11/16/11

Edward Mullany – From heartfelt to whimsical to surprising to shocking to serious to humorous: trying to describe reality through the voices of people so stunned by their experience of reality that they see with a kind of insane clarity

Edward Mullany, If I Falter at the Gallows, Publishing Genius Press, 2011.



"The poems of Edward Mullany are both seeing things and “seeing things.” They are devices that help us help ourselves to all the mirages and illusions—and then some—that we know to be true." - Graham Foust

"If one of art’s purposes is to revise our perceptions, then Mullany’s work excels. His powerful use of the short line well supports this challenge. Whether they begin with the surreal or mundane, his lyrics pare to essentials poetry’s central subjects—love, death, myth—through his confident vision and craft." - Martha Serpas

"As do the little bottles of scotch available on airplanes, these small, potent poems suspend us above the everyday. These deft gestures expose human quandaries without getting stuck in quandariness. They eschew excess—they don’t need it. They’re precise throughout without losing their mystery." - Connie Voisine

"I read Edward Mullany’s phenomenal collection If I Falter at the Gallows (Publishing Genius Press, 2011) while sitting alone at the Laundromat. I sipped a strong cup of coffee as I watched my pants, socks, briefs, and so on flop and tick in steady circles. I picked up Mullany’s book, read a piece, put it down, pondered, repeated. When I finished, I felt clean and fresh, and also inspired.

The Not So Simple Truth

Potatoes. Dirt and

water. And a soft

towel left for us while
we shower. These

things are no
truer for their


plainness than peas
or pus or leprosy.

Comprised of concise poems, mostly, and a few blocks of prosetry/verse fiction, Mullany’s debut collection is an absolute stunner. He moves effortlessly from heartfelt to whimsical to surprising to shocking to serious to humorous, and he does so with simple, straightforward action and imagery. Edward’s words are as honest and warm as a pair of socks right from the dryer, and they’re just as pleasant to handle.

Comic Relief

At the top
of a dune
in the desert,
a bearded
man appears, only
to be pushed

in the back
and caused
to tumble down
the dune by
another bearded
man.

Edward creates strings that are paradoxically foreign and familiar. Within the pieces, and sometimes behind them, there exists the presence of violence or the potential for it—the brilliant textual reworking of American Gothic shows a family filled with gun lust—and Edward’s creations are interested in the study of this violence, this bubbling, primal need that roils at humanity’s core. To me, the pieces marvel, right along with us, at that which they contain. It’s a paradox, again, by way of navel gazing through to an innate depiction of what it means to bear witness. In simpler terms, perhaps, it’s life looking at life looking at life, endlessly.

Ragtime

We forget in which zoos foolish
humans cause their

own mauling. A philosopher sticks
his head into the fire, so

what? Here is an earth. Here is another
earth. Here is another earth.

Once our eyes slip from the page, these pieces continue on for miles and miles, through lives and deaths. They’re filled, each of them, with an odd, grinning infinity, and with the booming magnificence of change.

A Suicide In The Family


The doorbell rings. Or a mountain

speaks to a mountain


in a language only

mountains understand.

This book has fast become a favorite of mine because it isn’t simply for poets or fiction writers or mothers or shaggy sons left alone to watch clothes at a Laundromat—nay!—this book is for everyone because it’s accessible to everyone, and there’s no doubt in my mind that anyone who reads this collection will find in it something familiar to them, something that rings of home, and of something much larger than themselves.
Edward Mullany’s If I Falter at the Gallows is an embrace, pressing lightly the shoulders of the cosmos. I recommend this book so highly I’m in danger of falling off the ladder." - Mel Bosworth

"The first book I ever read from Publishing Genius Press was Easter Rabbit by Joseph Young, a book of sparse, tight microfiction. I read the book in a single sitting. It wasn’t just for the contest. I remember distinctly the feeling of language bending. One of my favorite things about Publishing Genius is how often their books force me to reimagine and rearrange my ideas of what language can and should be, what language can and should do.
I sat down to read Edward Mullany’s If I Falter at the Gallows at 11:15 last night. At 12:04, I finished. My cat was asleep against my leg. The house was quiet and dim. A feeling of futility wrestled at my arms and chest. I wanted to read Ecclesiastes, but I didn’t want to wake my cat. I wanted to do a lot of things, but didn’t want to wake my cat. Against all the futility I felt, there was something purposeful in its slow, plodding breath.
I keep saying futility. Let me explain.
Mullany’s poems are as equally sparse as Young’s Easter Rabbit, but there is a futility in Mullany’s lines that brought to my chest a feeling I’ve been wrestling with the past few months, a “what does anything matter” question that is perhaps as cliche’ as it is historic, that’s perhaps best exemplified in the poem “Important”:

The newspaper said a painter who is dead and whose
paintings are exhibited in museums in the country
he spent most of his life in, as well as in museums in
other countries, would have been one hundred today.

I read that poem over at least 5 times last night, I thought of the painter’s life, I thought of my life. I laughed. My cat stirred. I laughed more quietly.
I went back and reread previous poems, the dark and quiet irony of “Important” coloring everything now.
I read “A Suicide in the Family,” and understood the how useless words can be:
The doorbell rings. Or a mountain
speaks to a mountain

in a language only
mountains understand.

I read “The Birthday Present Analogy”, and finally got the joke:

Inside the box, you
find another

box. And so
on. It is only

a joke if
there is a first

and a final
box.

After I stopped laughing, I sent an email. I picked up my cat, cradled her in my arms. I carried her in to bed and rested her next to my wife. I took off my glasses, plugged my phone in to charge, set my alarm for the morning.
I have plenty to do before I find the final box. And so do you. You have this book to read at least. Whatever you do after that, do it well, and take care." - Christopher Newgent


"So much has been said around the web recently about this book, I thought I’d sift through my own thoughts on the book as a way to add to the conversation:
1. An entry point? The epigraph. Charles Simic: “Who put canned laughter/into my crucifixion scene?” The pseudo-humor, a mark of ha-ha entertainment, slapped against the tragic, the personal tragedy, someone’s personal tragedy.
2. If I had to tell someone about these poems, I’d say something like “They’re short poems with lots of head space to roam, like a dot-to-dot picture that could be either a horse with flames coming out of his eyes or an old person serving soup to the homeless on the day he/she dies.”
3. We find that sinkhole brevity over and over, a little picture, a bearded man pushing another bearded man down a dune (“Comic Relief”) or retreating soldiers who aren’t supposed to be retreating getting killed anyway (“Either/Or”), and it’s kind of funny like in that AH THAT SUCKS way, but then in all that white space we stumble into questions like “WHY WAR?” or “WHY THE SHOVE?”
4. Why does anyone need to be crucified in the first place?
5. I guess I’m yet another reviewer person responding to what Mullany said about his poems in NANO fiction:
I don’t aim to write funny poems, but neither do I aim to write sad poems. I try to describe reality through the voices of people so stunned by their experience of reality that they see with a kind of insane clarity.
6. Insane clarity! I like that. It reaches out for something that I think the clarity-driven, plain-spoken writing that I encounter sometimes misses: a sincere interest in the craziness around us.
7. I’m taking it way out of context, but I’m reminded of this quote from Ways of Seeing by John Berger:
To be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself. A naked body has to be seen as an object to become a nude.
8. A naked poem can be cool I guess, where someone’s like look at this and it’s disturbing or funny, but what Mullany does, maybe a more accurate word is gives, what Mullany gives is an object, a nude object, transformed into this lovely other.
9. “To The Woman Who Jumped In Front Of A Train” is a poem from the book that exemplifies this point:
I am wearing a yellow

dress, and I am walking

with you towards a gate above

which is a sign only

one of us
can read.

