do it
all. The world that touches you is made of fact and dream:
To say, the fowl in this country are unbanded. We don’t band our birds, we don’t
stamp our animals, we wonder where places we used to know have gone
and we accuse one another of things like theft.
And you’re right about exuberance, and the old man in the cafe was wrong.
Exuberance, that’s what makes the blackberries overrun everything, exuberance
and audacity, if we’re personifying, and I think we could use a good dose
of that now.
Audacity: the distance between the step and the platform. Step two kinds of noun.
I believed the world was there.
For a medieval city Ghent feels up-to-date. Women run at windows wearing
nothing but their swimsuits.
If we’re lucky.
Some points in the history, I’m talking about everything, were easier than others.
Truth was easier because we held it in a vessel a body a building a set of rules a
Truth is, I’m walking around a city I disallowed only a year ago.
One poet says we don’t have to be more than we are now.
The parts of the woman swinging back and forth as she runs.
A tremor in the glass, like the liquid it is. Simultaneous.
Hallelujah the women’s bodies shouted. My mother’s body and brain shouted and
the brain surgeon’s hands shouted.
In one tremor the end of hearing.
In fact my daily language feels so far from the body and the land.
It sings along.
It has no basin, no metal bedframe. It does not play the violin, the piano, or any
instrument other than its temper.
Game is one word for it and I mean that in all senses.
Truth is, the body and tongue take a lot.
Truth is, iron filings covered us and welding dust covered us.
Truth is one slip of one hand in one cranium and you lose the function of the ear.
We misread Paris, wedding, able-bodied, pucker, haunting.
Speech has rarely, if ever, been a functional appendage. Now who can prove it’s not
Who’s the guy who attacks you in the street, having never said your name? Who’s
the guy you don’t recognize because he’s gouged out your eyes?
There’s no punishment to be doled out. You have to count on it.
You have to count on the body falling apart and getting into grace like a wet wool
shirt, sticky, uncomfortable, and the exact shape of the body.
The man before you understands everything you do not know.
Of course. You see. It’s playful. He does not mean by it.
Obviously. If not the collected work of Proust, then Kafka, Milton, Shakespeare in
his particulars, Chaucer, Derrida, Whitman, or the dread of any other
slight your education offered you, and that offends.
Days come I’m tired of the Man Book.
I would rather keep my heart impeccable and live in this garden and occasionally
go to see the lighthouse on the Normandy cape swing its radio and
I think it calls for more imagination. I think the benefit of the doubt.
Who requires explanation?
Let the person standing in front of you stand in front of you.
Some young women memorize the works of Russian composers, French
composers, and never get out of bed.
Hold on, I’d say. That’s the problem of our generation.
Sister, if you want to memorize sheet music and wake up singing a particular
variation that’s your right.
But sister remember the rest of us are waiting for you too. Are you going to sing
I never said I could do the things I want you to do.
Memory is the moth’s wing unhinging.
What is the condition of this life besides being unsure and desiring.
And stepping out anyway.
I tell you, I gave it form, despite the formal slipping-away of everything.
Let’s go back to what we can touch, that market—
When I have no money I want things more than ever. Things for no reason.
I want multi-colored ink, popularity, a shower curtain with an octopus on it, a
cable-knit tea-cosy, isolation on the Normandy coast, a pad of paper with
squares instead of lines, limitless access to airplanes, trains, ferries.
I want a glass-fronted box with old eyeglasses, a chunk of pyrite.
Labels for this and that, the boxes labels come in.
I want a melodica and a music box (a pling-plong) for each song I love.
Airmail labels. Small paintbrushes.
I can’t say I’m a born curator.
I learned this frenzy and I barely order it.
One of the qualities of living through the earthquake is hyper-vigilance. Intrusive
memories, fear, grief, I cannot remember what your face looks like but I
remember the bites on your hand, human teeth marks.
No ease for headache and body-ache.
We could take Tylenol, aspirin, paracetamol, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, but we
cannot take the experience of a rescue worker saying you are alive, you are
I have never lost the only child. Any child. Or lived for her.
