To The Reader
I’m so fucking bored.
So you know it’s been
a few hours since the Cialis got
chopped, groomed by the rail,
coaxed into industrial shape. First there’s a sting,
spotty sprays of plasma when I huff,
and then? Revolution. Afterwards,
none of us go to work. In my translation of Charles Baudelaire’s poem “To The Reader,” I meditate on the contemporary situation of work and the proliferation of “work without work.” That is, I read “To The Reader” as a reader who’s obliged to repeat a performance structured according to the familiar contours of the working day, a day determined on the assumption of production, but one almost devoid of production. I go to a small cell washed in halogen light for nine hours. One hour a day I am permitted to stray and graze with the caveat that I return in a timely fashion. Indeed, according to my masters the one hour ought to be considered a luxury paid for with the blood of heroic predecessors. This production without production effects a formalsurveillance, partly engineered by my own voluntary surrender of content.
I’m talking about
Facebook. I’m talking about the beginning of the poem
“To The Reader.” Work appears in the first
stanza as a description of just such
our spirits with folly and vice
because we hunger for them.
On Facebook, Malia Jackson describes
a burrito-shaped hole in her heart.
She goes to Chipotle but finds that
going to Chipotle tripled the size
of that burrito-shaped lack. Sweaty
murmur. God. I am so fucking bored,
which is how you know I’m surrounded
by those closest to me. We’re licking
each other’s sweat, revolted by the laborious
acidity of simmering Cialis. I’m Starving
Cute Overload. I’m sure many of you dear hostile readers of my dreams are already feeling a little hesitant about the second stanza of my translation, since I describe the characters engaged in the drama of contemporary work in terms of “master” and “slave.” You’re thinking, “What is this, ‘Daddy’ by Sylvia Plath.” You’re thinking is he high. Has he been rubbing hash-covered knives together in the kitchen. But just as there’s no equal sign governing my translation and Baudelaire’s poem, I don’t propose an equal sign between the series of historical catastrophes we subsume under
the episteme “slavery” and the particulars of that tearful
walk through moist acid I and many of my fellows
and sisters undertake each morning. And yet…
It’s obvious that community
is Satanic. This translation
wipes the crystallized snot out
of wens in its wens. You
know, when wrinkles
have wrinkles. I turn to talk to my
master, but I find the master to be an
endless serialization of the Prometheus
story. You know the one.
Prometheus is chained to a rock where he
manufactures a very complex, astonishingly
efficient propaganda machine
praising the transcendent value
of chaining oneself to a rock.
Meanwhile Hercules pets fifty
nubile things in a furry hut, showers in Retsina,
very not bored as he lives the life
of a God on earth. Ugh, what
am I talking about? Reading
“To The Reader”
I find myself foam. My
teeth crumble like mints into shredded
glucose. It’s sweet. Do you think the devil has a pillow? Do you care about David Pottruck and Emily Pottruck? Do you think that David and Emily Pottruck care about you? I wake up in a drool lagoon and the first thought I have in the morning is will I be fired by Charles Schwab today. Being an alchemist used to be the only job one did 24 hours a day. Even when you were slopping up ferruginous gruels in a bowl off a plank you kept thinking, “how am I going to turn such and such into gold” and “how am I going to turn such and
such into gold.” Really chewing on that. Emblazoned pillow
whose thread counts blaze. Leisure arson.
You can’t burn cereal. I’d worship Satan
if only I weren’t so allergic to the monochrome
gloomy sartorial orthodoxy
and Nordic vibrato of its brutal
soundtrack. I’m not talking to a cat, I’m
talking to my reader. My reader,
you suspect that the stanzas of
the poem preserve a secret
anagram. You’re getting
Indiana Jones on this shit. Sweaty
decipherment. It dawns on you
that my oeuvre seems to itself assert
that there a missing or deferred
oeuvre and this is cognitively opaque or
cognitively opaque-ish. But you know what never stops working? Olfaction. Even and especially when you’d really prefer it to take a break. What we do daily we tend to do without horror. Last summer at my birthday party somebody puked in the bathroom sink and two days later there was still a stench of it. Barnacles on the pipe coating the plunge to sheer sepsis. There’s a way in which the radical lack of immediate party is the only way you know that you party and have partied. Last night in Stephanie’s reading she was talking about the “event that hides the event.” That’s exactly like spraying air freshener in massive quantities around this tiny bathroom whose mold spores hold their noses, howling about bad redolence.