10. Is this funny? Maybe, but also it is tragic and these two things slapped together are startling. This is obvious, but a good piece of art is not just the means of dealing with experience, but the place for such dealing.
11. I’m reminded of what Adam Robinson, lead man of Publishing Genius, said about his own poem “I am going to have sex with these people” from his book “Adam Robison and Other Poems” in an interviewer for Issue 1 of Beecher’s Magazine. The interviewer said that “the language of the poem is the language of you trying to figure out what the poem is.” And Adam responded:
Mairead Byrne said a similar thing on her jacket review for the book, that “somewhat skeptically” the book “marks out a testing ground for poetry.” I’m really happy about that. It wasn’t something I was doing intentionally in the language, but it’s always on my mind, more than in a “is this a good poem” way. Because I think Poetry (capital P) has a lot of vitality. Even good poems can be lame, can be who cares? So my objective with the bro-sona language is to move the process right onto the surface of the poem. Rather than have the reader cut through the craftiness, my intention was to start them off with, uh, crappiness and filter through that for the “poem.”
12. Maybe in a little different way than Adam meant for his own poems, but definitely with the same core, Mullany starts and ends with the “crappiness” of life, the peculiarity of living, the tragedy of a bunch of humans being together on this stupid earth.
13. The reader, if patient, can walk around on the surface and slowly sink in, instead of sinking in from the beginning.
14. Like “Either/Or,” “Ode To The Bayoneted Soldier” meanders within one of the suckiest parts of human conflict, war:
In the woods beside the snowy
field, the footprints
continued.
15. Christopher, in his response to the book earlier here at Vouched, mentioned that overwhelming feeling of “what does anything matter,” and did a great job of exemplifying how Mullany’s poems connected to him and this question.
16. Looking at “Important,” which was the first poem Christopher singled out, I’d say that Mullany’s poems again and again, for this reader at least, point out that what matters depends on the person, but some things (should?) matter to nearly everyone, like art or war or death.
17. The poems in If I Falter At The Gallows snips the most affecting bits from these BIG THINGS and spreads them out where the reader can roam around.
18. Realization is beautiful." - Tyler Gobble
"I love a book that I have to fight to gain control of / over, but only if I can eventually win. Edward Mullany’s debut book If I Falter at the Gallows is the perfect representation of this battle. Part clever, part insightful, part layered, part simple, Mullany’s poetry both dominates the reader and allows us inside, a push / pull welcome mat that I am so thankful Mullany left out for us.
To begin with, the title If I Falter at the Gallows reminds me of Ambrose Bierce’s ‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge’, which seems a strong compliment to the mixture of realism and imagination that permeates your book. Can you tell us a little about your use of realism and imagination throughout this collection?
When I was 8, my father took me and my brother and a couple of my sisters to a theater that sometimes showed old movies. The feature was Oliver Twist – the 1948 black and white version. But before the feature, there was a short film. It was an old French adaptation of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. I remember being transfixed. This was the first serious movie I’d ever seen; it was completely new to me. The black and whiteness of it. The solemnity of the soldiers, the awful ceremony involved in hanging a man properly, or with dignity. And then the horrible beauty of the story itself; the way you are led to believe that the prisoner might escape – that the rope breaks, that he falls into the river below, swims away, runs through the forest and into the arms of his wife – only to realize at the end that he is imagining it in the moment before he is hanged.
There is drama inherent to this plot, but it takes an artist to prevent this drama from being cheapened in its presentation. I couldn’t have said so then, but I know now that the reason I was so taken by this movie is because the filmmaker was an artist. He was, as Chekhov would have said, “not a confectioner” but “a man who has signed a contract with his conscience and his sense of duty.” This is what realism is capable of doing – not entertaining you, exactly, but enabling you to see the world with an almost holy clarity. It can make you sad in a way that doesn’t feel worthless. I hope that a bit of this has gotten into my work.
Also, in terms of titles, many of the poems in If I Falter at the Gallows hinge on them, gain a great deal of their power and impact from the connection between the title and the poem itself, the conversation between the two. How conscious is your title creation for each piece, and, if you can generalize, how do most of them come about?
I think a title should help readers discover what’s important about the work it belongs to. For example, there’s nothing in the poem called ‘Widowed’ to clearly indicate that it’s about a man who has been widowed. But when you read the title again, after having read the poem, it seems somehow fitting. The trick for the writer is to know when to allow the subconscious part of the mind to lead the way. When titling a poem, there’s a period of time – sometimes only an instant – when I forget about logic and just allow my mind to reach into its own depths. Whatever it grabs hold of, I then mold with the conscious part of my mind. It’s a little like dreaming, and then recalling the dream on waking.
Many of the poems in If I Falter at the Gallows work through / against / in tandem with one another. For example:
Against Narrative Poetry’

A black knife, a blue
knife.
A red
hand
v. this poem

‘In Praise of Narrative Poetry’

Into the bleak
lake on the estate
on which no
one resides, falls
the quiet
rain.
Is this always purposeful as you write one poem to the next, this conversation between poems, this dialogue that occurs from piece to piece in the book?
- It was somewhat intentional with the two poems you mentioned. I’d written and titled the first one (‘Against Narrative Poetry’), and soon after I had written another poem that needed a title. I was looking at it and saw that it was forming, or could be seen to be forming, a conversation with the first poem. So I allowed it to go in that direction. But I’m wary of making a habit of doing so. Because as soon as anything becomes habit in the making of art, the art suffers. Each piece needs to rise out of some place of spontaneity – out of some new fire inside the mind – or else the piece becomes wooden, lifeless; an imitation rather than an original.
But I hope there is a thematic conversation among the pieces. There is no getting away from the themes you are preoccupied with anyway. For me, these themes might involve fear, rage, and devotion.

In If I Falter at the Gallows, there are poems like this:

‘Either/Or’

Some of the retreating soldierswere retreating because they’d seen other soldiers
retreating
though there had been no order to retreat,
died retreating anyway

and some like this:
‘The Great Refusal’

Here is a pebble.
Here is a riverbank on which that pebble resides.
Here is the sky.
Here is a part of the sky.
Here is a part of a part of the sky.

and one like this:

‘Fourteen Hairdryers’
One hairdryer, two hairdryers, three
hairdryers, four hairdryers, five hairdryers,
six hairdryers, seven hairdryers, eight
hairdryers, nine hairdryers, ten hairdryers,
eleven hairdryers, twelve hairdryers, thirteen
hairdryers, fourteen hairdryers

Can you talk to us about the differences between these types of poems? What is each meaning to do, and how many varieties of poetic approach do you think are present in this book’s pages?
- I’m fascinated by the ‘holy fool’ – the figure in some religious traditions whose wisdom is disguised by, or expressed through, a kind of Zen madness. To me, this ‘holy fool’ is the speaker in ‘Fourteen Hairdryers’. There’s something funny and scary about this poem. Or not scary, but serious. It doesn’t explain itself, and there is nothing for it to explain. It seems absurd, yet why is it absurd?
Similar to this is ‘The Great Refusal’. There is something about negation, or refusal, in both poems. I’m talking about a refusal to elaborate, a willingness to do no more than to observe some mundane truth, and, through that observation, give it a kind of reverence.
In ‘Either/Or’, there’s the same style of observation that’s present in the other two poems, but there is also, I think, a more clearly articulated allusion to philosophical questions. How should one live? What kind of choices should one make? The title refers to the Soren Kierkegaard book that juxtaposes a hedonistic life with an ethical life. The poem isn’t about those two kinds of lives, exactly, but it invokes something near to them.
I’m not sure how many different poetic approaches are present in the book. There might be several, or several variations of the same approach. I think that ultimately the concern of all of the poems is the same concern. Maybe they are a sort of religious poetry, but their speakers are not in the same head spaces. It’s difficult not to hear a note of hope in the two poems that end the book (‘A Good Death’ and ‘Light’), and yet the book also contains ‘Blue’, ‘The Depressed Person’ and ‘Golgotha (Charcoal on Paper)’ – poems that seem to deliberately exclude hope. The book might be a little bipolar.
For me, your poetry bears a nice resemblance to the works of Mairead Byrne and Joseph Young among other contemporary Publishing Genius Press writers. What current authors do you take inspiration from, find reinvigoration in, always read?
- I’ve read Mairead Byrne and Joseph Young, and I admire them both. I’m a slow reader, but when I find writers I like, I look for more of their work. Brian Mihok is one writer whose work I hope finds more of an audience. He’s published stories in journals, but I’m looking forward to when all these stories are published as a book so that more people read them; they’re strange and wonderful. Ryan Blacketter is another writer I feel the same about. He often writes about people trying to live their lives in the American West. His work is a little haunted.
Now that this first book is out, what is next for Edward Mullany? Is there another book in the works, more text on your tumblr, something else entirely?
- I’m working on a book about an apocalypse. It’s different than If I Falter in that If I Falter doesn’t have so central a subject. What I mean is that it would be difficult for me to say If I Falter is about this or about that. But this new work is progressing in a different way; I understood I wanted to write the book before I began it. It has a more clearly defined arc.
If I Falter at the Gallows, released just this month by Publishing Genius Press, continues the evolution of Adam Robinson’s editorial eye, which has slanted recently towards the opening of the page, the whiteness of space as in other recent publications like Michael Bible’s Simple Machines and Chris Toll’s The Disinformation Phase. But as always, with all of the PGP catalog, each new work unlocks a new level, and Edward Mullany’s If I Falter at the Gallows is a must read for anyone invested in this progression, this development, in the furthering of literature. There is something inside of these poems that is quite heart-breaking, quite lovely, and most often tinged with the hilarious or darkly sad / funny – a quality that Mullany is amazing at finding within our words." - Interview by J. A. Tyler

