The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2021

All Issues
OCT 2021 Issue


Margaret, Are You Grieving?

It was fall in the city, my first
fall of city living, I was thinking
of leaving the city seconds
after closing the apartment
door, but didn’t. It was day ten
in unit two on the third floor
on the corner of six and A
next to the ConEd building
across from Sidewalk Cafe, where
Aaron and Javier waited
tables. That was twenty
years ago and they’re both
dead for ten + ten, give or take,
so that’s another twenty for a total
of infinity. It was a leafmeal fall
spent fresh, back-to-schooling,
viewing Kim’s Videos full
inventory late at night on a
cube TV, leaving upper class
classmates in the studios
so I could sit by myself
on the school’s front stoop
across from Saint Mark’s
Church where I tried
to start smoking
when the twins fell, but
I failed, two ones
after one nine, fifteen
minutes before and three
after nine in the morning.
I should have been in intro to
sculpture that day but over
slept, I was welding
a miniature iron fire
escape, working the edge
of safety with an elfin blue flame.
You got to mine through
the bathroom window, hatch
to the backyard half
heaven where Javier sat
in the meinsheine of sumacs
to smoke after taking a shit,
after having sex, which he
always did, which we always
would. Instead, I was awoken
on my grandparents’ space-age
poly-blend Colonial Revival couch
by the sound of the second
plane in my brother’s Lower
East Side living room with an
unobstructed view of the falls.

Later that day, or week,
or weeks, later that cloud, those
clouds, those days delimited
on all sides by a totalizing mob
of unruly dust, I sat across
from the church and stained
my seat on the gum-scarred
slats of a park bench between
two sleeping men stretched
head to head. No one spoke
only menthol smoke and
particulate matter from the towers
passed between us as we slept
out of doors to prep
to be better metabolic
witnesses, to witness
this, to be a witness, this work
of witnessing, of sleeping through,
of respirating catastrophe,
of compacting sense like
a dump truck en route to
Fresh Kills landfill where
the biotic mix of debris
is safeguarded in perpetuity
as pressurized sludge cake
releasing methane that
the city sells back
to the grid as power. Poverty
and poetry were gashes
in the bloodless stats. I hated
myself for being out of season,
a tree unleaving where my lungs
used to be, less than the olde
dynamism of the spirit but more
than its death. Time kept itself
soft at the edges, blended, and
everyday I shook off one more
leaf until the tree had no
property, until the tree

is all that breaks the view
of the sky of the fall
of cities, twin cities, trick
mirror contingencies, New York
and Kabul, dual chords struck
forever together and twenty
years apart, an abrupt

departures. Here I am again,
falling back to what lies
before, ahead of flesh
swimming in the interval
of fresh air between smoke
and cement. On one end
of an umbilical scope, a man
falls from a plane.
On the other end, a plane
falls on some offices.
A mine-collapse on cloud
nine double one, caving
in the closed circuit
of escalation, the fire’s
hollow casing fatigued
in the tireless flame, a cudgel
planted in the narrative of progress,
riddling the narrative of birth
as net goo. A blown-up

AP photo of a straw man falling
by Carolee is the last
leaf to leave the first
tree planted in the next
world. Remember her
lecture on cats
in the Parrish Hall?
When a tree crushed
her kitchen a stray kitten
saw in its incision only an
opening, its trunk a
bridge. They crossed it
together, that cat
and Carolee. I guess
guides come in all guises.
The forest flipped inside
out is the first tipped
scale.The forecast
calls for scarecrows
stuffed with fallen leaves. He
dangles stiff and damp from
the lamppost. The LED
street light shines down on
straw guts braceleted in
corn husk cuffs, his cocked
smile in the gusts a staple
of fall decor in the city. The actor
Henry Fonda had a birds-eye
of Demuth, he described
the lasting injury of witness
as guilt. Has avatiation
ever been about
anything other than
infinite dominance?
Flight a symbol of freedom,
freedom metonym of unfreedom.
The fall is an end that forgets
vernal beginnings in venal
returns to a skeletal self, not truer,
not less true, just like
a breath, reset semi
automatically as rifle fire.
There’s only one way
into and out of the cannon-