There are websites to catalog the complete contents of a house and to call for more
and more, go out and get what you don’t have.
I say, I don’t want a Dansk pitcher, a Yugoslavian enamel ladle, fifty-seven vintage
golf tees (pink and red), packets of needles, old sachets of extra buttons,
ten mid-century tables, photographs, Daguerrotypes, tintypes, glass
negatives, bent nails, prairie diamonds, unused pool cue chalk (blue with
red wrappers with gold writing), desert twigs, driftwood, old receipts,
people’s footprints, recordings of laughter, vacation photos from 1956 to
a place I can’t identify, hat pins, leaves, last names.
What’s underneath those websites. I want a finger pointing to the belly of it all, or
Something to grow from them.
Honey, it’s no collection, if it comes like that. That’s what I’d call a tumor.
Où est l’éspace culturel? I ask the elevator operator.
From the top floor, the Eiffel Tower is visible.
Beneath me the hordes of shoppers buying identical Louis Vuitton bags are
I feel them shake the floor.
Tonight we drove to the coast again.
I sat there under the beam of the Cap Gris-Nez lighthouse and let the fog walk all
When I am alone I am still sure I can make poems.
I didn’t go out in the woods alone to live. I just walked to the lake’s border or the
edge of the cliff going down to the ocean and saw what there was. At no
point off the grid.
The grid marked me and my body.
Most comfortable writing in small squares, like the handwriting of French
Streets and avenues on a north/south, east/west vernacular.
So there’s no form here. Form has been everywhere I’ve been.
I needed the book to get me out of form.
Braille was out there and the fingers of a deaf man touching his other fingers to
Poets in Russia were touching the spines of their beloveds and skyscrapers were
Seems like no other place has left the traintrack to the trains.
In the spare room or under a bed while she hits him, bites him.
There are trains here, too, crossing and recrossing the island.
The sour cherry tree outside and the Victoria plum shake their branches. Quite a
Lights off in the house, phone off the hook, the brain is a lit-up recording device.
Tell me how long until your body came out of shock. In the dark salty house.
No one should hear the things you said.
No one’s house should fall around them. These are two different things.
There is water flowing through them both, though.
Blood in the water, maybe.
I’m not reminded of amber by a maple leaf, I’m reminded of Japan, or Canada, or
maple sugaring when I was very small, depending on the shape.
The smell of my fuchsia scarf when it rains or snows.
It was an obi until I tore its seams. The word is kanoko shibori (鹿の子絞り), the
spots like spots on a fawn. The texture of this silk where rice was tied,
grain by grain, while it took the dye.
I can smell the entrance to the house in Japan, the darkness of it. My slippers and
My mother there making an egg for breakfast.
The orchard where we picked plums for pickling and I found a lost character, ji,時.
Every day I asked to go to the shopping center. I stood in the doorway of the
kimono shop until they knew me and took me in and dressed me in a
pink kimono. I filled two suitcases with washcloths, candy, powdered
soup, a toggle coat, the smell of my house there, photograph albums,
plates with dragonflies, tiny dishes shaped like honeycomb, a two-inch-
diameter porcelain box that looked like a lotus.
The Sea of Japan (an anemone, a piece of pottery washed up on the beach).
First ocean water I touched.
In the puppet theater, the audience are the puppets.
The magician pulls a bouquet of flowers out of one astonished mouth.
A clown, a mask, a painted frame, a paper background, a flash of light.
There were songs to pearlfishers and songs about bullfighting. There was a sunset
taking place in the left-hand corner of the horizon.
Marcel Proust wrote a novel like a river and the French invented a word for it.
Things like this convince me the world in fact goes on.
The here-and-now was happening.
Listen, I don’t want you to clean your room for some other woman, I want you to
clean it for me.
And you, I want you to walk out of a girl’s house at seven in the morning in the
same clothes as last night and I want you to look shy and sheepish and
happy (overall, happy) and run your hand across your wavy hair, and duck
and grin and head for the tram to work.