"Give Edward Mullany a point-and-shoot camera. Let him walk around and take snapshots of things. Then let him take that set of pictures and turn them into gifs. This, for me, is the M.O. of IF I FALTER AT THE GALLOWS, a book of poems that makes me aware of the matter inside words and how that matter can be made to loop again and again until you feel something approaching laughter, or even something that breaks this asymptote, sprays into uncharted colors.
As with every book of poems I’ve ever cracked open to review, I’m talking about EVERYTHING IS QUITE and EMERGENCY ROOM WRESTLING, I wasn’t sure what to expect. My blood runs thick with prose. Poetry is something blowing in the wind, some fabric resembling a handkerchief that needs to just blow and blow and blow. To read poetry is great, but to try and decipher it is like putting your hand on the handkerchief and steadying it, ossifying it, turning it into something bony and brittle. I will not analyze poetry, I simply refuse to do something so cruel. Prose, maybe, but poetry, never.
Having said all that, like some giant disclaimer for my ignorance regarding the Meaning of Poem, I will now say the following: Edward Mullany is the perfect diving board. He is springy, he is flat, he is hanging over ideal swimming water, not a swimming pool, but a calm tropical ocean that will encrust my skin with salt. I carry his book with me and think about how many writers he has impressed, how many he will impress, and I know he will be, at worst, one of those obscure wordsmiths who is remembered for his influence on bigger writers who happened to strike a collective note – Ping! But behind that ping will be a man named something that no one quite remembers. Edward what?
At best, Edward Mullany will be lauded for his beautifully looped gifs until the end of time.
I’m not trying to flatter the poet, who understands what it means to be obscure:

A MINOR POET

comes home, just

like anyone. Hugs

his daughter, if he

has one.

When I read this poem my imagination becomes a video camera that captures a door opening, a man walking in and bending down to hug his daughter, and his eyes closing as his mouth seems to dissolve into something grateful. Then that scene loops. Man opening door. Man walking in. Man bending down to hug his daughter. Man smiling. And it still doesn’t end. No. It somehow becomes more elemental. Door. Man. Daughter. Smile. Door. Man. Daughter. Smile. Looped again and again. Like I said before, gifs, Edward Mullany has mastered the art of writing gifs. His poems are tiny packages of infinity that bury into your soul and replay over and over until you either smile, or laugh, or push beyond into something indescribably human. Here’s another:

COMIC RELIEF

At the top
of a dune

in the desert,
a bearded

man appears, only
to be pushed

in the back
and caused

to tumble down
the dune by

another bearded
man.
I love this one. I can see the bearded man, his feet somersaulting and spraying sand into the air, as he tumbles. Everything I need to know about this scene is written in ~30 words. That’s it. So parsimonious, so respectful of each component of language. This poem is both weightless and massive. What about this little gif:

DUST

On TV, a woman

with a shiny

face smiles and waves.

Imagine a woman on TV smiling and waving. Then the scene stops and loops back to the beginning. A woman smiling and waving. Freeze. Back to beginning. Smiling and waving. Only it’s really impossible to know when exactly it loops. The woman could be smiling and waving forever, or maybe she’s only doing it for 2 seconds.
It must be my mindset, but these poems soothe me.
There’s also some black humor in Edward Mullany’s poems. Like this one:

TO THE WOMAN WHO JUMPED
IN FRONT OF A TRAIN

I am wearing a yellow
dress, and I am walking

with you toward a gate above
which is a sign only

one of us
can read.

It took me 2 or 3 reads to fully lodge this poem into my brain matter, but once it got in there I kind of snorted and read it aloud for the benefit of all those around me. One person in the room shouted, “MIND THE GAP!” in Korean.
All this talk makes me wonder if every injury is somehow associated with not being able to read the signs all around you. This could be a strong case for becoming a polyglot of more than just languages, but everything around you.
But is this poem really something I should laugh at? It conjures the tragic end of Anna Karenina, which didn’t make me laugh, at least I don’t recall laughing. But for some reason I laughed at this poem. And I also kind of laughed at this one:

THE STREETS OF JERUSALEM

A truck now
rumbles

past the spot
where a leper

stood.

Inappropriately, I laughed, and then I felt bad for laughing, like I shouldn’t laugh at this, it’s not funny, lepers are not funny, the places where lepers once stood are not funny. I think my laughter had more to do with me all of a sudden thinking about a tiny spot in a way I’d never thought of before, a historical spot, a biblical spot, that is still there, and has seen the times pass, from lepers to trucks. That’s life.
Edward Mullany was approached with skepticism, and he happened to win me over, one little nugget at a time, until I felt satisfied with the state of things, and a mite peculiar." - The Open End



Edward Mullany's If I Falter at the Gallows is the question of elision writ small. An encyclopedic collection of poems mostly ten lines or shorter, If I Falter at the Gallows picks away, chisel-like, at themes and topics that other poets dedicate multiple pages to: selfhood, the self's confrontation with the objects of the world, the variant natures of this world and its objects. It seems dubious to ask a book of poems with more white space than text to quiet any of these ancient debates, but Mullany applies his technique to each repeatedly and with admirable tenacity in such a way that silence itself becomes a sort of speech. An assortment of everyday items become recipients, in time, of Mullany's knife-sharp lineation, their fibers and atoms disassembled. The results are usually interesting, and sometimes even astonishing—in the way of "a picture of / a picture of / a sunrise," from the poem "Elegy for Myself as Father." Like an obsessive agoraphobe, Mullany yanks back the curtains between philosophy, religion, and art only to draw them in place again.
 In If I Falter at the Gallows Mullany locates a profane lexicon for the sacred, and a sacred one for the profane. Neither masks the fear hooked by the collection's title, the hypothetical (or, as the book insinuates, probable) moment of hesitation before one's own death. But to construe If I Falter at the Gallows as a book invested mainly in what happens in those instances where we're forced to acknowledge the limitations of physical existence would be to miss most of what it has to say. The stunts of its metaphysical hoop-jumping can be found not in examinations of the obviously terrifying but also of the mundane: an "overripe banana on a hot day" ("Ode to the Holy Spirit,"), a truck rumbling past holy sites in Jerusalem ("The Streets of Jerusalem"), the sound of someone "cheerful… washing dishes in the bathroom" ("Sundays in Ordinary Time").
What to make of all these spiritual references? Not a solely spiritual conclusion: light, physics, the universe, and mathematics show up in these poems also, different beams in Mullany's scaffolding. Although the Biblical references are impossible to ignore, they can hardly be considered more than apparatuses enlisted to vivisect idols—and if those idols end up killed in the process, well, consider them collateral damage. There's no negligible amount of irony in using religious iconography to investigate or bypass religiously-defined meanings, but the fact that Mullany can avoid turning references to the Holy Spirit, lepers, Jesus, tombs, blind men, and bread into flat-out kitsch speaks to both the seriousness and the fluency with which he moves between the altar and the operating table. What he puts on one, he'd just as well put on the other. The seven-line poem "Golgotha (Charcoal on Paper)" is a case study:
And so the soldiers came and broke
the legs both
of one and of the other
that were crucified
with him; but when they came
to Jesus, and found
him already dead…
The poem's placement near the end of the book is a precarious one; by then, if the collection is read linearly, Mullany's stilted enjambments are already a formal presence recurring in the background. This technique produces echoes of broken bread in the breaking of the legs, hints at finding salvation in a Christ found deceased. It's harder to notice—and this is where the brilliance might be—a particular undercurrent in the poem, which consists entirely of text taken from Monsignor Ronald Knox's translation of the Gospel of John 19:32-33 in The Holy Bible: A Translation From the Latin Vulgate in the Light of the Hebrew and Greek Originals. The Bible, that supposed authority sourcing every "Christian" legend no matter how far removed from its roots, is knocked from its throne and becomes an object no greater than any of the others Mullany chooses to scrutinize. But to say that it loses its divinity in the process presupposes that which the book seems to wish to deny: the tenuousness of a stark break between the saintly and the secular. The book begins, after all, with a quotation from Charles Simic: "Who put canned laughter / Into my crucifixion scene?"
 There might be no better summarization for this collection than the ellipsis at the end of "Golgotha (Charcoal on Paper)." Mullany leads, but following is optional, and following often means leaving the page. What happens when the two Roman soldiers who have broken the legs of the executed men come upon the dead Christ? According to John 19:34, one of the soldiers pierces the body's side with a spear, and blood and water flow out—a rush of red onto the charcoal sketch, the blackness and whiteness of printed text invalidated. It's implied that the Bible is an insufficient container for its own images, unable to cope with its own consequences. Mullany himself seems conflicted, generally speaking, on the boundaries and benefits of narrative, as in his poem, "Against Narrative Poetry":
A black knife, a blue
knife.

