"Because the First Time I Was in New Orleans, I Died There," "Anger Song," and "In the Spirit of Negation"

Because the first time I was in New Orleans, I died there

I.        1988

Medical complications
when the Louisiana’s sultry
luoroquinolones flood
collapsing on St. Charle
of amberjack
neuropathic overdose
tainted
memorable
than a city
a geographic
which no circle
from whispering garbled
to street mimes 
my waking in
of Charity
and to drink black
watching drunk tourists

of rheumatic fever in June
turns rancid
my eight-year body
palsied into the twitch
on the line
the flavor of crayfish
but what is more
and even romantic
that stops your heart
demonology
can keep me
Hart Crane lines
to mourn
the ghost republic
Hospital
coffee
red-eyed like cowbirds

II.        2018

What can you glean
medieval wood cuts
can’t tell you
of Jefferson Parish
between bars
of divining from
the levees
of all the heat
boots and fuck-me-pumps
the upscale grits
I watch little girls
notice the ground
porous
epilogue
A pump-house
9th, I notice
something you know
despite sinkholes
I notice how pink
in the absence

from maps that
of the gardens of purgatory
wandering around the edges
eating Po Boys from corner stores
the slight sadness
flood bones
can’t take the weight
away from the gator skin
of the Bywater​
in St. Roch’s​
skipping to 90s hip-hop
seems damp
like some waterlogged
to the past storms
derelict near the lower
on the way to the bar
just enough to love
and looming red tides
my arms have become
I hope we can all swim

 


 

Anger Song

I’m tired. Too tired to write about trees
or to care about punchlines.  After all,
art, we are told, should be in service
to service, and I am tired, and should
clean my gun.  There is nothing about
service in the fading of a tulip birch
or in the explosion of junipers in
the recent combustion engines
of western forests, dried to
frayed and brittle kindling
crisp. I have revolvers to reach
for, op-ed to write, slogans
to scrawl on cardboard
in our monthly ritual of
speaking truth to power
that is eternally far away
and already knew it anyway.
Poetry makes nothing happen.
We write about it anyway. I need
to test my generator. I need to organize
the meeting, organize the lesson plan,
create a pedagogy of resistance,
as if polis could survive on friction,
as if poets were the unacknowledged
legislators of the universal demos, as if
we needed one more god-forsaken
apologia from another who wants to
do the blue prints for the infrastructure
of the city of god in unrhymed couplets.
I would want to watch the world burn,
but it's mundane and common place now,
and so even that is boring.  I would hide
this in a metaphor, but I rather clean
the barrel of an obsolete revolver.
I rather even write about the trees
but they were in flames somewhere
on a California countryside.  I mean
people would more likely understand
that, and then, maybe, just maybe,
I could sleep and not just write about it.

 


 

In the Spirit of Negation

I do not mean meanness

I do not mean to rattle the snake cage of meaning

I do not mean bearable lightness of being

I do not mean unbearable listlessness of bearing

I do not mean all signs point to yes

I do not mean live, learn, love

I do not mean conjunction

I do not mean I have everything

I do not mean self-erasure

I do not mean to dance drunkenly in the subjective

I do not mean there is more to conjunctions than normal grammar indicates

I do not mean the sounds we make are erotic in themselves

I do not mean that sex is the precursor to phonemes

I do not mean that language is epiphenomenal

I do not mean that we should discard our bones in the fields of meaning

I do not mean sex is only love misspelled

I do not mean love is only sex misspelled

I do not mean fight fire with fire

I do not mean fight fire with water

I do not mean fire

I do not mean water

I do not mean wetnesses on the lips of a lover in a humid spring day

I do not mean to say lover in the way crawls on the skin

I do not mean I keep meaning to say

I do not mean A = A

I do not mean to write a poem

I do not mean to write a list

I do not mean the mantras that hail forth on the air like kites in the wind

I do not mean I can say everything about the moon’s imagine spilling over the lake

I do not mean I hate everything

I do not mean limp puns in German

I do not mean to only write in English

I do not mean definitions

I do not mean via negativa

I do not mean roads less traveled

I do not mean streets damp with fresh rain

I do not mean miles to go before I sleep

I do not mean mIles to wake before I dream

I do not mean to be greedy

I do not mean to claim all is myself in a morass of listing

I do not mean to mock Whitman for no reason other than this bombast

I do not mean no language is neutral

I do not mean language is neutral

I do not mean the pregnant vagueness of abstraction

I do not mean the barbaric yelp of pure sound

I do not mean to dig into the sound

I do not mean eggshell signs

I do not mean the gospel of St. Saussure, where signs and signifies will crack the gates, where there will be rumors of signs and signifiers, where there will be vague whiffs of the flames of meaning

I do not mean to grab syllables in powerful jaws

I do not mean we should not have crossed the Serengeti

I do not mean we should have tried to domesticate zebras who mad bucking would have tossed our spines into the dirt to be trampled

I do not mean pain of being

I do not mean we should have not evolved thumbs

I do not mean we should gutted our own voices being we could wring meaning out of them

I do not mean the meek shall inherit the earth.