Have you ever held blank whiteness
between your pecs? Blowing on the
dice, I watch those bones gradually
become cynical. Someone
starts paying me to dangle out a window
by one toe, tied by string and the overtakeless
grace by which I glide through the mottled
labyrinth of a gutless piñata. If you can’t
read it you can’t translate it. You know that
all too well, dear reader. I want your ear
so close to my lips you’ll be aware I’ve
had citrus. Gross lactic fireworks display of
mom’s milk. Did you like my pantomime?
Did you ever want to throttle a pantomime?
I’m hesitant to reproduce the central image of Baudelaire’s fifth stanza, the “secret pleasure” of the broke rake squeezing and biting the breasts of an aged prostitute. It suggests as comic what is essentially awful. Like a mime acting out your worst comment thread nightmare. BTW Baudelaire rhymes the word for eating and biting, “mange,” with the word for orange, “orange.” I want to see a representation of my own
brain like I want to see a bowl of maggots
stir from torpor and overturn their slimy turpitude.
Do you think Charles Baudelaire’s brain looked
like Nietzsche’s? Do you think Greg Louganis’s
arms would squeeze the seeds out of an orange?
Do you think he would dare to? When I was being
reared in the Sudafedic waste bastion
of rural American fructose culture
they used to show us videos of the lungs of smokers.
They were always very black and awful. Then
they would show you the lungs of a non-smoker
which I guess were better because of being pink
But still they were not, like, inside the human
being who wasn’t smoking so that seems like the kind of
purposefully occulted information which even Wikileaks
cannot accommodate. They also showed pictures of the skulls
of kids who put quarters on the train tracks. Don’t put
quarters on the train tracks. Things that make you go hm. Things that make you go (the sound of woesome grieving at staggering noise.) This stanza was inspired by something I learned reading commentary on the first five lines of Iliad. So one of the first words in Iliad is oulomenos, which normally translates as “wretched” or “woesome.” The word is derived from the barely morphemic sounds of grieving in Greek, which emerge in full textual apparatus only in tragedy, where their onomatopoetic vowel sounds are appropriated into the mixed metrics of those plays. That is, oulomenos means something like “that which makes you go oileto! Oiiiiillleeeto! Oioioiloiloiloi! To ululate. Every language has its stable phonemes to express grief. In English we say oh and alas. Sobs crest inside us like the broken, crazy toilet in The Conversation (1974, dir. Francis Ford Coppola.) In the poem I alternate between “authentic” or genuine expressive discourse and ironic passages meant to provoke laughter in you, my salty reader. For example, I talk about the death of beloved friends and pets as things that make you go (the sound of woesome grieving at staggering noise) and then I talk about sending in your tax return but forgetting to include your student loan interest as a thing that make you go (the sound of woesome grieving at staggering noise.) When I’m terrified I long for the corny, but perversely it’s the profoundly corny which most makes me open my mouth and howl with sounds of woe and grief. In Iliad it’s a horrible sickness sent by Apollo as punishment for bad behavior on the part of the sovereign. That is, the sovereign’s brutality has the effect of causing his own people to suffer painful illness, dying on the sand, becoming dinner for birds and dogs. Poor king. Everybody’s uvulas flickering with o’s and l’s. I tried to write down how sad I was when Lesley died. Dear Rodney, I wrote. Dear Rodney, I wrote but there weren’t really words for that. Do you think the destruction of the Vendome
Column in 1871 is one of the top 10
historical topplings of monuments? In
my fantasy re-creation plumes of lead seethe
from the scene of its crash like birds
scrambling tyranny. And Jake Gyllenhaal
plays Gaillard, the best socialist cobbler
in a century known for its outstanding socialist
cobblers. Cobblers you’d happily crew with
and plan a coup with. To breathe is recreational.
To deliver the coup de grace to a notionally
stable regime would be so satisfying. Still,
all those francs getting dusty in the abandoned
Bank of France…orphaned in heaps
like those kids in, is it Iowa? My plans to commit
great larceny in this life are relatively non-violent
but I do always escape. Then I recline by federated
waters, translating “To The Reader” until cocktails
arrive. How many poems have I written in order to say
I don’t want to go to work today? But if you
forgive me, dear reader, your palm fills
of roe later. Lavishly, nastily, making a
hump on perfectly toasted bread. A monument to raked
salt. One which the regime of trill scholarship
will not come blow up when power has been appropriated.