A red
hand.
And before such a Morse code-like transmission can even begin to be deciphered, "In Praise of Narrative Poetry" leaps from the facing page and scrambles the message:
Into the bleak
lake on the estate

on which no
one resides, falls

the quiet
rain.
At first such a sequence might seem merely clever—a surface-level assessment that isn't wholly inaccurate. But to leave the analysis at that would do an injustice to the heavy lifting each poem is doing. The dialogue between them is a macro version of the micro exchange going on in "The Entombment of Christ," wherein a black dot on a white wall and a white dot on a black wall face each other. Negation, and negation's negation, in parallel placement— the assertion and its converse take the same fundamental shape. If Mullany's aim is to unnerve partisanship, he's done so; the tale cocooning in the former poem and the "if a tree falls in the forest" attitude—not to mention contradiction; if "no one resides" on the estate, does the author?—in the latter loosen each of their respective claims.
Mullany's poems often duel with their own wit in this way. Sometimes they lose that duel, and wit crumples to farce or artifice. This is the case with "Fourteen Hairdryers," a numerical listing of hairdryers that, at best, mocks the redundancy of titular exposition. But whatever missteps Mullany takes in his pursuit of bizarre insight are forgivable. This is especially true in the context of such plain-spoken, acidic poems as "Widowed," which describes a man stuck in impermeable grief who "entered [a] theater / alone," and who then "got up / and went out to the lobby and out / through the front doors and out into / the bright light." The Stein-esque permutations of conjoined syntax in this case embody, instead of question, the experience of an un-exalted but hyperreal encounter reminiscent of Pound's "In a Station of the Metro." The poems work best when they articulate the experience of thought, instead of explaining it post-hoc: "When I was ten I took a hatchet to frogs" comprises the entirety of the fittingly-titled "Because or Therefore." These experiences are often raw by definition, and even comic, whether they spoof our lionization of the dead ("Important"), how a landscape "you took pains to beautify" reverts to "natural disorder" ("Self-Reliance"), or how good and evil can be components of a story but not the story itself ("The Man from Shanghai").
The Latin word lacus, for "lake," underwrites the present-day lacuna, which ostensibly means "an unfilled space or interval." And though white space is crucial to If I Falter at the Gallows, its poems are more like bodies of water than pure absence. Though their contents and depths are indeterminable, they're plumbed in deceptively tiny forays. If conventional American short poems are too often mild-mannered dinner guests, polite pastiches of image and conclusion, then Mullany's poems are their evil twins. And he keeps their insidiousness almost seamless by refusing to (at least on their faces) give them mischievous grins. Though they stand no taller than their lyric cousins they refuse to stay in one place; though they document daily life, they refuse to make a glass museum of it; and though they don't necessarily bite harder, their jaws grip longer. They are, by and large, well-wrought short poems, hard and capable as keys—keys that have no need or want of doors, though they might open quite a few. - Andrew David King


"I just so happened to read your book of poetry, If I Falter at The Gallows, while reading Mourning Diary, by Roland Barthes. Because of this coincidence, these two books coinciding with each other, I thought a lot about context, and how context affects our reading of texts. Although I start our discussion with talking about two books as contextually affecting each other, I’m interested in context in a broader scope. As a small child, my father played Satie’s Gymnopédies on a daily basis. And now, my son is playing them. So when he plays them, I think of my father, who died a year ago, and I’m filled with sadness. And frankly, those pieces always made me sad—they are sad songs. So in reading your poems, although there are a great many (seventy-nine, to be exact) I felt they were infused with a sort of mourning, or as Barthes prefers to say, “Don’t say mourning. It’s too psychoanalytic. I’m not mourning. I’m suffering.” Your title refers to death, death by hanging. It refers also to “faltering” at the place of hanging. The gorgeous cover—which you illustrated—shows, among other things, a man on his knees, appearing to be praying. So death and prayer—which at the time of death means, to me, fear, desperation, suffering, and of course, a call to faith—are all evident before even opening the book.
- The cover art might suggest a way of dealing with suffering. I say “might” because, I agree—I don’t think it’s clear whether the man on his knees is praying out of conviction or desperation. He’s an ambiguous figure in that the viewer can only know him through his silhouette. He evokes, as you say, “fear” and “faith” in equal degrees. I hope this evocation extends to the context of the book itself.
I think this means that the book was a way for me to explore a fundamental part of human experience. The imminence of death is my context. Maybe it exists as a shadow out of which I write.
Describing her fiction, Flannery O’Connor once said, “the man in the violent situation reveals those qualities least dispensable in his personality, those qualities which are all he will have to take into eternity with him.” I think this too explains something about my concerns. I’m interested in what violence can reveal about the soul in relation to eternity.
Some of your poems quote the bible, or are titled in ways that harks back toward Christianity: “Ode to the Holy Spirit,” “The Streets of Jerusalem,” “The Jesus Formula,” “The Entombment of Christ,” to name a few, and, of course, “Golgotha,” which appears to be, according to the acknowledgments, a quote from the “The Holy Bible.” What is your relationship to Christianity, and how does it—when it does—or does it always?—affect your poetry?
- I’m Catholic, so my relationship to Christianity is consequential.
If I was to say that Catholicism means one thing to me as a person, and another thing to me as an artist, I think I would be mistaken, though it isn’t easy for me to explain why. My art is often aberrant and unorthodox, but it is never (I hope) heretical. Art can be a weird synthesis of personality, technique, and belief.
When I was young, and my family was still living in Australia, my brother and I were enrolled in a Jesuit grammar school. At the top of every page of every notebook, whenever we began our class-work, we were trained to write A.M.D.G., which is an abbreviation of “Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam,” which is Latin for “For the Greater Glory of God.” This is the motto of the Society of Jesus (the Catholic religious order); and the idea behind it is that any work that is not evil, even one that is normally considered insignificant, can be spiritually meritorious if it is performed with a certain attitude of the soul. I mention this now because I think it reveals a “broadness” in Catholic thought, even if it also suggests the development of faith via rote or repetition. Its willingness to find grace in mundane situations mirrors the willingness of art to consider anything as a subject. Does my relationship to Christianity affect my poetry? Yes, probably always, and maybe to a greater degree than anything else does.
I felt in reading this collection that titles play a very important part, if not are a part, of your poems. As a fiction writer, titles have a much smaller, although still important, place. But in your book, the title contextualizes the entire poem with great regularity. One example is “The Bleeding Man,” which is one of your poems that are “prose poems,” for lack of a better term. The poem is a paragraph that narrates a man walking into an office, and it’s told in the first person, but others see him as well. Nowhere in the body of the poem does it mention he is bleeding. That is only mentioned in the title, but the entire poem is about that fact. I feel that your poems often work in this manner, that the title contextualizes the poem, or even tells us how to read the poem. Would you explain how or why your poems function this way, why you write them this way?
- I think the writer whose titles I first noticed in terms of an aesthetic was Hemingway. He’d do this thing where the title wouldn’t necessarily be in the story, but of the story. In “The Battler,” for instance, from In Our Time, you can’t be certain who the battler is. Is it Nick Adams, the story’s main character? Or is it Ad Francis, the battered old boxer Nick encounters at the campfire in the woods? Or is it Bugs, Ad’s kindly companion, a black man living on the fringes of American society? All three characters are battlers in their own right. And yet the word “battler” is never mentioned in the story. The story assumes different shades of meaning depending on which character the reader assigns the title to.
In “The Bleeding Man,” meaning is distributed in a similar way. Literally, the title applies to the man the narrator is describing. But it might also apply to the narrator himself insofar as his hyper-awareness resembles a kind of psychic bleeding. By omitting any description of blood, the narrative draws attention to other aspects of itself, like the curiously long sentence to which the narrator gives voice. I think one could even say that the piece is about mania, about the insanity brought on by ordinary existence. The bleeding, then, would not be literal so much as felt. Or it would be a literal manifestation of a spiritual condition.
Your book has two parts, as in Part 1 and Part 2. I read the first part and most of the second part in the order they are put in this collection. Toward the end of Part 2, I skipped to the end and read the last few poems in backward order. That said, I feel the order, the placement, of these poems are very important to the experience of reading the book. Many of these poems appeared alone in journals, and for some reason I find that strange, largely because I read it so much as a “collection,” as a book of poems that were, if not written (and most likely not written) in an order, then very much placed in a very specific order. The order, one poem following another, and on and on, seems particularly important in this book. In that way, and even more so, your poetry collection reminds me so much of good story collections. There is always a reason why each story is where it is, and in your collection, each poem is exactly where it should be. Would you elaborate on the construction of your book as a collection, and how you know when to place one poem after or before another?
-  Adam Robinson, my publisher, helped me with this. My main concern was that the book vary in tone, so that the reader wouldn’t be overwhelmed by stretches of somber pieces, or just a sequence of funny pieces. I didn’t want to allow readers to be able to predict what sort of poem they would read next. I wanted the poems, as much as possible, to always catch the reader off guard. So I looked at the poems and tried to read them as I thought a reader might. I was conscious of their cumulative effect.
I did want the collection to end on a particular note. The last two poems, “A Good Death” and “Light,” involve speakers who are less agonized, who seem to have endured where others seem to have not.
- I feel many of your poems are left to open interpretations while others are more straightforward in meaning. This hints back to my previous question, in that there seems to be a balancing act between narrative and non-narrative poetry, as you, in one of your many moments of humor, discuss in your two poems, “Against Narrative Poetry” and “In Praise of Narrative Poetry.” I gather you are ambivalent about taking sides on this issue? Sometimes I wonder if you know more than you want to share in your poems, that you want to leave things open. This is a wonderful technique for the most part, one that I use on occasion purposefully, and at other times less intentionally, in short stories (I find it less useful in novel writing). For instance, in your title poem, “If I Falter At The Gallows,” your poem describes what I think of as a scene of the “I” narrator of the title, seeing:

An old
woman with a dog whose name I once
knew but can’t

remember

will appear.

I feel mostly grounded in the scene, but feel unclear who is faltering. The hangman? The man to be hanged? Then there is this beauty of memory in the way that it is lost: “whose name I once/ knew but can’t remember.” Obviously the poem can be taken for what it is, but it also opens up all sorts of possibility. What was his relationship to this dog, who he thinks of more than the woman? Is this a comfort, a distraction, from either impending death or the forthcoming administering of it?
- That question—“is this a comfort?”—I think is central to the poem. You can’t be sure what the answer is. To the speaker, the sight of the woman and the dog could be a comfort, but it could just as easily be the opposite of a comfort. The construction of the poem is too factual, too absent of tone, or sentiment, to figure out an answer. But that doesn’t mean the reader can’t conjecture. As you do, I think, the reader wants to impart some feeling of his or her own onto the speaker’s situation. And the placing of the title encourages this conjecture.
I’m glad you feel what you do about this poem. I want to create a space that the reader cannot resolve, or get out of. This is what’s most interesting to me about art. I don’t think an artist’s intention should be to solve any problems, but to articulate them with a precision that is both alluring and unsettling.
Why death? The impending death of your title? The many poems dealing with death? As I mention in my first question, I think our reading and our writing is always within a specific context. And as I mentioned, I read your book alongside Roland Barthes’ Mourning Diary, which is exclusively about the impact of his mother’s death (and what an impact it is). I also read both of these books around the year anniversary of my father’s death, so maybe I, the reader, am projecting my context into your work. That would be a normal thing to do, as a reader. And yet I do wonder how you feel death influenced your book, one in particular, more than one, or just the concept of death.
- I guess death is something I’m preoccupied with. It makes me sad that people have to die, that I will have to die. I’m afraid of it. I wouldn’t want to keep growing old as a human being, and never die, but I believe in eternity, so I’m afraid of what will happen to my soul as a consequence of the death of my human body. I also care about the souls of people I love, and, in my better moments, about the souls of people I do not love. I believe in a final judgment, though I know my grasp of it can only be feeble, and that divine mercy is capable of mitigating that judgment.
Maybe I’m not so much interested in death itself, but rather in death as it relates to free will; what a person chooses to do in life. What they do and fail to do." - Interview by Paula Bomer

"I’m continuously impressed in your writing by how undaunted you seem to be by blank space. How do you make space work for you, and what advice would you give to writers attempting to move in similar directions?
- Blank space is most interesting to me when the writer uses it as a canvas onto which the reader’s imagination is projected. In other words, it should only look blank. Really it should function as a kind of invisible arena in which the reader’s psyche produces some feeling that the writer, by doing his or her work, has elicited.
Blank space exists in all art, whether we can see it or not. It sounds like a physical thing (and sometimes it is – on the page, for instance), but more importantly it’s a psychic space created by the artist for the purpose of contemplation. It’s where the audience’s mind goes to infer those things the artist has made it possible to infer.
Your writing reveals a unique sense of humor. I repeatedly found myself laughing while reading If I Falter at the Gallows, but I was often unsure exactly what it was that was making me laugh. How do you classify the humor in these pieces? What makes Edward Mullany laugh?
- I think animals are funny because they have to coexist with humans. Domesticated animals especially are funny to me because they are, in many ways, unsophisticated, and yet they live so near to humans, who are capable of sophistication. I guess it’s not so much the animals themselves that make me laugh, but the situation that has resulted from our interaction with them. A bird sitting on a telephone wire. A cat staring out a bathroom window. A dog can have the appearance of a wolf, but there he sits, asleep on our living room couch. We can give him a name like Ben or Euripides. He wouldn’t know the difference in the meaning of the names, only the difference in their sounds. I’m not saying animals aren’t intelligent, but that they use their intelligence for different ends than we do.
The humor in my poems might depend on a similar sense of the absurd. I don’t aim to write funny poems, but neither do I aim to write sad poems. I try to describe reality through the voices of people so stunned by their experience of reality that they see with a kind of insane clarity.
I know that your visual art is also a big part of your life. How did you get involved with visual art, and does creating that kind of work differ from creating poems or short stories?
- I remember in 1989, when The Simpsons first aired on TV, I would practice drawing Homer and Bart until I’d memorized the exact proportions and alignments of their figures. I think this was my first serious (for a 7th grader) engagement with visual art. But then I got in trouble at school for drawing them on my notebooks and on the notebooks of my friends, and after that, for no real reason, I drifted away from art. This wasn’t anybody’s fault, and, of course, it was no loss to the art world. I wasn’t mature enough to practice any art with discipline until I reached my mid-twenties. I wrote first for a long time, and then I started painting.
To me, there is little difference between my visual art and my writing other than the medium. They are ‘about’ the same things, if you can say they are about something. Both tend to be representational in a strange way. Lately they have both involved, or depicted, something resembling fear and rage. I sometimes think of myself as a religious artist insofar as religious is what my preoccupations reveal themselves to be. But maybe ‘religious’ isn’t the right word. I’m as likely to paint an icon as I am to paint what might be the inverse of an icon.
The individual pieces and the book as a whole seem to unfold in new ways with each reading. When speaking on collections, you once said something along the lines of, Although it’s important to think about unity in your work-as-a-whole, to say you have to write every piece with a certain length in mind is to strangle your ideas before they even get out. This is advice to which I still return. How do you feel about it now, and did you think about it when you worked on this collection?
- I do think unity is important when it comes to story or poetry collections, but only in terms of effect. And even here I would admit there’s room for interpretation. A story that makes me happy and a story that makes me sad can exist in one collection, but that doesn’t mean that the stories together have a divisive, rather than a cumulative, effect on me. Look at a collection of poems by Emily Dickinson and you will find the joyful next to the despondent, but ultimately what you feel when you close the book is the imprint of a unique and powerful soul; you aren’t likely to be put off by the fact that her moods are contradictory. How much less important is it then that all the works in a collection be of equal length? That is a custom, I think, not unlike the custom novels once had of beginning with complex character histories. There’s nothing wrong with a custom, but there’s nothing wrong when the custom is changed, or departed from, provided that this change reflects some kind of intelligent design. (Also, a writer might naturally write stories of similar lengths without having made any conscious decision to do so — nothing wrong with that either)." - Interview by Sophie Rosenblum

Edward Mullany's blog

11/14/11

Leon Baham – A trembling incantatory yearning with a revolving chorus stumbling in and out. Nervous, theatrical swarm of language, lots of wry humor coming from contradiction, repetition, strange syntax, punctuation choice: I live with my mother. She is a nymphomaniac. She tells me about it. No she doesn’t



Leon Baham, Ponyboy, Sigh: A Word Problem, Birds of Lace, 2011.

leonbaham.wordpress.com/

Ponyboy, Sigh: A Word Problem is a hybrid story-essay by Leon Baham wherein Ponyboy, of The Outsiders fame, is submerged in a queer (un)conciousness that swins through the murky waters of desire, fear, love, brotherhood, race, violence, mothers, tenderness and memory. A complication of faggotry with an inquisitive chorus and echo like a bloody cave.
Leon Baham is from the Inland Empire. He now lives in Seattle. He is currently working on his first long book titled The Book of Imaginary Boys.“

Excerpt:
Anything happened when they met. They could have said not a word and pushed their lips together immediately, neither of them knowing really how to kiss another man. They could have seen each other around for three months glancing out of the corners of their eyes. Johnny could have seen Ponyboy in the shower and fled quickly with his half erection. Ponyboy could have followed him. Ponyboy could be Johnny’s father. Johnny could be any age younger than Ponyboy. Ponyboy is 17. Ponyboy could be a space invader and Johnny could be an earthling. Anything was how they met the point is that they were looking from eye to eye on the others face. Ponyboy with a shit eating grin. Johnny looking like a saint as he will be throughout the rest of this story. A plain bored face of ecstasy. Johnny was close to God and Ponyboy was faithless.