I do not mean the meek shall have their revenge with a few thousand boxes of AK-47s

I do not mean meaning will have its revenge

I do not mean numbers are a universal language

I do not mean to say that Roman numerals would have made computation more interesting

I do not mean in interesting the Chinese curse sense

I do not mean to imply that Chinese curse aphorism was historical

I do not mean implication at all 

I do not mean words are virus

I do not mean language is like herpes two weeks after the fact

I do not mean where there is a whip, there is a way

I do not mean sex positivity

I do not mean puritanical zeal

I do not mean to listen to November Rain in the rain while driving to a the gas station in my 1970s Ford LTD circa 1995

I do not mean I lost my virginity sticking the vinyl seats of that car in 10th grade.

I do not mean whipping oneself until the blood pools in the tiles of a public bathroom

I do not mean ascesis

I do not mean eczema

I do not mean skin-deep

I do not mean organ-deep

I do not mean depth

I do not mean to privilege the abstract

I do not mean Mishima’s longing for the nude and broken body of St. Sebastian, pierced with arrows and bleeding, somehow without the awareness brought about by gore.

I do not mean double entendres or double negatives

I do not mean to negate the erotic

I do not mean to affirm the erotic

I do not mean eros

I do not mean the house of eternal return

I do not mean to deny I have been entering this house always

I do not mean to come to here

I do not mean to come

I do not mean to slip and out of autobiography

I do not mean to invoke the narrative impulse

I do not mean to get beyond the yes

I do not mean to resist the affirmation on a pleasant evening

I do not mean to slut shame the mathematician who made love to me in the faculty dorm after two classes of tawny port after we both cried about being recently divorced and flirted between tears from Pasolini films

I do not mean that Nascar dads don’t have class

I do not mean to be scrying through the apparition of fake news

I do not mean to be autobiographical

I do not mean the asymmetry of bullshit

I do not mean to claim I am not writing a poem

I do not mean A = not A

I do not mean to reference my love for analytic philosophy while dreaming of ex-girlfriends’ lives beyond me

I do not mean A = A and not = A

I do not mean that I fell in love with Rabbi who was not sure if I was kashrut

I do not mean that I had to atone to her, asking for forgiveness for my affection

I do not mean to confess

I do not mean to privilege the confessional

I do not mean the confessional is gendered

I do not mean “I” is the poet, her is a distinct woman, or her is an abstraction for all women

I do not mean to assume that the essence of people are directly related to their genitals, hormone levels, or clothing choices.

I do not mean my first love was with Mishima’s ideals of manliness and their negation.

I do not mean that bondage is the an exercise of trust

I do not mean to conflate love, sex, and abuse

I do not mean not A = not A

I do not mean dialectical inversion

I do not mean to lay exhausted on my bed, wondering about the relationship of Greek mythology to the psychology of my relationships

I do not mean that Dionysus is my patron deity

I do not mean that I read too much Nietzsche in college, wondering if there was something vaguely homosexual about Apollo turning Daphne into a tree

I do not mean that Dionysus will eat me

I do not mean a metaphor for alcoholism

I do not mean a metaphor for excess

I do not mean a metaphor

I do not mean to embarrass my Roman Catholic grandmother

I do not mean to think on her palsied hands just before she died, fumbling through a Rosary get procured on her only trip outside of North America, muttering about John XXIII and John Paul II

I do not mean to offend with the joke about Pope John, Paul, and George

I do not mean to reference the rose beaded rosary I bought from a Mixtec woman outside of Oaxaca City on vacation

I do not mean the origin is missing

I do not mean the pages of past of dog-eared and moth-eaten

I do not mean vellum rotting into earwig mulch

I do not mean tattooing history into flesh

I do not mean flesh at all

I do not mean A = not A and A as well as not A and not not A.

I do not mean to allude to Nagarjuna

I do not mean cut a new middle way

I do not mean nothingness

I do not mean emptiness

I do not mean boundless

I do not mean this as a means to an end

I do not mean that really

I do not mean exactly this

I do not mean exactly that

I do not mean reference

I do not mean speech

I do not mean sign

I do not mean God

I do not mean finger pointing to the moon

I do not mean signifieds

I do not mean symbols

I do not mean meaning

I do not mean at all

I do not mean

 

 

C. Derick Varn

C. Derick Varn is a poet and teacher now living in Salt Lake City. His first collection, Apocalyptics, is available from Unlikely Books. He is a poetry reviewer for the Hong Kong Review of Books, and edits the online literary journal, Former People. He also reads theory and nonfiction for Zero Books and is a podcast co-host and co-producer for Symptomatic Redness and Alternatives.

He has spent most of the last decade in South Korea, Mexico, and Egypt. He traveled with his partner through Asia, Turkey, and Mexico. He studies the history of socialism and alternative political movements. Derick recommends the Huntsman Cancer Institute and Doctors without Borders.

 

Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Tuesday, September 3, 2019 - 23:08