Now let me tell you some more about everything
that I have swallowed. How I obtained a swallowship and registered with a flock of swallows. Graft into a hard herd. Community is obviously a long look into whatever you’re lacking. A wringing hands over fealty and oaths, petty larcenies. Petters, and the manicured hands of petters. Sociability gathers as a painting and everybody who sees it hates it. You can’t love something if you can’t read it. But you know that as well, my dear reader, my dear syphilitic reader. My translation isn’t lubricant for the withered flakes of epidermis into which you shove tongues and beverages. Gulp. If you could hang out
with Charles Baudelaire, which Charles
Baudelaire would you do it with?
On Facebook Anne Boyer cited Charles Baudelaire
as an illustration of the iconic male artist
who refuses to labor, sublimating his own
creative work to the extent that wage labor appears
demonic, the stumbling stone over which his
astonishing artmaking would be tripped and dissipate.
So these guys, what they do, as Anne points
out on Facebook, is defer the responsibility for
wage earning onto the women in their lives. Baudelaire
famously disavows children and wives, but
has this incredibly fucked relationship with
his mom as you know. All his life he writes her
letters, alternating between extreme vitriol
and the dulcified platitudes of a fine son. But
what the letters have in common is they all
ask for money. In return he promises that he’s doing
tons of work, that all he does is work. But Baudelaire as you know is a brooder not a thinker, and brooding loves idleness the way Long Island Iced Tea loves ice. I love what Anne Boyer said, and I also want to add that the heroic male artist as lame and tragic as he is also gets this one thing right, that work is the stumbling stone over which artmaking trips and dissipates. Or rears out of a long, terrible historical travail which is not yet spent. And emerges necessarily wearing the mark of the beast. Now this is not as dumb as it sounds, and my translation is not proposing that there is even some imaginable strata of ideal art forms which could only be effected by the implementation of anarchist principles. And yet…
God. I. Am. So. Fucking. Bored.
I think I’d hang out with the Baudelaire
of the late 1840’s. We’d be about the same
age, and I would love to go smoke opium
at Courbet’s house and stroll through the
Latin Quarter afterwards talking about how
I can’t feel my fucking legs, Charles or How pleased
am I with the purple albatross spreading
its immense feathers over the crest of my
ennui. Or whatever. What’s destroyed
the world is the historical fact that a small
group of people have enduringly convinced a much
larger group of people that it is all right
for the small group to own all the land and
yawn so wide that drops of Dom condense
as the honeyed dew from which poetry issues.
The other group disfigures their body
and their wild potentiality. What I’d like to do
is lay in bed with you, my dear reader, all the time. The ninth stanza of my translation of “To The Reader” essentially recites an index of all the things I want to do to you, tender reader, and all the things I’d like you to do to me. When we’re lying in bed or wrapped around a lectern. I don’t want a lecture. I want to smell your snot and whatever your body likes to spray across the exposed nerve endings somewhat acclimated to a long period of time untrammeled by finance. The index is alphabetical. Its scope is comprehensive. Dear reader, pant pant pant. Dear reader, my translation brays the sounds of satisfaction. Those sounds so hateful to Charles Baudelaire and everybody else who loves labor. One of the best things about the toppling of the Vendome Column is the perfection of its irony, necessary to revolutionary
libidinality going forward. The icon of destruction
and murder can only be blown up with dynamite.
Courbet wanted to merely move it somewhere else
and reinscribe it as a monument to eternal peace. But
Courbet as you know was a silly country bumpkin.
Just like your translator, who shits amidst ticks
in his dreams and drinks mud. I’m watching
a revolution in Egypt and I’m watching it on Facebook.
I’m there with my whole community. I’m sitting
alone in an ergonomic chair especially suited to all-day
sitting. Bored to eructation. Oh my god.
Dear reader, you are me except you never will be.
We’ll hunker together, groping flippers,
masticating the salt out of each other’s
teardrops. Here we are, squeezing
each other’s oranges! Disavowing
the citrus that rages inside the churning
ambivalence in us. My reader,
my homie, my hypocritical cousin.
Yes, I said that we’re cousins.
We’re satanic cousins!
Brandon Brown’s first two books were published in 2011, The Persians By Aeschylus (Displaced Press) and The Poems of Gaius Valerius Catullus (Krupskaya.) Poems and prose have recently appeared in Postmodern Culture, Model Homes, Poetry Project Newsletter, Swan’s Rag, Try!, and Art Practical. He has programmed literary series at New Langton Arts, 21 Grand Gallery, several consecutive living rooms, and published small press chapbooks under the imprint OMG! He lives in San Francisco.