2 poem excerpts
by Marie Buck and Matthew Walker
Marie Buck is the author of Unsolved Mysteries (Roof Books, 2020), Goodnight, Marie, May God Have Mercy on Your Soul (Roof Books, 2017), and Portrait of Doom (Krupskaya, 2015). They are the managing and web literary editor at Social Text and live in Brooklyn.
Matthew Walker is the executive director of Primary Information, a nonprofit publisher of artists' books, and one half of Ex-Official, an imprint and production house for electronic music occupying a liminal space between hard boundaries.
Near the beginning, we begin to discuss movies.
I say that I am “leaning into slow and bleak films”—pretentious but true.
Three things dovetail: a back injury throws me into constant pain; my marriage dissolves; the virus spreads in New York.
As though each is the backdrop for the others.
The city shuts down the day I move out of my apartment and into the empty apartment of some friends who have offered it. The new spot, where I am set up to stay for an indeterminate time, feels somewhere in between a hotel and a movie theater.
The living room functions as a screening room, a blank wall painted to receive large-scale projections.
My own small cinema.
I keep the curtains closed and leave the projector running, a witness to my existence. I live in its glow and fill the space between active movie screenings with what I begin to think of as “furniture projections”: animated backdrops I select to make the environment more surreal.
On calls with friends and family, I sit in front of the projection wall, still-camera youtube videos of inhabitant-less beaches pummeled by waves filling the space behind me. I play short films by Hollis Frampton on loop, their tactile abstractions equally absorbing and ignorable. Sometimes I leave the projector churning out a blinding cycle of strobing light for hours at a time, violent flashes of white and red evoking an empty club for me to skulk through.
* * *
I just really want a heaven to exist and I have taken art as sort of stand-in for heaven.
My fantasy is that filming something or writing it down can make it last, though this fantasy is ruined by proximity to publishing work, to archive work, to film preservation; art is only there so long as someone does the labor to keep it there; what younger me took as timelessness is really just some parallel Brooklynite’s day job, with its frustrations and occasional pleasures.
There is a twitter thread about stray cats taken in, cats who now live pampered lives, and some corny person references their “majestic cat, Link,” and posts a picture of him “before he crossed the rainbow bridge,” and I resent this phrasing for its simultaneous silliness and comforting quality—I can’t escape wanting to think of death that way, and I am irritated by my identification with this internet goofball posting about her cat.
I text Matt a picture of us with my cat Radish, our bare legs intertwined on the couch with Radish; we’re all lines of human legs and fur stacked atop one another.
Hi Matt, I know the framing device is that I’m talking to you and to the world at once, but right now I want to describe our intertwined legs to the world,
which I don’t get to do in speaking to you, since I already sent you the picture.
To whom does the poem get addressed? In all the great political poetry, there is this ability to call up solidarity. Baraka, for instance.
There is the “you” of the love poem, there is the “you” of the political poem. There is the other mode, the David Berman-type mode, where someone’s walking around in the world.
If it weren’t going to be overheard by others, I would never have the excuse to write you a love poem, maybe.
Sometimes I’m writing to you and asking the world to overhear it but now I want to write to the world and ask you to overhear it,
to give myself a reason to explain that Radish is the cat, that our legs were intertwined, that I associate this little scene with comfort
and the opposite of death.
Explanation to friends is pleasurable. I could not explain the cats to Joey, who has seen them many times recently, but I can explain them to Brian, who has met them but not in many years.
I remember Brian at my place on Edsel Ford Freeway, after a protest or something, sitting in my dining room at this magnificently large kitchen table I had, drinking I think Red Stripe? Anyway, the cats were there, too.
“These are my floofs,” I could say to the internet, I could reply to the Rainbow Bridge girl.
I could celebrate Radish and Hannah’s “gotcha-versary.”
And their “catitude.”
I hate these people and their need for comfort in cutesiness.
As though I’m going to get something else from Painlevé’s ocean documentaries.
In The Octopus, the octopus drops and writhes.
Somehow high in a tree, dropping down from the tree.
Now gliding over a skull that sits on the ocean floor.
And another shot, gliding over a different ocean skull.
In my favorite childhood book, Island of the Blue Dolphins, the narrator kills an octopus and eats it.
A devilfish, she calls it.
Island of the Blue Dolphins the film is not findable.
I tried to figure out the other day why I, as a child, had been so attracted to survival books and movies. I remember sitting in the dining room at the computer, trying to write my own, attempting to write a scene of anguish at washing up on the shore and realizing everyone else on the boat had died, and knowing I was not getting the scene right, that I didn’t know how to render the narrator’s anguish and move on to the lonesome surviving, my real point of interest.
The survivalist fantasy is, I guess, a fantasy of not being witnessed, of receding into the world, the opposite of my current fantasy.
Currently the cat is doing an “attention-seeking behavior,” i.e., chewing up a bunch of paper left on my table.
Maybe I should print this out and let him destroy this record of his own existence.
He and I can each direct an attention-seeking behavior at one another, me writing him a poem and him destroying it.
Or I can read to him the article that my ex, who he no longer knows but who once adopted him, as much as I did, published in Jacobin today.
And note that cats are incapable of knowing someone via authorship.
The joke is that the cat doesn’t understand language.
Do I love the cat because he bears witness to me or because I bear witness to him? If the former, does it mean that I need someone to know me only in my non-language parts—singing to him and knowing it’s only noise, being a body to warm against, sleeping, using the toilet, cooking food, entering and leaving the house, these motions as my only traits?
He slinks through the background during my therapy session, the therapist focused, presumably, on my words, and the cat focused only on my body.
Someone online notes that their cat was rescued a day before “scheduled euthanasia.”
The octopus secretes its ink
with its eye closed, Painlevé’s subtitles tell us.
“Its eye, when opened, resembles the human eye.”
Matt, on my birthday you made me a mix and titled it “Marie B., Never Grow Old,” then whispered in my ear that I could, of course, grow old, and I wondered if you’d originally titled it “Marie B., Never Die,” but had found that too morose.
And now I’ll address the universe again: please record us many times over, document us like the octopus, let the cats measure our breaths while we sleep, let us bleed a smudgy ink from our crotches and let our spindly bodies slip, together and octopus-like, over the skulls of others.
Let these material traces be haunted by our consciousnesses, let the self live fully in them.
And the poem can oscillate between prayer and love letter.
I catalogue the lord.
I speak to the cat: hello, Radish.
Let me address you, Matt; the cursor jumps on the page.
Here we are together, leaping from the bounds of the book, like little clay characters.
There is nothing I love more than someone accidentally exiting the frame and entering real life.
When I begin to fall asleep during a movie, you tell me, I make strange little grabbing motions with my hand, so that I’m suddenly gripping your leg or your hand in little pulses, and you know that I’ve missed some of the movie.
I’ve slipped from the film to the couch to the dream-world, gripping the objects in the film but with my hand along your body opening and closing in real life, substituting in my own objects, so that we’re both flickering from world to world, the real world as the skull on the sea floor and us gliding over it.