28 October 2008

Featured Poet: Daniel Borzutzky

from The Books

The Book of Graves

“Writing is learning to die. It’s learning not to be afraid, in other words to live at the extremity of life, which is what the dead, death, give us.” (Helene Cixous, translated by Sarah Cornell and Susan Sellers)

The Book of Graves is buried beneath the tower of books. To find it the reader must dig, she must use the other books as shovels, she must dig with her hands and feet, and hide in shadows so that the sun will not burn her. There are few trees near the tower of books, and those that still stand have dead leaves, but at certain times of day the books themselves cast shadows, and we who read must constantly move in order to stay safe from the sun, which, in the Book of Books, burns the limbs off readers, off writers, off residents who live in the world of images, of ghosts, of dreams. Dig for the Book of Graves, the signs say, and you will find it next to a ladder that helps you move from one book to another, from one country to another, from one bloody word to another. Don’t climb up the ladder, the words say, you’ll dissolve into the earth; but if the ladder lets you descend, then by all means, descend, and take the Book of Graves with you, and wait for something to happen, anything—an ant to crawl, a volcano to erupt—and soon enough the third chapter of the grave that is the Book of Graves will open its lid, and you will crawl in, and you will be with the dead, or you will be dead, and the smell of putrefaction will itself be a story. Yes, the Book of Graves is written in odors: this is the smell of the holy book as it is bathed in excrement and shoved into the hands of the bearded man who screams for his mothers and country and who thinks he now is a palm tree or a bit of a rust on a barbed-wire fence: there are countries in his beard: countries of dead hairs that smell of wedding preparations in a country of rubble, a country where the ancient implodes and the modern implodes and the body parts that fall from the sky smell like vinegar; they split open as they fall and more countries fall out of them and the dead countries smell like wet rugs whose shags shelter the last spasms of birds and grasshoppers, lizards and frogs. And the smell of decomposition forms words which involuntarily leap onto pages and form voices, murmurs from a purgatory that is far worse than hell; and the page flips and there are odors: here is the smell of an old, wet, leather binding to a book wherein the dead who do not believe in life after death moan in resentment; here is the smell of blood that has mixed with ink and formed rivers from which fish ascend into a sea-sky where the algae weighs hundreds of pounds and there in the sky on the edge of the horizon the hair burns and the shoes burn and the skin burns off those bodies who were promised that death is sudden but instead it is a long shower of hail and words and words and hail and the hail and the words are interchangeable just as the gas and the electricity are interchangeable and the lightning and the sun are interchangeable and the rivers and the trees are interchangeable. The residents of the Book of Graves are monsters: they are like people who forgot to stop breathing when they die. They breathe and forget, they breathe and forget: the odor of life and memory.

The Book of Echoes

The reader who opens the Book of Echoes finds a village where no one lives and nothing grows and where all the houses are empty. A famished-looking man meets the reader at the entrance to the village. I know that you came to find the Book of Echoes, says the man, who now takes the reader on a tour through the village, but it is gone. It has vanished. Or better said, the Book of Echoes is indistinguishable from the living echoes that the ghost-men and the god-men intone as they search for an exit from purgatory. A few flips of the pages and soon the book disappears and there are ghost-men and God-men who march through the village looking for an audience to hear what they have to peddle. A man opens his mouth and a little bomb drops out of it and when it detonates books and rivers form out of the ashes. The reader opens a page from one of the new books that has been birthed by the bomb. On the first page there is a country and everyone in it smiles. They are not happy but the law says they must smile or their teeth and lips will be ripped from their faces. They smile and sob at the same time and their sobs echo and the little bombs that fall from the mouths of the writers and readers echo and the silence echoes and the tour guide who brought the reader into the Book of Echoes says to the reader: It’s been a long time since you’ve been gone. You have been here before; this village hides in another village in another book that you have previously entered. A bomb falls out of the tour guide’s mouth and thousands of poems spill out and there is a desert and there are bones that tell stories of the families who live on the margins of this book: they are parables, sure, but they too drop bombs out of their mouths and from their arm pits and they store bombs in their knees and they fling bombs with their fingers and toes. And the bombs are like poems and rain and static and the horns of buses and trucks; and they fill the smiles of the citizens; and the echoes of the bombs are like little blessings that teach us how to blow up all the lies that have taught us to live. Yes the bombs in this book are blessings and the citizens smile at them and sob and there are cities on the horizon exploding and bodies falling from air planes and the bodies buzz when the reader holds them to her chest and in the vibration of the lifeless bodies there is one long oooooooooooooooooooooooooooo; and the moment the ooooooooooooooooooooooo ends the reader finds a mirror and in the glass there is a baby breathing in a field and in the bomb that is the baby’s cry there is breath and more breath and there is the memory of the time when the citizens of the village did not smile instead they wore sadness on their faces and they laughed and there were words written in the river, and the river said grow and smile and don’t smile, and there was a leg that floated into the picture and it was a prayer and we tossed it to the citizens and they smiled and read the leg and held it to their cheeks and it echoed across the entire village and the citizens laid down to die in the beds where they were born but they could not die; they could only sob and murmur and smile.