The sound /te/ means tea or hand. Probably other things. Not in the same
Inventive human mouth and brain.
I went into the teahouse through the lowered door and knelt on the mats there.
In Dole I sat in the zen master’s house and the wall became transparent while he
chanted. January. Afterwards the nurse and I walked through the cold and
planned to meet again.
The cup of clear, bright yellow-green tea. The shape of the whisk made to fit the
hand. Only once, in that dark room.
But also the stars.
My wet hair freezing solid.
Is it wrong, or can I be loved how I am, not despite it.
Stress in my language is relative to breath. For instance, consider the dialogue.
Compare ordinary with more emphatic.
But there are lexical differences, there is an ongoing sound change, certain onsets
only appear in contractions, the native clusters substitute themselves and
the professionals can tell you I tend to affricate, my trees becoming chrees.
In our dialect we are only at home so long as no one outside is pointing at
I believe in the logic of error, the Marxists in my city parading in short skirts and
going home to their rented apartments to watch old Russian movies on
cable. It’s a kind of rah-rah Marxism.
Did you touch my hand? The hand of the man selling magazines on the corner?
I’ve been sending them messages by semaphore, I’ve been beating down innocent
None of this restarts the revolution. We’re not even in 1919 this year.
…storms, the desire for Venice, the desire to settle down to work, the desire to live like
Instead, I retrace the shape of the honeysuckle and the wall behind it.
The blue boats and the bridges made of the space under bridges. A list of
everything has to include lizards on the walls and the smell of lithotine
from the printshop and a jar of wings that become shellac and the flat acid
baths and the movement of the hand that unfastens debris from the
Medicine as close to love as science.
Medicine, like awake before six and the echo in the square. Your company.
Make one drawing every day for a year of the same object.
On May 18, 1980 David Johnston radios the U.S. Geological Survey (Vancouver,
Vancouver, this is it!) and the volcano kills him. Horses drown in the
floods and we couldn’t tell if it was hot water or ash.
The blowdown of the trees.
His hands were burnt when the tent melted around them.
Bridges buried, cars deformed by heat—the water in the ponds was bright blue,
pink, pale green, black.
The eruption followed the contours of the landscape.
Even now Spirit Lake contains a raft of many thousand trees.
Geologist for scale.
It weighed 9 tons per cubic inch per acre. The streetlights never went out, that
Earlier this spring the ash cloud from Eyjafjallajokul arrived on my milk bottle,
grey, glassy-hard clumps.
British travelers stranded in Madrid complained: the nightmare a few extra weeks
in sunshine caused.
I raised my hand to the light and the light came through it. Meanwhile, my
neighbor secretly poisoned the ivy, poured salt on the roses, set ratbait for
the foxes, and cursed every small dog that passed the house.
Ice crystals were in the air, ash, the snobbery of middle-class Midlands life-long
tenantism was in the air.
None so deadly as what I left.
Someone is filming a tittie contest in Yakima, Washington.
The vice-president votes against making Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday a
national holiday, while the president keeps busy creating oil companies
with fictitious names. Mamie Eisenhower dies. In Nicaragua a news
anchor and his interpreter are killed on tape. It is 1979 and I am not even
close to born.
I didn’t live here for most of that administration. If you can call it that. I watched
my vote get stolen like a third-shell-no-ball cheap magic trick, and I got
out of there.
When I left one friend called me a deserter.
One friend wrote and said cheese cost nine dollars a pound did I still get by on my
graduate student stipend.
I’ve been boycotting spellings, pharmaceuticals, weedkiller, my neighbor’s insane
ramblings about foreigners. I got my political badge and my absentee
ballot in the mail. But in a crowd what I want to say is lost and the
beadwork of my meaning is lost.
If you don’t live in a place you don’t get to know what it was like during those
years, yes, that’s true.
And some of the people I knew are in New York, and some are in San Francisco,
Iowa City, Minneapolis, Miami, Missoula, Baton Rouge, Vancouver,
Philadelphia, London, Bath, Paris, Prague, Vienna, Tokyo, Ningbo,
Moscow and Cape Town.
