Dawn Lundy Martin

Woolen cloth. Unworkable. Hard and scratchy. Doesn’t act like much. Not a rug or a blanket.  The smell of mold. Covering on walls, the walls, grey and raised, a pattern one can never forget. Fingertips can never forget. A kind of wall that might become you. You might become it—non-intricate weave, a sullen protest, against what, is unknown.

Is there or not, in the industrial fire flaming night, a dark hooded boy?

Like X equals one or seven equals Y, the kind of thing you never knew you didn’t know until it presents itself. That’s the way ignorance works, right? The life that happens and ordinary knowing and then there’s a confrontation with the opaque—motionless square that surrounds, encloses, and prevents any seeing outside.


Illness is measured in ability, how much the body can do. Can you still go to work? Are you productive? Do you stay in bed every day or just some days? All day or part of the day? Day or night? What do you do there?  Whose eye did you poke out? Which lids were broken? What color are your stockings? How many times do you wear them before you wash them? Indicate the hands on the clock ticking. Indicate which things are broken and which are already fixed. How many black waves riddle the body each day? What is your definition of a common cold? Who’s out there and who’s in here? Are you sure? You have to be sure.

Dollop of doll that hung, had hung—without certainty—as things hang anyway. Said “dissilient,” “sheared,” for cuts and other present wounds. Utterance as a hive, a bundled thought. Bro, they called him, brother, for blood and a place to land when the weather got hot, or hated, or he was hated, brrrrrrrr, bro, bruised brother, and the dolls that are headless for him. He opens his mouth as would a hewn structure, a crack in a thing so swollen it betrays the soul, becomes all body, brutal body, brutal sideway.

                                                            He opens his mouth to sing a non-threatening song something overheard, a mother’s song, but it was broken too, more of a kuff ka—kaffter kuff kuff kaffir ka, brace in the thought, the thorax.

You can take what they give you or you can fuck the whole world maybe even yourself. Just open the mouth square and press pills toward back of tongue tube the throat and imagine an easy procedure. Everything’s digital now and precise. Nothing to fear. Date rape won’t ruin you. The I is a condensed system. If you follow the instructions you can’t accidentally overdose. Grey Goose centuries yell into speech. You’re perfect! You’re fucking perfect! Either way walking is like swimming though Delaware and you barely notice. Mine is a dagger buried in my parents’ back yard. Door spills open, oil pool leagues and a tiny body wades around, listless.


How casual it all seems now, the dentists and bar bills, steel steps of a corner grocery, faces of jokers and con men, twenties arranged in a leather clip. How casual and lovely in the lure of this caustic light. Coaxing light.

If I am laden and rock hard, what will wind be? How will I know it? If I am quandary and spite and malice, among the collection of beer cans with tiny faces and an odor that clings to me, will the room become larger? All protruding logic. Inevitable gap. Burgeoning misstep. How unquestionably miserly.

What kinds of secrets, my love? 

This is a partial history of fabulously forgetting. We drift inside dreams to escape the dislogic of hunger. Cracked bodies dislodge out of—well, ice cream parlors, telephone booths, husks and fabrics made for shields. Mouths made crisp from drought. A who we are not. My brother’s house is hip-deep in the worry of objects. To arrive there is a past death. Is whirring uncontrollably in red night. Is being removed. Is naked canopies.  


A young woman’s back against a car door. A hand atop the head. A pushing down to the knees. Trembling thighs.
                                                                               Which pain?
                                                                               Frequency of delivery.
                                                                               The mouth opens.
                                                                               It moves without agency.
                                                                               Distant prattle.
                                                                               A winnowing.
                                                                               Brown body in white haze.
                                                                               Days that feel like forgiveness.
                                                                               One does not remember the face.
                                                                               The body’s scent is christening.
                                                                               We will begin newly. (scratch that)
                                                                               This is the shape of the body.
                                                                               Its remembrance of its molding.
                                                                               Enactment is like saying, Yes.

I’m trying to figure out what I have control over and what I don’t, when it’s possible to say, “I can’t help it.” I’m addicted to many things: television, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, the night… They’re not as much physical as psychological. I’m a mess. I can’t help it. A narrative of melting. A narrative of Belize. A narrative of almost anything. Of sick hearts burning out of their skin. Or a brawning. Handsome boy. Brown outs are rare. I have been dreaming of the sea. The ground rises up. The methodical fashion whores are so severe. Red like meat. Magic meat. All dripping and fantastic. It’s all so fantastic. Forgive me. My mind is littered with confetti. I’m concerned with the breakdown in connections between things that were once connected but no longer are. A blue fish in a blue sea. There are finite numbers of things.

People are fond of saying, “Everything happens for a reason,” which is complete bullshit. Required reading dots the bookshelf. There’s Fanon breathing holes into us. And my brother reading in the halty sidesteps of a grade schooler. I know what my brother smells like when he’s sick, angling for air, his body deep in the sweat of acquiescence. I want him to be someone else. My father liked to blame any crime in our neighborhood on “American blacks.” When he mumbled under his breath, I think he was saying “Goddamned niggers,” but I can’t be sure.

Hindrance of the dreaded. Fortitude and enemy alliances. A free man (some say he’s shackled) walks into the me in the subway station and steals something, I’m not sure what. At home, the house tangs of the dead. We never mention the way the rooms wilt with it. We paint the floor, collect the beer cans from the basement, and look sad. All five things have been distributed: A Timex watch, $152.32 in coins, a wallet photo from 1974, a certain longing, a bathrobe.


                                                how many?
                                                There are hands that hold
                                                nothing but light, and hands
                                                that stake claims as if staking were logic.

You are in the face of something magnificent. Accept this magnificence. Lucky bastard. Welcome to Catatonia! The city drips its sparkling blood at the feet. Instead, one procrastinates like a goat remembering how central Florida casts its long—swings itself toward—and the scent of it, funny stripes. A mother says, “we lived in a completely segregated community and everything was regular and no one killed anyone.”


The I is
more relaxed
when it is hunted.

Dawn Lundy Martin teaches at the University of Pittsburgh. This selection comes from Discipline (Nightboat Books, 2011).

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