„&Now – wasn’t it awesome? I am aiming to stretch out my inspiro – and the swag I picked up (new Birkensnake! new Anna Joy Springer! Joyelle’s Necropastoral chapbook! etc) – at least until the semester’s over and I can climb into radical writing as much as I want.
Among my enthusements:
1) meeting TC Tolbert – what a pleasure! TC is, with Tim Trace Peterson, co-editing an anthology of trans and genderqueer poetry. It’s an incredible, exciting project; trans/gq folks: consider submitting!
2) meeting Leon Baham, whose chapbook Ponyboy, Sigh: A Word Problem is one of the most interesting pieces of writing I’ve read recently. Didn’t catch his performance but chatted with him and c. vance at the mixer – awesome folks! Great to meet you.
Re: Ponyboy, Sigh, a minireview of sorts: This thing is all voice, all affect — a trembling incantatory yearning with a revolving chorus stumbling in and out. In moments, in its nervous, theatrical swarm of language, reminds me of Johannes’ Entrance to a Colonial Pageant.
Lots of wry humor coming from contradiction, repetition, strange syntax, punctuation choice, which I love:
I am Ponyboy. I’m 17 years old. I don’t like girls. I live with my mother. She is a nymphomaniac. She tells me about it. No she doesn’t

I am Ponyboy. I am ruined. No I’m not. I feel like it but my mom says not to trust even one thing I feel which is so hypocritical. When I was underwater right now it was cold or I was thinking Johnny Johnny Johnny. How many people get to drown in the name of their lover. If I ever acted badly it was only to elicit a response. Only to see if someone loved me enough to say my name. If I stabbed Johnny it was only to hear him sigh Ponyboy. To see him look at me like more of a little brother than he had ever been. If I drowned in the lake I did it for Johnny Johnny Johnny.
Enter Chorus
A chorus of disassembling birds
First wings
The rhythm and timing, so good – kind of Acker-esque in its turns. Indeed, at one point “a chorus of Kathy Acker” enters to announce:
Ponyboy was a little girl who wanted to be nice and new and loved. Many daddies handed her to one another slipping a 20 in a handshake as she was sent away. Ponyboy sat on the knee of a daddy and said but if I am your daughter than I must surely get an abortion or else I will give birth to a strange dear monster. The daddies had a conference and agreed…

You’re right, that is a chorus of Kathy Acker.
This book will be a chapter in The Book of Imaginary Boys, which Leon is working on presently. I am impatient, Leon. Work faster!“ - Megan Milks

"What was your relationship to The Outsiders prior to writing Ponyboy, Sigh and how did writing Ponyboy, Sigh shift or disrupt that relationship?
- I read it in the seventh grade. I don’t think I thought much about it for a long time. I started having the name ponyboy repeated in my head like a spell or something so I started writing. I thought it was kind of gay back then and now I still think it’s kind of gay.
What are your latest and greatest obsessions, in writing/reading and otherwise?
- The Vicious Red Relic, Love by Anna Joy Springer is probably my favorite book to come out this year. I’m also really into work by Tisa Bryant, CA Conrad, Christine V. Nguyen, and I’m totally looking forward to reading Kevin Killian’s new book Spreadeagle. I’m reading Virgina Woolf for the first time and I’m pretty into it. I’m also learning about hip hop right now. I’m listening to a lot of Mos Def.
What are your expectations of queer literature, as both a writer & reader?
- I like queer literature that is open. The work that does not shield itself from the outside world. Instead it engages and makes brave choices. It may sometimes be wrong or not have the desired affect but it tries and is honest in this way. I’m really influenced by Jean Genet and he said something to the effect of wanting his work to be read by more people than just writers and artists. I like this idea. I think queer literature should not separate itself from the rest of culture. We’re as real as any other motherfuckers and so we should not be afraid to be read by those who may not understand just yet. I expect queer writing to be less afraid.
If you could time travel to any decade in history, which would it be & why?
- I would travel back to the sixties and try and be one of the original Temptations.
Tell us about your current writing projects and writing process- do you work on one project at a time or several?
- I have two large projects that I am working on as well as a side small project where I am trying to recreate my mother’s dream journal. The first large project is under the name The Book of Imaginary Boys in which Ponyboy, Sigh will be a chapter. The second project is a memoir piece called Supercool where I am writing about my grandfather murdering my step grandmother. The memoir piece will be mixed in between damaged writing and movie stills of a more complete history of black science fiction that I’ve created. The idea is kind of playing with the dead sea scrolls and lost sacred text.
What role do you see feminism playing on your own work?
- It’s at the core of my work but I think it is shifting. I want my feminism to be hard to place in different situations. I was really close to my mom as a kid. She made me read and taught me science but also danced on tables and took off her top. I have a lot of dreams where I move from room to room and the rules change but are not explicit. I think feminism in my work moves like this.
Name five songs that you feel could serve as a soundtrack to Ponyboy, Sigh
1. He Needs Me- Shelley Duval
2. Four Women- Nina Simone
3. Music from ice cream trucks
4. Kill the Wabbit- Looney Tunes
5. Fastcar- Tracy Chapman
If Ponyboy, Sigh were being made into a film, who would you pick to play Ponyboy and Johnny?
- I’d want Ponyboy to be played by a life size puppet or doll made by Kara Walker and I’d want Johnny to be played by a young Rock Hudson.“ - Interview at Birds of Lace

Leon Baham's blog:

You All Smithereens

It was the table cloth trick of the year
My hands— I matched you gesture for gesture.
Tongued over some Martian landscape where there
around corners he my love stood fancy
where there was applause stretching the madness
of the body. I’m real baby. Stuck to
dreams full of wiener dogs hilarious.
Somewhere a father dances with his son—
stretched my face thirty feet across and down
caught up in midwestern expectation
You with one million tiny good thank yous
of adios banditos gracias—
Traded all of our basic miracles
of the rockets that still looked like rockets.

Cochlea

Everything is better now that Daniel
is a radio. Cute blond girls and I
play weapons everyday now. I can throw
knives too close while they laugh coyly away—
I whip Daniel with an extension cord—
He says R & B things like I’m still in
love with you. Like I’m so in love with you.
And I hit him without smiling. A
blond girl says let’s throw him in the water.
No one really agrees. Someone throws a
ninja star into my back. Someone hands
me the radio— Through bad reception
I can hear Daniel make a plea— Tonight
I’mma be a naughty girl do you think—

Joseph Robert

Later— would only
remember half of the
words— listening to
toe bones on little lips—
afraid I was a little
brother— traded all
of our slow fanfares—
splashed through shin
deep— made of banjo
strings, sang—
Someone here disturbed
the water—
Someone here had
thirsty legs—
sang, now we’ve
done it— we’re
in first name middle
name trouble

Macrame

Faker, I saw rules careening to the
ground. Gadzooks, I’ve been barbecued Nigga
And now for something you’ll really enjoy—
The theme of the party was recession
To run in covered in blood and laughing
To make the place a cathedral. I was
a gentleman caller. To convince the
stairs we were rich and climbing to the point
where we could see rooftop quinceaneras.
Later we rode bikes. Castles do scare me.
Speaking human to human. Everything
is better now that snakes are totally
a daytime thing. Is that a rocket in
your rocket pocket. Gone and reappeared.

From Under the House

The miscarriage of my baby brother
my hands are stained a yellow with saffron
a thousands Persian New Year to tell me
that masks are in this season. Audacious
queens falling out in a funeral of
fecundity and alas. Karen lost
her baby. The floor is lava. The safe
places are upstairs like the balcony.
It’s a great place to don’t wake daddy.
Better place for the almond in my eye—
blindspots for all of the jimmys to fuck
each other like teenager— mistaken
for whoever is on the cartoon milk
cartons we use to make bricks for children.