I woke up on May 7th and the Tories had won and I didn’t even get to vote this
So between worlds where does the voice go? My voice.
The widows deflecting inwards.
Here in Ghent I can still catch the sound of the mailbox on my parents’ porch
One summer, a letter daily.
Back in England, someone says to someone, Steady on.
During the funeral the corpse of the dead prince wore gloves, and his mother was
not allowed to see his hands.
We live in a world where Mozart concertos exist and bareback horseriders exist.
White fine sand exists.
Outside Marrakech a woman has a pique-nique with vintage straw hats, heaping
tagines, and boxes of macarons made by a Paris-trained local pâtisseur.
The internet swoons.
Internet, you also think birdcages belong at a wedding.
Fighting in the street erupts and wanes. Someone’s mother brings me a pastry with
raspberry bavaroise. The Turkish bakery lights its ovens.
This petty-bourgeois uptightness, this terror of not being in control, this schoolboy
desire to boast and to shock.vi
At sixteen, I learned the word matsu (松) and my brain could not detach my
friend’s name from the pine trees outside.
After eight hours of pouring rain.
For God’s sake pay attention to the world around you.
I have been there. I had my palm read there.
Something in me wants to suggest it’s not enough to see the right films, ascribe to
the right theories. I want to love things under their covers. I want to love
their printed covers.
Is it noticeable that my best work these days it cutting up someone else’s and
putting it in the wrong order?
James Ensor’s front door is green.
The masks are arranged in order of what is missing. A tooth a nose.
—For my sake.
What is missing in Oostende is not the sea, not the wind or ferries which appear
along the horizon, predictable and mute.
Even paper frames don’t catch us these days.
We are not objective. Our objectivity is a bias.
What is missing is something we can’t tell is gone yet. Can’t fix it. Can’t even
know it. Can’t predict it. Non-hereditary, invisible.
What about sitting by me, doctor?
From one hundred students, all these reflections. You are a telescope, flesh on the
bones, tracery. Loss is not a river through a city. Loss is a locatable
hurricane and the underground movement it shadows.
I have come to this city without stains on my hands.
The red lanterns against the white walls.
That was my will to live.
Over time Paris became her body arching up, a newspaper, shadows of bare trees, a
café and its windows, two relatively parallel lines, a river crossed in three
parts. Subsequently greater moves but not organic.
Pyramids, arches, obelisks.
Honest limit the limit of where the body’s been.
A gold dome over lead roofs.
I lose track of what are spires and what are masts.
Wondering who wrote the six-foot numbers on the wall and who held the stencil:
they are regular, almost mechanical. A metro station composed of
hexagonal tiles the size of a silver dollar each. We multiply white and blue
and come up with nostalgia. On a good day, homesickness that makes you
If you want autobiography, stick to the Tales of Hoffmann.
I’ll write a guidebook that includes instructions for sewing ribbons into your
pointe shoes, directions to the closest bank of snow.
The Institut du Monde Arabe opens and closes its panes. Living creatures have
gills, eyes, lungs, hands, weather reports, official stories and borders drawn
by international authorities.
Down here on the ground another tourist snaps a photo of the Eiffel Tower in
sepia mode. Adore everything. You can’t lose.vii
The morgue becomes a community center. The horses’ ghosts carry ghost corpses
dressed in past centuries’ finery out the doors in ghost hearses. The
shadows of mullions stay the same, the pattern of broken tile stays the
same. Ghost citizens of the century—viii
The tub steams into the empty room. You’ve already left.
A man wearing a blackbird mask.
A girl in a pig mask. Just one small space.ix
The photographs of Paris are limitless now.
Listen, I’d propose a girl singing madrigals on the corner in Ghent, I’d propose a
poetics as particular and correct as botanical drawings.
Trading this for cathedral, piece of bread—I don’t want to be a failure but I don’t
know how else to do it. Trading in hyperbole. Like orange chimney pots
against the sky.
