Daniel Borzutzky (Chicago, USA): Two Poems


See that immigrant freezing beneath the bridge: he needs a blanket.

See that Torah scroll from the 16th century: it sprawls on the floor like a deadbeat; the Jews need to wrap it in a schmatte.

The problem, you see, is “exposure.”

The poet forgot to shake off his penis and pee dripped on the manuscript that he submitted to the 2007 University of Iowa Poetry Prize.

The literary scholar took off his tie and lectured the class on the post-humanoid implications of the virtual cocktail.

He put a pistol on his desk and told the students he was going to kill himself if they didn’t do their homework.

Everything in his “worldview” was exposed.

The data-entry specialist imagined new forms for the senior administrator who was only a temporary carcass, an anti-poem: a budding literary movement that communed with master works by committing suicide while reading them.

The temporary carcass of the bureaucrat, dry as Vietnamese Jerky, called out for “gravy” as it “peppered” the eloquent field of syntax.

Abrupt exposure to ordinary language may result in seriously compromised intelligence, implied the carcass as he lipped the trembling lily which hid the police officer, who said: if you look at me one more time I’m going to zap you with my Taser gun.

Abrupt exposure to gateway bureaucracy may result in apocalyptic equivocation, implied the carcass as he dreamed of nomadic man-eaters with a language all their own.

I liked the former “Language Poet” for the speech act he attached to the back of my book, which reminded me of Charles Olson on human growth hormones.

The problem, said the critic, remains one of imagination and its insistence on the distinction between thought and action.

“I let him touch my wooden leg,” she said, “and when I unscrewed it I was stuck legless in the hay.”

Which is to say that the detachable penis is was and has always been compatible with family values.

“He was a seriously hardworking boy with a fetish for glass eyes and wooden legs,” she said, “and I really really loved him.”

The poetry era reached its nadir as the housing market plummeted, said the professor, as he repeated for the umpteenth time the anecdote about the boy who met an underwater woman as old as the hills.

“Does Poetry live here,” he asked. “Poetry lives here,” she replied, “but he will chop you up and kill you, and then he’ll cook you and eat you.”

My ideal reader has neither a name, a body, nor an online profile.

Which is not to say that I am not concerned with customer satisfaction.

Dear Reader, Because we value your input, please take a moment of your busy time to answer the following question, which will greatly assist us in our mission to produce cultural artifacts that will further meet your aesthetic and spiritual needs.

Which of these statements most accurately reflect your feelings about the writing you have just read:

a) This is a splendid poem, distinguished by the clarity of its thought, the force of its argument, and the eloquence of its expression.

b) This poem is conceptually vapid, artistically shallow, and contributes nothing to the world of letters. It is little more than a collection of bad sentences and poorly formed ideas.

c) I like this poem, but I wouldn’t spend money to read more poems like it.

d) When I read this poem, I feel frustrated and annoyed.

e) When I read this poem, I feel nothing.


You say I wish to create a universe that is an insane asylum

But I am only one American and the planets are all on Quaaludes

And the baby is in the bassinet and the eggs are in their baskets

And the semen are in their testicles and Hamlet is a faceless robot who is president of the rotary

And the myth where I am dying from abuse of language

Is ascending and descending at the same time

I’d tear myself to shreds to prevent you from calling me a poet

Or even an anti-poet for I am the apropos of nothing

And I am the check this box for all of the above

And I am a smudged-out image of Joan of Arc praying in a toxic rainstorm

And I am in myself more than I know myself

And me and I are the ideal couple

And as we seduce each other we think of Kim Jong-Il making love to a Swedish prostitute in a barbed-wire cage

And we think of vital organs for sale on eBay

And we refuse to Google ourselves because we do not want to know what the world thinks of the binary system we have become

And we think of monads and visual simulacra

And Daffy Duck is a gigantic tarantula crawling through the famished roads of ambiguity, where a bearded man with bulging pockets asks if I’m a poet

I vomit a poem onto a stack of bloody cows and win a Pushcart Prize

And for a split second nothing stays the same until we flail into the simile of history.

© Daniel Borzutzky 2009