Literary Hub Poem of the Week

June 3, 2015  By Lisa Robertson

So marvelous is the mind in motion in Lisa Robertson’s The Seam that by the time the poem is over, this small, seemingly insignificant noun, has rippled open corridors of contemporary life, poetics, society and activism, that it says almost too little to remember, after all, a ‘seam’ — that is, The Seam — is a poem. No ideas but in things? But ideas and things blur, and there is a wonderfully expansive gendered thinking happening here, which is constantly reminding us what starts small, meticulous, even perilously fragile (e.g. flies, pronouns, DNA), may yet yoke together weaves or textures that often enclose (and disclose) a world in miniature. This compactly epic poem is not poised on the old pillars of universalism. Rather, it telescopes how materiality (chemicals, hormones and toxins), is already magnified, too much, maybe not enough. 

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—Adam Fitzgerald, Poetry Editor




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4:16 in the afternoon in the summer of my 52nd year
I’m lying on the bed in the heat wondering about geometry
and the deafening, uninterrupted volume of desire
bellows, roars mournfully, laments
like a starling that has flown into glass.
These are two things that I want to remember permanently:
The dog straining diagonally after the hare at dusk last night
And the glittering disco sky.
I am no longer afraid of being misunderstood when I state
the old men’s febrile gadgetry—
I don’t buy it.
What suits me better is to stargaze or to lie in stylish baths.
Now it’s time to return to the sex of my thinking.
How long do I get?
A fly moves across the pages of an open book
The pages are quivering
I want stimulants, relaxants, hallucinogens
—I’m not good at order.

The men who tremble a little bit
while speaking about passivity—
they’re all right. I could compare them
to a song:

You should live twice in time
were I contingent
upon your heart, your spleen
or embody the spate
then collapse
of love, the living creature.

To add gravitas
I am alone, transcribing
If you can never be mine
I’ll get some Swinburne.

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There is the sense of women
as impairment’s ability
That’s how it falls
Perilous, unoptional
It was difficult to sing.

Using Ovid maybe
You’d lay your tongue across my art
Loved face
The poem is a hormone.

I have no idea what song means
That polishes the heart.

We press out these voices from the inmost parts
to be able to start.
Sometimes desire awakens the ears of a whole crowd
with copious particularity
with the urgent motions of membranes
with the mystic dialectic of toxins and hormones
(more hormones, less toxins; less hormones, more
toxins; movement between toxins and
hormones and sometimes their confusion
for hormones can act as toxins and
toxins also can act as hormones) so that
the fear of death falls away for a minute
Venus breaks a dew at the borders of everything.
Right now when I think of her
I have no problem with the feminine pronoun
I’m stupid against its animate insult, me
with my scaly feet, my rubbed thorax,
my vibrating wings, my periodic
radiation, my repetitive chant and cunt. . .

A fly moves across the pages of an open book
(the wind rifles the pages slightly)
I think of girls saying “I” in novels
people saying “we” in plazas and restaurants
students and cops—

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People’s mouths are brutal portable things.
The pronoun is gratuitous expenditure
as necessity
I was a sucker in stairwells
a daughter in blouses
I was the only human to ever feel desire
for the fly moving across the open book
for the shimmer of gnats above a frugal terrace
I’m stupid against flowers, quotas
I’m stupid against tables
All my cells bust
I got a little shipwreck, a frugal little ship
on a decorated terrace
—it’s hard not to read this as testimony—
I was a sucker in blouses, I was the only human
to ever say “we”, I sat at frugal tables and
I undertook the ceremony of brutality
or pronouns. I knelt, I bust
a testimony, I was a shimmer
of gnats at noon, I was living in a hut
as a form of protest and it didn’t matter. I lied
and I held it together and the light
was for my body, and the fly
was a shipwreck. To thee I went
but I didn’t. I shelter my lesion.

Some are masters of desire, all deferral
and expletives, using the word triumphant
while they lounge in their marriages.
To choose, to think, to mean, to gather
to eagerly pursue the shimmer that can’t cohere
above the table, to occupy the silent terrace
as the flowers just pour upwards
To be organized towards sugar
Why not

But then we would become enemies.
Innovation is not a quality—
I want you to really mean it.
The truth is, everything that isn’t poetry bores me
and within the problem of lamentation’s
my perennial resistance-sensation.
I’m telling you things you already know
to keep myself intact.
There is no everyday life.
That was a bribe from the masters.
I have taken down the curtains so I can watch the foliage move.
To be accurate, to be objective
my idea of myself relates to landscape’s
unimagined achievement
an event I never sought
will shift through the frail silence
as I sit in a chair not moving.
We have loved nothing, brutally.
The DNA of loss moves through leaves—
some hidden occident of vibration
played on a disintegrating cassette-tape
to the tune of you are the tenderness of strangers
half-sleeping on a train.

Gods still move by river
the flat warehouses
are country-like
and I wonder about silt and trees and chemicals
as boats are loaded.
What if the body does not signify?
Its wee lost cluster
starts to fade
the skin opening to the moisture of the season
its immunity’s the landscape.
(here by landscape I mean political economy)

To have a bath, to write in bed in a hotel
so obvious and so easy
An entire day til the light starts to fade
to arrive at the long duration of an instability.
How to walk with this til the end
speak its tongue like a guest
at the discontinuous table
my hands shake
lilacs are everywhere

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This fundamental torsion
so thoroughly unskirtable
there will never again be sex in 1983 and
I don’t mind really.
Must I fear formlessness?
If it weren’t for this I’d be free
as body organs cast in metals
—divinatory objects—
to decorate time
I like to spit from moving trains.

So much can be passed over
in avoidance of the rupture
The driver of the team of 6 horses, ploughing
was a woman, cotton sleeves
rolled to the elbow, hands to straining
harness, skinny, capable
my kinship with this woman
her 6 huge horses and the surge
of their vitality running through leather into my body
we who have no memories at all
mount the pulsing tree in evening
every desire emits
a throw of dice
I start a school called how can I live.

In my school called how can I live
in my theory of appearing
I lay out my costume.
We don’t belong to culture. We’re sunsets.
We simplify our thoughts
until they resemble
Stop hiding from life we say to ourselves!
Our skin itches.
I beg you—show me something unknowable.
I don’t believe in this possibility of knowing.
How will you start?
The flipped-over buses
The strange stuff suspended in the air
While they copulate they turn their heads
towards the east.
Tell me now about shame and isolation
the shame that has not even
a vocabulary
—it distracts us from our purpose.
Sometimes I see things and I know right away
like looking someone in the eye.
The great health is unknown gratuitous expenditure towards the material ideal.
It is not a metaphor.
From now on, everything will be called The Middle, everything will be called The Seam, everything will be called Toxins, everything will be called The Great Health.
Everything will be a hormone.

Lisa Robertson
Lisa Robertson
Lisa Robertson lives in France. Her last book was Cinema of the Present, from Coach House Books. A volume of essays, Nilling, came out in 2012.

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