I put in braids.
I go out and walk in the city.
One picture every minute for 24 hours.
“Without the surgery, she would have died”: no one knew the outpouching was
there in the brain. No one took a picture of it. My mother, walking
through Paris, wanted to stop at every sight, and all I could think of was
her accent and hat giving her away. I didn’t want the men selling water to
make fun of her.
“The last thing I remember is planting our garden”
“I’ll hope for cooperative weather”
There was blood in the spinal column, there was blood in the space between the
brain and the skull; the surgery was predicted to be about four hours;
someone left a coconut cake (tamales, a fruit salad, a box of Nut
Goodies, a basket of clean laundry, twelve rolls of toilet paper, a stack of
Vanity Fairs and Harper’ss and New Yorkers, frozen chili in a crate of ice)
on the back porch; the surgeon was Egyptian, Dr. Naghib; in the night a
woman came and her only job was to hold your hand and breathe in the
She removed the feeding tube herself while the nurses weren’t looking.
“The odds are stacked in your favor” “You are lucky in love”
What is an aneurysm?
Primarily the smell was salt and burnt hair.
Catastrophe: that’s not the size of the flood. Ask anyone who lives on seventy feet
of mud before bedrock.
Subtleties are things shaped like people.
I reach out and touch the goat’s oily, stiff hair. Feel the ridge of his skull.
A supermodel only reluctantly gives her blood diamonds to a human-rights group
and goes to The Hague to testify but not before hitting the TV camera
that catches her saying she “didn’t receive a diamond.”
Abuses follow a pattern.
For instance the burning of living human beings inside a house.
So the stones are quite disappointing, not very impressive because they do not
sparkle. Sometimes she says three, five, or six. A dirty piece of scrunched-
up paper. A knock on the door in the night.
Their hands were amputated, their friends were beheaded or their organs were
pulled out of their bodies and the way she says it is a terrible
And indeed Mr. Taylor, your men awakened her and presented her with a large
“a country called Liberia”
boy soldiers hacked and burned alive 200 people
And who cut the bars of his cell
And whose bedsheets did he slide down
Charles Taylor escapes from a maximum security prison by sawing through a
window’s bars, flees via knotted bedsheet, and gets ahold of iron ore,
rubber, diamonds, timber, Samuel Doe, and a torture manual.
There was a tradition of eating enemy flesh. Taylor said he loved humanity and a
man stood up with no right hand.
They did this with an ax.
How many tons of blood was this? How many human hands was this?
deKlerk begins negotiations to end apartheid. One prisoner walks out of his cell.
It is 1990 and I write in my diary about the price of gasoline and the fact of war in
the Persian Gulf.
He described the IED so we could understand it, a homemade bomb, then held up
his hand and I saw he only had two fingers.
Caparisoned horse, the missing man formation.
How we express it.
The nineteenth century had elaborate mustaches, strictly regulated handkerchief-
based flirtation, mackerel skies, flowerpots shaped like urns. They took
their death seriously. They built cities for it. They covered their mirrors
and left the house. A century before this, they took the bones from all the
graveyards and put them in catacombs. They decided on cemeteries.
No taste for the reuse of graves.
It was misting heavily and a man stood in front of the columbarium, reading
names. He was bowing to the wall of ashes. His black coat went past his
knees. We found Maria Callas’ niche and left soon after.
Later, in our century, we carved wreathes on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier to
represent the six battles of the first war. The President accepted the
interment flag. The guards stripped themselves of insignia.
Every night The Last Post is played in Ypres. Its star-shaped ramparts. Its gate full
…the laughing and the crying of the other. He washed the feet of the ten widows and
mothers of anti-apartheid activists who had been lured to their death by a
“They were injected with a chemical to make them unconscious … placed in a
minibus with a limpet mine and an AK-47 … the minibus was set alight”
I am sorry that I had been so hard of hearing for so long.
Hoax pamphlets in the township told residents to collect food packages from the
houses of members of the boycott committee at a certain time. When no
food was produced, the crowd burnt down those houses.