the canyon, I mean.
I remember a drive
through a desert pass
in another September,
squeezing the car top
speed between limestone
fists. Animals coursed
down the mountain
like rivulets under
our tire ruts, away
from the wildfire
that mushroomed
across the cadastral map
unraveling in our rental car’s
rearview, singed and curling
at the edge of articulated
space, a dry flood
of fur drawn downhill,
desperate to live and I
with them, until Dylan
and I reached a safehouse
casino in West Wendover,
where we slept fitfully
on sateen pillows, resting
at the end of a long, sloppy
desert street that led straight to the air
force base where the planes
that dropped the bombs
on Hiroshima
and Nagasaki
took off. Black-out damask
curtains blocked our view
of alabaster smoke
billows marbled crassly
by lightning overriding
the sky’s longevity
with foreboding bling.
The last open room
was smoking, and it stank
of smouldering ashtrays.
Melania, I joked,
must be the casino’s
interior designer.
Temporary housing
in the foothills of the apocalypse
would be aesthetically alien to me:
harsh, lush, overwrought Rococo,
stiffly excised from the creaturely outside
with a sterile gouge, requiring
an army to clean, massaging
the unthinkable into a suite
of inevitables. Dylan
didn’t laugh.

Lately fall always
finds me quoting
Gerard Manley
Hopkins. Late
at night when
I can’t fall
asleep, I
talk myself
down in soft tones. I say
Margaret, you’re
worth mourning,
I say Margaret, be soft,
we’re still falling,
I say Margaret, be hard, it’s okay
to keep going, we’re never going
to get over this, I say
keep mourning
we’re not there yet,
keep going, I say
go, go, go

How Sound Carries

I keep a picture of a close-up
of a stuffed octopus’ glass eye
cheek-to-jowl to my child’s
eye cheek-to-jowl to my
computer screen at work.
One is brittle and the other
squishy: that both eyes are vitreous
says to me similarities surface
inner dis-kinships. I keep a picture
of a human baby’s head
and torso sticking out of a
life-size diorama of a Blue whale
aorta from the New Bedford
Whaling Museum on my windowsill
overlooking a wrap-around
line to enter “Virtual World”
on 34th & 5th across from
the Empire State Building.
I am a mother and my child
is also “of nature” but I am
not a mother of nature, not
mother nature, I’m not a
natural mother, I’m mothering
“after nature,” in a lively era
of functional extinction, a time
during which Sperm whales
are shrinking in size, a time
of contractions.

188 Decibels

A Blue whale's heart beats
twice a minute and its tick
transmits across a two mile
circumference. It takes two
seconds for a sound to carry
two miles under water.
Two seconds into the trip
I lose my passport and am
refused reentry at the gate.
Meter by meter a measure,
a beat, two beats, a sound
crosses the softest ground
beneath the surface of which
the Blue whale pulses, gurgles,
gibbers. As in -ish. Babytalk.
All surfaces stiffen on a still
day except for the occasional
fish breaking fluidly into air.
Think source; one-one-thousand,
two-one-thousand; that’s how long
it takes the transmission of loss
to cross the sea. Think a swimming
sound almost too loud to be
heard by human ears two miles
under the hull. Think “swallow”
and “expel” as equal but
oppositional contractions
(in time). The fruit rotting
in the throat ripens in the
birth canal. Think the cavernous
accordion of history creasing
open and closed, a lips (plural)
articulating glottal
voids, “o” “o” “o,”
a diminishing water supply
bridging bigger and bigger
periods of prolonged drought ...

Are words present in
silence, only obscured?
Does prolonged loss
of speech weaken the organ
of truth between us?
Is drought to debtors
as damned to rivers?
I think thirstily
about the future
of narrative. I will
deliver baby antipodes
at the beginning and the end
of the book, I will ricochet
the reader back and forth,
birth and birth. I’d like to publish
my placenta. An umbilical-ability
to time travel in more than one
direction allows me to lean
aslant into nonlife, not death,
keeping the tree in my body soft
and flexible while the child
climbs up the inside surface
of it’s trunk. What does it mean
to start again against colonialism,
again against agnology, to turn
counterclockwise when the toilet


Kendra Sullivan

Kendra Sullivan is an artist, writer, and director of the Mellon Seminar on Public Engagement and Collaborative Research at the Center for the Humanities at the CUNY Graduate Center, where she also acts as publisher of Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative. She is a cofounder of the Sunview Luncheonette and a member of the ecoart collective Mare Liberum (ML).


The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2021

All Issues