Joe Elliot


We are all dying. You are just doing
the hospital part of it, the part where tubes
and wires are stuck into your arm, your neck, your mouth.
The rule of three is also impossible

not to follow. Two’s okay. Two things get together
and necessarily form a club. But the third comes along,
bringing with it difference, the possibility
of non-membership providing the basis

of choice. And when you are standing there
having to make a choice, time seems to expand,
giving your life a malleable dimension
and shape, as if it could go on forever.

Yet, this movement into the thick of things,
this always being on the razor’s edge of decision,
is in the context of necessity. All of a sudden
it’s over, and it turns out you were just doing

the falling in love part of it, the running around
with the kids part of it, the carrying laundry
up the stairs and binding tomatoes and hopping on
your bike and riding to work part of it.

Arrested Development


Now you can get arrested
for saying the word “bomb”
on your phone. Anything you can imagine,
anything you can get addicted to,
they “give” to you on a trial basis.
The first thirty days is a powder
blue sky in which little gestural ships
sail by. Their wispy wakes
close in on themselves
likes lips meeting in silence,
like a sleep deprived mind
having dutifully emptied itself
into a blue examination book,
like a vacated womb, its baby
gone, never to return, the sense
of being King and Queen,
God and Goddess, lingering
for ceremonial purposes only,
enraged by the dead speech
they’ve been given to give. There is no
real largesse, no possibility of
generosity if nothing is inconvenient,
if no one bats an eye when you whisper
the phrase “collateral damage”
or “operating cost” into your phone.


They are listening to everything you are saying
on your phone. Your phone is a winding horn
you put to your lips to call in the faithful
hounds at dusk. Your dusk is the dark
and sad undermask you are always wearing
under your face. Your face is on loan
to you from the Confederated Manufacturers
of faces. Millions and millions of them,
the feces the dim coulter of abstraction
shits into the earth in neat rows and so
they grow. Growth Eternal is the staple
of this state religion that eats. Eating
by indirection each other is its sport. Its sporty
Galilean runs for office. Its office is to grind
and mash a bratwurst of they. They are unnamed,
although all around you, and you yourself
are your own phone’s worst friend.


They think other people are the problem.
They think some Spirit of History,
talon’d and beaked, or the Invisible
Hands of the Marketplace, sheathed
in prophylactic plastic, or the Face
of Narrative sitting in the front row,
knitting directives, raising an eyebrow
not even a millimeter, as the ancient
contraption of cause and effect clanks
into motion and the blade slides down,
will always settle the matter of who
gets what. Thus they think in pronouns,
in subjects and predicates, someone
always taking action while someone
else always receives that action. That gift,
these walls on the ramparts of which
each individual self-situates, heaving
their diminishing stores of petrol
onto the heads of sanitation trucks
backing up – Beep Beep – to unload
their givens. They have to go somewhere.
Matter can be neither created nor destroyed.
You there. You have agreed to walls.
Let’s store the honey of blame in you.


Because they do not have a life,
but do not know
they do not have a life,
they skip in the stairwell to the loo,
my darling. Boo hoo,
said Emoji. Haji, Johnny
Quest’s best friend, ended my childhood.
I could see the white ribbon
wrapped around his head
was a cliché, or rather, in order
to continue sitting on the orange rug
in front of the TV every Saturday morning,
I needed some sign of difference,
and this head gear was enough.
And so I was off, sitting there,
to the races. I never needed to stop
again, or get up, my darling.


It’s so much more reassuring
to be listening to someone else,
to feel that noisy connection
to what seems like the outside,

to let this substitution drone on
a little, confident in its own
ability to white itself out and so
keep going, choosing, of course,

to play its role in this opening
up, since you have to open
up to something or someone,
and that someone might as well

be this one, and then you’re done,
although you’ve only just lit
the candle, only just begun
to attend to the wavering flame,

you fast forward everything
to the end, fire out, wick
smoldering, molten wax
a hardened puddle on the table,

evening inundating the room,
the room dark, and you
still sitting there, back erect,
than to be listening to yourself.

Joe Elliot helped run a weekly reading series at Biblios Bookstore and then at the Zinc Bar in New York City for many years. He co-edited two chapbook series: A Musty Bone and Situations, and is the author of numerous chapbooks of his own, including: You Gotta Go In It’s the Big Game, Poems to be Centered on Much Much Larger Pieces of Paper, 15 Clanking Radiators, 14 Knots, Reduced, Half Gross (a collaboration with artist John Koos), and Object Lesson (a collaboration with artist Rich O’Russa). Granary Books published If It Rained Here (a collaboration with artist Julie Harrison). His long poem, 101 Designs for the World Trade Center, was published by Faux Press as an e-book in 2003. Collections of his work include Opposable Thumb (subpress, 2006), Homework (Lunar Chandelier, 2010), and Idea for a B Movie (Free Scholars Press, 2016). For many years, Joe made a living as a letterpress printer. He now teaches English at Edward R. Murrow High School, and lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Anne Noonan, and their three sons.
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About Posit Editor

Susan Lewis ( is the Editor-in-chief and founder of Posit ( and the author of ten books and chapbooks, including Zoom (winner of the Washington Prize), Heisenberg's Salon, This Visit, and State of the Union. Her poetry has appeared in anthologies such as Walkers in the City (Rain Taxi), They Said (Black Lawrence Press), and Resist Much, Obey Little (Dispatches/Spuyten Duyvil), as well as in journals such as Agni, Boston Review, The Brooklyn Rail, Conjunctions online, Diode, Interim, New American Writing, and VOLT.