The women asked him to pray for them.
In the world where women are put into asylums and the asylums have wooden
chairs and the women are tied to them.
In the world where we read suicide backward into the face of the photographer.
I walk into a building and it is full of sails.
How do we talk to the dead?
And how do we talk about them?
I reckon the coins in my pocket by touch.
Tonight when I saw you at once the mystery went out of your face and it was just
the face of a young man, aging and in trouble and blind to it.
We’ve touched the faces of the ones who hurt us, we’ve eaten with them.
While I went back and forth on the Eurostar, people I knew were sleeping with
each other. The workings of those bodies, let’s come clean: they’re nothing
special. I heard a girl speak a string of German words and it meant
nothing. No dictionary’s been invented for this.
I know they are a 2p, a 10p, a 5p. I know now I can leave the island.
I talk to them by combing them over and over.
I talk to them by the shallow breath that almost doesn’t come.
In my family we let them live with us and saw them everywhere.
I talk to them by their stillness.
The condition of talking with the dead is a condition of waiting.
Even a book can’t contain the world, I know that—
Flemish poppies bloom in the middle of summer, the end of June. A year later they
bloom in the Midlands from seed I threw in the garden. Despair was an
unwillingness to know whether they would ever bloom. Persistence in any
case means I see them this summer twining through the rosebush.
A single seed, a multiple of seeds.
I preserve the caps in an old velvet pouch with seashells from the coast at
Oostende. Half my lifetime ago I wove a pouch from seed-beads.
Iridescent ones, matte ones. And sewed it to velvet, and sewed tiny silver
bells to it.
The earth in the garden is wet and prickles with green.
The unusual combination of coral-pink and the red poppies.
And the sun hits them and all glows.
Waking up I remember you have died and I remember what was wasted on you.
Did I say waiting? I meant the condition is writing.
I mean the text marked my century like no other and now we’re having a hard time
leaving it behind.
I mean walking down rue Montorgeuil all I can think is how much I want to be in
this place, with these kinds of texts. Interruption is not the yawling
vendors, that’s what we call intertext.
Establish imaginary bands, call them The Moviegoers, The Summertime, The
Gadgets of Limited Usefulness.
Busdrivers put boomboxes in on the dashboard so they can listen to jazz while
they drive, all day and late at night, the University loop. That’s where
I hear Kind of Blue for the first time, ten p.m. in November, somewhere
between the fairground and the East Bank.
Don’t forget their names.
The word was red-hot, that’s a technical term.
Five hours after the explosion, he left only the operators needed to run the
emergency cooling systems. Fatal doses in minutes. The reactor was not
intact, the transmissions were falsified. Pieces of graphite and reactor fuel
No one tells them it is more than an electrical fire. Then those boys who died went
up to the roof—Vashchik Kolya and others, and Volodya Pravik … They went
up the ladder … and I never saw them again.xi
I want to say these names,
Alexander Akimov Yuri Badaev Anatoly Baranov
Nikol Bondarenko Vitaliy Borec Slava Brazhnik
Vladimir Chugunov Viktor Degtyarenko G. A. Dik
M. A. Elshin Sergei Gazin Vasyli Ignaten
Ykaterina Ivanenko Aleksander Kavuntz Valery
Khodemchuk Igor Kirshenbaum Yuriy Ivanovich
Aleksander Kudryavtsev A.A. Kukhar Anatoly
Kurguz Nikolai Kuryavchenko Aleksander
Lelechenko Viktor Lopatyuk Klavdia Luzganova
Gennady Metlenko Aleksandr Nekhaev Oleksandr
Vasylyovych Ivan Orlov Konstyantyn Perchuk Valery
Perevozchenko Georgi Popov Viktor Proskuryakov
Alekxsei Rysin Volodomyr Savenkov Anatoliy
Shapovalov Vladimir Shashenok Anatoly Shlelyayn
Anatoly Smagin Boris Stolyarchuk Leonid Toptunov
Arkadiy Uskov V.F. Verkhovod Yuriy Vershynin.