Meanwhiles

A thomas is a great name for a trick
Your lips are so different from your palms
I want to can I mammal now. I love
the tightrope walker but leave him for the
racecar driver. I want now but can’t us
mammal. He fell. Leon, You’re so golden
brown it’s nice. It’s so september it’s fall.
But when you disappeared and despite much
searching no men returned you to your moths.
Covered in dust those were not our bodies.
So can that mammal fell gesture? Can’t it?
Your lips are so different from your palms
And of course the tightrope walker upon
finding out and without hesitation

ryan, ryan

I am for you what you want me to be
at the moment you look at me in a way
You’ve never seen me before: at every instant
— Helene Cixous
I
When I’m older I’ll own Ryan Phillippe.
I can’t wait. I’ll feed him smarties one at a
time when he’s good. He’ll sit in the backseat and look out the window and I’ll look back in my rearview and say Ryan Phillippe what are you staring at— and he’ll say nothing, with a sad smile. When we get to the dream house I’ll ask him Ryan Phillippe why did you never age and he’ll trail off and I’ll catch only two or three words:
—Visited —cello —verybig
and he’ll wander out from the kitchen and I’ll suck on these words. This isn’t a sex thing, though on occasion I will bring home a young man and make him pretend to be Ryan Phillippe while he sits on my face. I will
make him be really very quiet so the real Ryan Phillippe can’t hear us like some insomniac pre teenager listening to his mother coming through certain walls. How much sound are you made out of Ryan Phillippe. In the morning after these nights Ryan seems very normal and so he probably didn’t hear or he is a very good actor and so he probably didn’t hear. I say Ryan Phillippe Can I take you to the park to see fireworks because everyone outside is celebrating and he says he’d probably like that. Later or Meanwhile at the park I’m looking at Ryan Phillippe’s face glow red. Behind us there is a baby crying. Dogs aren’t even scared and Ryan Phillippe looks up like he is proud of the fireworks for exploding—
And in the backseat he falls asleep on the way home—
And very suddenly I have the most serious task in the world because I am responsible for his sleep—
And I handle all of the turns with a lot of care—
And I never drive faster than 30. When we get home I pull into the driveway caringly. This isn’t a sex thing but I think about waking him up and asking him Ryan Phillippe would you kiss me. I decide this is probably a wrong thing and I go inside leaving him in the car.
II
Ryan Phillippe sings when he thinks I am not present. He does not know how great the acoustics are in the house are and so I never sing. I only talk quietly just so he will not become self conscious and I will no longer be allowed to hear him because singing is
the nicest thing he does. He is tone deaf and his voice goes silly high and you get the impression that Ryan Phillippe is great with children. He sings all of the notes that surround the melody so that there is only the outline of a perfect sound. A suggestion. Tonight he sang the theme song from Taxi.
III
Ryan Phillippe sprains his ankle while he is outside. He comes in and he calls me. I come downstairs and he is lowering himself onto a chair. He’s more angry than hurt right now. His body failed him standing walking.
You are no athlete Ryan Phillippe but you are beautiful. I go and pull a dusty box from on top of the refrigerator. I pull out an ace bandage. Ryan Phillippe lets me his ankle and here we are in this house playing doctor. And so yes, I am touching him. Holding him delicate and firmly like you are supposed to hold full grown birds. I apply ice for twenty minutes. I remove the ice. I make him chamomile tea and tell him that the best
way is to elevate his legs. I tell him that I will make dinner now but he says he is not hungry. Limping makes a different sound than walking and at night I hear him stutter out of his room and then back in like he is performing a slow stop motion series of himself in a hall. In the morning I ask him to see his ankle. Ryan Phillippe says no. He is done letting me play doctor and now I have been demoted to just a witness. I play witness to Ryan Phillippe all day.
IV
Ryan Phillippe makes a blender full of sloppy margarita. He walks outside with it in his hand. With his other hand he forms a little gun and for one full hour he simulates shooting the birds that fly by. A crash wind comes out of his mouth. The gun recoils. He blows on the barrel. He comes in when the blender is empty and goes upstairs to take a nap. He wakes up around midnight and comes into the living room and sits down on the couch next to me. He doesn’t say anything even though I want him to. I want noise for a lot of minutes and then I ask him Ryan Phillippe are you happy here. And he says nothing just moves his eyebrows vaguely. Ryan Phillippe undoes one button at a time on his shirt. He removes it with I swear to god not making a single noise. What a talent. He could be removing his clothes in my house at anytime and there would be no way to hear him. He removes his shirt entirely and then he walks outside. The moon is only a little bit—
And the night is clear—
And in the middle of our giant front yard Ryan Phillippe begins to shake—
And all I can do is watch him—
And apologize because he shakes and then falls on the ground and I have to watch him for the whole time.
V
Photo
In case of an emergency Ryan Phillippe will return his head to the set position which is thrown back into a plane crash. In the case of Danger he will wink and you know it can’t hurt his cause to live the fact that he is beautiful. Ryan Phillippe had a drug problem two years ago but now he just drinks and plays pick up soccer. I don’t know anything about Ryan Phillippe the father but I almost want to know more because I have been ready for a lot but one of the things I never prepared for was a baby. Ryan Phillippe knows all kinds of knots used for climbing and hanging. One night Ryan Phillippe grappling hooked himself into my room and played breathing on me until it was either his breath or my sweat that covered my skin. Sing me to sleep Ryan Phillippe. There he is. His back facing the camera. His front facing light outside of a window. His head thrown back in the set position. Light trying to hold him all the way around his body like I know the feeling where it’s not a sex thing because sex or a serious handshake is not enough. Like I need to have all of him. So there is Ryan Phillippe facing light that wants him.
VI
My neighbor Tessa steals Ryan Phillippe. The rich bitch. Today I asked her if she has seen him but she just looked concerned and said she hadn’t. The bitch. I see more lights are on in her house at night. She seems to think that it’s as if I have not spent hours outside of the dream house staring at his shadow taking a shirt off putting the shirt on taking a shirt off putting a shirt on again. Slower each time while I am crying uncontrollably. She seems to think that I don’t recognize his outline and so she must not know that I am one of the leading experts when it comes to the subject of Ryan Phillippe’s edges. That since he will not let me his body that I have built a life around all of the space that is barely not him. For three nights Tessa has Ryan Phillippe and
for three nights I watch their shadows run through the house playing games that I deduct the rules to. Like the Tessa shadow will run upstairs as fast as she can, which is not nearly as fast as I could run upstairs, and she touches the east wall three times all the while Ryan Phillippe chases her on all fours and then they have a tickle fight ending in Tessa riding on the back of Ryan Phillippe. Ending in a game of horsey. On the fourth day Ryan Phillippe shows up to the house. I try and touch him but he doesn’t let me. He does tell me to turn around while he blows on the nape of my neck. No one needs to apologize.
VII
Photo
Position your hips so that when a breeze goes by you are prone to it. Say I am your man. Stand by me. Why would you just watch me fall instead of making noise. You love me too much. I’ve never been able to understand boys who climb trees. Who have that upward compulsion. Trees, buildings— just please don’t stand so close to the edge. Beauty that is damaging. Everything falls because Ryan does. Takes some bread up into the tree. You’re not a human when you do these things. He fell. Out of the tree. I see him inches above the ground. It looks like he could be floating. Light as a feather stiff as a board. This is all very romantic science.
VIII
Ryan Phillippe and I play a little game. It’s a thing we do where I lock him in a small box until he has a panic attack and passes out. When he is sufficiently silent and not even snotting I begin to play him jazz standards on my little plastic recorder. At some point unknown to me he wakes up and does not make any noise. Eventually I leave the box in the living room unlocked. I see him later in the evening. On these days he usually eats breakfast very slowly and then looks at me all daring and says Do you want to play boxes today. He knows I always do.
IX
I want to pile driver Ryan Phillippe.
I want him to put me in a half nelson
and then a full nelson. Violence is still
contact and it happens when all I wanted was to touch him and repeatedly he loved me but said no. I buy two guns I bring them home filled with blanks. At a close enough distance the wind from a blank can be fatal to an animal. I hand Ryan Phillippe a gun and I count to ten. He runs away like an action star and I say you’re no action star Ryan Phillippe. Around the corner I hear the release of a gun. I hear Ryan Phillippe say Fuck. I run around and then I say bang bang and then I fire my gun. The wind blows at his precious hair across the room. I run after him he turns the corner. I am too impulsive because he is just on the other side and he fires a blank only a few feet away from me. Ryan has just changed the rules of the game. I fall back and he winks at me and the runs. I’m turned on. I get up and I start to walk like the monsters in scary movies. I know Ryan Phillippe the sexy teenager will not get to far away. I can take my time. I pick up a glass vase that is light blue. When the silence is unbearable I throw the vase against a wall and Ryan Phillippe jumps out and fires a blank at the crash turning his head too late realizing me running towards him with a gun firing close enough to knock him out. When he wakes up we are done playing guns. He is not mad at me just a little indignant that he was not the one to take it too far.
X
Photo
Ryan and I are much happier in Seattle. Now everything I write sounds like a letter to home. Mt. Rainier has just exploded— will explode— Never has exploded— doesn’t matter because we are on fire now. Ryan Phillippe is even more beautiful when he is on fire. His level of relaxation is notable. A lot of people think it is necessary to act very largely when they are on fire but some things you just accept. Ryan Phillippe does not love me but he does. In a way that I need him. Nothing is less confusing here but sometimes I wonder how he sees with the light all over exposed and fucked up.
XI
Ryan Phillippe invites himself into my bedroom one night and I don’t know why he does just that he does. He is entirely naked but neither of us is turned on. We lay there very still. At one point Ryan Phillippe says he could use a glass of water and then he rises to go downstairs. I am sleepy and so I fall half asleep listening to him open the cupboard, listening to him turn on the water faucet, set down a glass. Ryan Phillippe comes up the stairs and I say to him I was dreaming that you were standing there just looking at me and then I heard footsteps in the hall and said Ryan Phillippe who is that in the hall— But it was you— there were two of you.
XII
Photo
It’s Christmas with Ryan Phillippe. Making Jesus time sexy. The TV in the back is all white. This is winter. The suggestion of a fire is here. The suggestion of something naughty is here. I have a dream where I am a coward. A gun is a type of volcano. I shoot him he falls down gets back up shoots me. Laughing in the dream house. Later we’ll play boxes. I want to sex his body but I’m covered in smallpox. Moments after this exposure a lot of glass broke. I mean a lot of glass it took us days to clean it up. We got in trouble for being covered in blood. By who. Who gets us in trouble here in the dream house. Ryan Phillippe is mister clause.
XIII
Ryan Phillippe goes missing one morning. Like a responsible citizen I wait 24 hours before doing something irrational like calling the police. News travels and someone says they may have seen him throwing rocks at bottles but on the other hand it was dark and who knows. The police come and ask me to describe him physically. I describe something scary and realize that I’ve failed and so I pull off a photo stuck to the refrigerator with a silly magnet. The photo is of the right side of Ryan Phillippe’s neck and collarbone and a little part of his chin. The wall behind him is white. The police officers say this will be plenty and then they leave me alone. I have nothing else to do but paste together a flyer saying missing person using the photograph I showed the cops. Have you seen me. I
realize when I am putting these papers up that I have guaranteed a reward for information leading me to find Ryan Phillippe. I am shocked by this. Like what could I be expected to give. I check the flyer again to see if I said something like dead or alive or BYOB. I didn’t just promised a reward. I go home and look for what I could give somebody. I open closets and boxes— judge which prizes someone would find acceptable. I decide to just lay out all of the potential rewards on a table to just let a person choose. Three weeks go by and no one has come forward with information—
And I have taken to removing one potential reward from the table every day. I don’t know what I’ll do when I have to take the last one off. I have 8 left. The posters are all falling down like they were wilting to let forward a new thing like a garage sale this Saturday and Sunday. I have a dream one of these nights where a guy who isn’t but who totally is Ryan Phillippe is walking at my side in some shower from the future—
And I can’t decide if it’s not a good thing that even my dreams star actors. We are smiling coyly and it feels really good and so I go in to kiss him but he backs away still smiling and I say or want to say Why won’t you kiss me Ryan Phillippe. Why don’t you just kiss me.

