Chris Martin

A Short History of Order

First there was no first, but only a middle.  The first act against the body was to fashion a first.  First there were animals and man among them.  Then there was man and animals among him.  He walked upright and discovered the number one.  He walked upright and counted his possessions.  The body was no longer long, but vertical—a point interrogating the landscape.  Then tools to extend the body, to give it prosthesis, to kill and defend from a distance.  But the world remained too near.  So it was that we doubled the world and then chose its double.  So it was that the shadow became the thing and the body a shadow cast by the mind.  And the body became its double.  And the body found itself in a mirror.  And the body became a page, and the page became a pixel, and the pixel became a volumeless potential.  And the body disappeared because it was always moving.  Ambiguous bodies obliterated, indeterminate matter destroyed.  And the we we were not became the we we were.  It was the projection, the screen, the surface uncoupled from its mass.  Just as gold became paper and paper became plastic and plastic became nothing.  The body unhinged itself from itself, leaving its mass behind like a snake-spirit.  In order to slough the body, we gave it to the animals.  And it only returned to us in animal moments.  In bloodshed and birth.  The body only returned when it broke.  And even then we did not recognize it. The body was flayed and became words.  The body was weighed and became money.  And money, like words, is for burning, so it was no wonder when the body became smoke.

from Disequilibrium


If I possess only distances
this is only true in that

it is accurate—if poetry is nothing
more than arithmetic

and proof—there remains
no way of separating me

from an economy
of me—blue
jeans, sweat beads
a knuckle airily

popping, record
player broken, the flitting
exigencies of song

arbitrarily carried by the street below

The mugs in the cupboard
shudder as a train
passes, the shifting limit

of equilibrium ceaselessly
lurching askew

I ask you to devise a monstrance
in order to bear
necessary questions

I ask you to think of the soldier
as a prosthesis

I ask you to remember the ending
of Cobra Verde, how Kinski finally collapsed
and the deformed man quit

his pursuit to gaze upon it

These surprises return us
to the galaxy named Fangs

A scorpion
A panopticon

I ask you to prepare an aperture
I ask you to take my hand

I ask you (whispering)
which is the way

that leads
me to you?

Toward Corporeal Order

Until one day the question was asked: how can we speak in the common language that binds us of the things that that bond obliterates?  And we began to look for answers.  And we realized looking was part of the difficulty.  So we began saying yes less to our eyes and began instead with the laying on of hands.  But that wasn’t enough.  What we needed was born in coincidence, where the muddle of the middle becomes thick with information.  So we learned to heap and leap in the plenum, learned to return synesthetic, all sense grown immense in its overlap. And the answers began amid the movement of these moments.  The body, in moving, removed so much unnecessary thought.  The straight lines fell away, the geometry and frames.  Curves surged into place, the vacuity of space flooded and fled.  In this abundance, this dance of answers, one answer was the form from which the others emerged.  This answer, of course, was the body.  And the body, of course, is full of answers.  We called it corporeal order: that which speaks volume in overspill, excess, slip, and surprise; that which will not be still.  We learned perpetual rearrangement, learned to stray from the dictates of convenience.  We looked without carving, saw without severing.  And it was difficult.  And it required both colossal and minute attention.  And it involved loving no while nurturing a deep and protracted yes.  And it has been years since we first heard ourselves speak it and it will be years yet before the intolerable secret it has become our duty to reveal is fully disclosed.

Chris Martin lives in Iowa City. These poems come from his book Becoming Weather (Coffee House Press, 2011).

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