Petr Tolstiakov, fishing on the shore of the cooling water channel, witnesses the
In order to spare his younger colleagues a radiation exposition he himself went
through radioactive water and debris three times
He looked directly into the open reactor core
It tasted like metal
And I want you to say them
I want to say them and I want you to say them
He never regained
Radioactive snow. In the deserted library, wind and ash.
We bury them in lead coffins.
We leave a plaque in reactor room four for the bodies we did not find.
Especially the names of the firefighters—Golovnenko, Khmel, Kibenok,
Petrovskiy, Pravik, Prishchepa, Telyatnikov (the one who lived),
Tishchura, Titenok, Vashchik.
His eyes turned from brown to blue by the intensity of the radiation
We measured their poison in the color of dust.
Counting everything, it was five thousand metric tons of boron, sand, lead, and
Not, in the end, a temporary evacuation.
We chose concrete over 25 metric tons of liquid nitrogen per day. And one-point-
five million hands (reactor personnel; firefighters; civil defense who
buried the contaminated soil; doctors; deactivators; those who built the
sarcophagus; transport workers; military; coal miners, who showed us
how to pump the contaminated water out; Nikolai Melnik, who placed
radiation sensors on the reactor). We chose this.
The liquidators remember the burial sites without making maps. Nezhyl (нежил)
We bury the ships. We cannot walk away.
A month before you are born, the cloud passes over Belgium.
Wild animals know better than to reproduce that season. Radiotrophic fungi
cover the reactor. Believing more in the radiation than in their own power
to live, the women inside the exclusion zone pick berries and eat them, a
sweet slow-motion Russian roulette.
You have a lazy eye and a gene for lank.
Twenty-four years on, birds nest in the sarcophagus.
I believe we would do almost anything not to exist so raw on the face of this earth.
Abandon the island off the coast of Antarctica.
Drown the villages. Depopulate. Walk away.
Even when 642 people are machine-gunned and locked in a church and burnt, one
or two live.
The name of the village Lidice spreads across continents.
Paper boats with candles in them spread across the waters.
How would it be possible to detach the burnt-out dome from the fact that the
paper is printed with cherry blossoms, arrows, fawn-spots, pines, plovers
in flight, waves, fans, string balls, checkerboards, plum blossoms,
camellias, rabbits and the moon, small isosceles triangles, morning glories,
umbrellas, beckoning cats, dragonflies, maple leaves?
Dear Anna Mae, I write. This is a picture of your hands taken from you as they were
by the FBI.
The hands being a sovereign and unimpeachable land.
The hands landed upon ever since recordings of these landings began.
Your body with its freezing and melting and your head with its perfect .32 caliber
hole, Anna Mae, I want to caress you more gently than any undertaker.
A return equals this: no safe-house, no Yukon, no U.S.-Canada border, no first-
degree murder, no federal Grand Jury, no cooperation, no scapegoat, no
admissions, no informants, no interrogation, no bomb-making, no
fingerprints, no Denver, no gunpoint, no J. Edgar Hoover, no testimony,
no occupation, no ships, no smallpox, no forcible removal, no South
Dakota, no linguistic death, no unknown victim, no possible manslaughter.
How to quantify justice? Especially here, speaking to you from the outside and
from far away. Your name and your condition make my hands shake.
Someone is not among us.
You requested to pray and they killed you while you prayed.
The questions about your body in the public room.
Particularly what did you observe regarding the hands, sir?
Did the pathologist then remove the hands?
Did you ultimately end up with custody of those hands?
The hands would have been a separate transmittal?xii
There was black gunshot residue a perforation the back of the head.
Intensely deposited, so I would say the weapon was very, very close
Maybe touching the hair just a very short distance xiii
It is 1976 and your body is freezing in the ditch. Someone mails your ring to a
The governor is a couple decades away from his late-night crash and DWI.
The documentaries have yet to be made.
He drinks beer with his buddies. Inside his jeans, his gun rests against his thigh.