Willy Nilly

He still had prizes in his pockets. Tiny dentist’s treasures— All of the gold in china. When he took off his pants he turned out each pocket fully— slowly— and out fell clackers and leap frogs and parachute men we would throw off of the roof much later. Out fell stickers and plastic vampire teeth and this was before or after his little baby brother was bitten by a rattlesnake. This was after we were all positive. I said you’re spectacular. Pantless we looked at each other and decided that the question was—
So like what’s the deal with your blood?
There were temporary tattoos on our real tattoos and we were making plenty of money.
The boy genius was a big sleepyhead. I met him while he was tracking animals in the Mojave desert. He had a lot of things to say about rattlesnakes. This is a foreshadow. About half of what I tell you is a lie. He was into black guys and I was a hungry bottom. The boy genius wanted everything. He fed me blue candy so my mouth was stained. He said say ahhhhhhh.
He took me on a mission I accepted. We rose early to go on a three day expedition tracking big horn sheep in Anza Borrego. The boy genius’s eyes weren’t right till noon. I said I bet you’re a Pisces. He was but he said that was all magic guesses. I was a Virgo Libra rising early riser, so I drove. This meant I was afraid of snakes. I said I really hope we don’t see one. When we got there we hiked six miles into the hills with plenty of water and a tent which the boy genius set up in record time. My sweating working man.
He said he knew a man who woke up with a rattlesnake resting on his chest. I told him he was being awful.
There is not much to say about the desert except that there might always be a rattlesnake. There is not much to say until the big horn sheep except that maybe sky looked liked it was on fire.
At night the boy genius the Pisces was restless next to me which made me feel safe. He asked me sleepover questions and I answered them. I told him about backyard parties at home where there was a little dancing.
Later he tied my hands together to my feet together. I guess that it is awful that I let a white guy tie me up but I think it is just good evolving. A smart tactical move, like if I was going to be black and a fag I might as well be one of those who got off on oppression. Might as well be blessed. I would apologize for this all but that would only make me come.
After the boy genius untied me we slept and woke with no rattlesnake on either of our chests. We put on our boots and set deeper into the hills with plenty of water. We walked off our sex and the bighorn sheep to the left caught us by surprise. Half a mile away they were there.
7 of them
A lot of dominance— to mount a bottom gladly— to say no and yes— to have it not even matter— vain gesture— then napping, grooming— to sneeze and disturb a bedmate— A really hot day like yesterday— could not see us— were not looking— could not be bothered because there was heat and a bottom and no reason to know what a magnificent creature you were—
We watched. Staring forward like we were driving in a car, yesterday.
The sheep left and we did not follow them.
That night the boy genius did not tie me up. We woke up without rattlesnakes on our chests. Our three day trip was mission accomplished on day two. We turned around in the morning and reached the car by night.
At the car our phones were working. He had fifteen messages. Each one detailing the events of his little baby brother being bitten by a rattlesnake in the families backyard. Not on our chests. I drove us back.
After the little baby brother box was gone we left too. The boy genius and I moved to a grey city where he didn’t smile hardly. Where there were a million reasons for rainy day jewelry.
Things were not more simple when we were in the desert. There were not even clackers . There were not even super cute twinks with coke lines on their bottoms. No way to become positive. Just big horn sheep and maybe a rattlesnake that could be in your backyard anyway. Field exercise— take every item off of your person and lay it out in front of you. Pretend that you are from three hundred years in the future and what you have laid out are artifacts—
clackers, leapfrogs, pocket change
There was not even one relic in the desert and who can live like that. In the city the was a start or a yes. The end of things were a yes. Everything started after I was hit in the nutsack. Yes. Dropped my clackers. Had a before and after I was positive.
superballs, secret note, pants
reached my hand into the boy genius’s pocket grabbed his parachute men. Yes, he hit me in the nutsack, didn’t smile. The sleepyhead. Everything starts when I am hit—
shirt, gold chain, parachute men
yes, in the nutsack. That was a moment. A million reasons for animals. Yes.

No Tax

How safe do you feel on trains,
Paul?
Does it feel like sitting on your father’s
shoulders?

Dream House 1

We have a
fig tree
out back
and a girl who
lives inside of it.
The girl
cries
because she overheard
us talking.

To the Car, To Home, Ballet

The two little
girls are made of
bird bones and
silly putty. They
step on the
painted bricks
because the
white ones are
poison or
lava or
acid.

Jesus

Jesus, when he was fourteen, lit his robe on fire to see how and if it would burn. The flames quickly engulfed him so that he ran outside and screamed 
“Oh my God, I’m on fire.”
And the neighbors screamed
“Oh my God, the neighbor boy is on fire.”

Allegorithms - Oscillating between the algorithmic & the representational, the human agent navigates its environmental niche in a way which is conducive to its further psychological, social, & biological existence

Allegorithms , ed. by Vít Bohal & Dustin  Breitling, Litteraria Pragensia, 2017. Contributors: Alexander R. Galloway, Marco Donnarumma...