The only way to deal with the Indian problem in South Dakota is to put a gun to the
AIM leaders’ heads and pull the triggerxiv
Your daughters must want to touch your hair—how is it possible no one could tell
them how you died until so much later?
The history I don’t know (can’t know) piles up under your hands, which someone
in Washington, D.C., is using as a paperweight. In the next room there is
a museum of infected blankets, boarding schools, removal orders, sugar
plantations, tuberculosis, standing in the corner on one leg, walking in the
snow barefoot for speaking the language, bread dipped in grease and
hardened, electrical shock, force-feeding of vomit, shaved heads, Long Walks,
The futility of trying to touch five hundred years of history all at once. How thin
the body and brain become.
The single century is a varnish to one person.
No entering absolutely.
A wave of rain on the window:
The fact of our separation remains, other presence in the room with me.
Century of forced disappearance.
Moment of abduction | Night/Day
I had assumed I would always have access to this view (the side of a brick building
through windows coated in ice).
Little brother of the trainyard, protect your body. Your second baptism was in
alcohol and river water and your animal self is still as precious and you
roam the city under the streetlights and hate our mother for almost dying.
After everything there are a few you cannot save.
What can you do with this knowledge?
You can wander on the moon, where most of what’s left are Hasselblads,
footprints, the ghost of the Earth rising overhead, and hope from the
middle of a forlorn century.
You can walk into the center of Brussels and watch the Magritte Museum open its
doors like a hand pulling back a curtain you didn’t know was there.
You can stand in front of your guards, the mighty wizard Robert Desnos,xv
and tell them the cell is empty.
Back in Russia the moonrace is off. People are making music using just their hands
and other parts of the body. In a striped shirt and a pair of dark jeans, a
man hangs a poster on his wall. The stuffed squirrel on it shouts be
amazing in glow-in-the-dark letters. No one seems to care that most of
this will be obsolete in minutes.
The Sacred Heart of Jesus smiles unironically over everything.
Plans are cancelled and people kiss one another.
Peacocks stand on English roofs.
Girls with purple hair congest the squares and make traffic difficult. Meanwhile
the gardens fill with tents and triangle bunting and the smell of
sweetgrass, and white lanterns lit by candle-nubs.
The light makes visible lines across all your photographs and no one can decide
whether these ruin the images or make them.
Cellists pick up their instruments and play in the wood.
Are you content with an inside joke with yourself? That’s an honest question, it’s
o.k. if you are.
Miners in the North of England weren’t supposed to make it to the Nuclear Age.
Assigned the job of working only until no longer—what?—they strike
heavily, are defeated, even after their families go without regular food for
Crimes are committed by those who promise to look after people.
British tourists plague the globe by laughing at it. A man rubs his thighs.
A spy slides invisible packets of polonium into tea, last refuge of the civilized, and
it takes months for the diplomat to die.
This life is not a landscape painting, no matter how accurate I think Breughel’s
sycamore stumps are, no matter how much I love the skaters moving
deftly across the ice.
But on the train from Antwerp to Rotterdam, the Netherlands and the snow
combine and I can’t be sure about painting, or life, or landscapes, or even
A pair of blackbirds is a pair of blackbirds, but also a poem, and also a history of
There is a noise, and the birds fly away.
ii. Michigan Penal Code (Excerpt), Act 328 of 1931: Section 750.347, Deformed human beings; exhibition.
iii. One of the miners in Chile, on his ascent to the surface after almost two months trapped underground.
xiv. Agents of repression: the FBI’s secret wars against the Black Panther Party. Ward Churchill, Jim Vander Wall; p. 199
xv. Matthew Zapruder, here:http://www.gulfcoastmag.org/index.php?n=2&s=1113
Éireann Lorsung is from Minneapolis, where she did her MFA at the University of Minnesota. She now lives in the UK, where she edits the print journal 111O (111oh.com). Her first book, Music for Landing Planes By, was published by Milkweed Editions in 2007; a second is forthcoming. You can find out more at ohbara.com.