Charles Borkhuis

Dark Side of the Room

there’s another room inside this one
an anti-room with anti-matter people
sleeping or screwing on anti-matter beds

every so often someone’s elbow or foot
breaks through an invisible wall
then slips back almost unnoticed

I glimpsed one of them once
staring at me bemused
like a reflection on a dark tv screen

some say the void is not empty
it’s populated by virtual particles
that pop in for a quick bite and run

perhaps you’re unaccustomed
to the world’s indifference or phantom lovers
who annihilate each other over dinner

au contraire it gives me a certain curious comfort
to realize that I’m inhabited by beings
about whom I know virtually nothing

Gummy Head

half-turned away
from the incessant buzz of factoids
those janus-faced insects
that swarm around the whirlpool
working their books of percentages

as if reality might be conjured
from an infinity of jumbled numbers
where sound waves cancel out signals
mistaken as trivia
faint glimmers in the trash
pockets of order in chaos
chaos in order projected indefinitely
at which magnification would you like to proceed

let us start with a fact
which is indisputably the case
the rock upon which all rocks depend
kick it down the road and set the world in motion

or must we pass through the eye of a needle buried
in a cliché and if so where to place the disappeared
those nameless lives in voiceless graves
water over stones mumbling to loved ones
left to wonder where exactly is gone

as if a bored creator might leave
a little gummy head on a stick and walk away
to play dice in another trending universe
as if to say one is left to pick up sticks
that cross and separate by chance
or interpret leaves at the bottom of a tea cup
and play through these migratory moments

Truth Game

the same room but different now
the mirror’s slight mockery of all that is
turn a millimeter away and a change of mood
spreads across the sofa and table
a series of words bubble up the curving stem
of a standing lamp
these could be anyone’s thoughts
moving from mind to mind
chair to chair

one creates an image
an idea of oneself that demands to be fed
so you may bluff your life away
waiting for the real deal
the card that may reveal you
for who you are or not

the truth
don’t mention it
in so many words
that which withdraws from the slightest observation
and splits into possible selves
so one is captured
by the magnetic draw of uncertainty
the nuanced realm of multiple lives

until all possible positions collapse
and you are called upon to act
to break the mirror’s hold
and step through your image
a simple yes or no will do

so a parallel world is created
in which you may be asked
to put your life on the line
facts break down still further
but that is not for us
now you get to play the game

Further Instructions

let’s say a body falls
head first into wave upon wave
of roiling voices a harsh hello here
a sweet goodbye there
it all gets tangled in the gurgle and foam
so many swarming targets
searching for the right arrow

each to his own amateurish speculations
reincarnation placed upon a shelf
next to a can of pork and beans
a logbook of meaningful coincidences
leans against a jar of rusty keys
which door to what metaphor

no need to panic
most ideas only go so far
then someone blows a whistle
and you pick yourself up off the ground
maybe we’re not made to get
to the heart of the matter
maybe nothing sticks around that long

might as well catch the next wave
of fluttering digressions and half-baked ideas
and listen closely for a secret echolalia in the banter
close but never close enough
to hear light’s squiggles turn to matter
yet it happens while we were thinking
of something else

it’s no secret that words were
watching us from a distance
waiting to switch narratives or bite

maybe it’s unavoidable that we must stand
for something we don’t understand
and act upon it with our lives

no matter just place your ear
near the static in the wind tunnel
and await further instructions

Longing

tell me if I’m getting
too personal
but looking into your eyes
makes me wonder

where you keep
your longing
I mean is there a road
you’d like to take

is it on a map
of brooklyn or maybe
in a black box
pulled up from the sea

will I need a key to open it
is it like a hand left
on a pillow
have the fingers fallen asleep

will it spill
over and fill the room
or is it a nothing
kind of thing

that’s everywhere
and nowhere
and will I know it
when I see it

Place Holder

they told us that as density increases
space shrinks inside the number
and at the zero point
the equation breaks down and weeps

they told us half of infinity is still infinity
and that illumination slips through
chips in the armor and words
are filled with oceans of empty space

they said that the largest licks the spiral ear
of the smallest and folds in upon itself
they told us to watch how leaves cluster
in open parentheses and then just blow away

they told us that numbers were hooks
in the clouds and that a poet must zero forth
to thread the eye through an ear
and learn to wing it outward on a word

they said that the foot lies in the leap
across death’s gummy shoe
and that infinity guarantees repetition
but our return will be unrecognizable to us

Charles Borkhuis is a poet, playwright, screenwriter, and essayist. His nine collections of poems include: Dead Ringer [BlazeVOX], Finely Tuned Static (with paintings by John McCluskey) [Lunar Chandelier], Disappearing Acts [Chax], Afterimage [Chax], and Alpha Ruins [Bucknell University], selected by Fanny Howe as a finalist for the William Carlos Williams Book Award. His poems have appeared in eight anthologies including: Resist Much, Obey Little [Spuyten Duyvil], Dia Anthology [Dia Art Foundation], An Avec Sampler #2 [Avec], Primary Trouble [Talisman House], and Writing From The New Coast: Presentation and Technique [o.blek]. His essays on contemporary poetics have appeared in Telling it Slant and We Who Love to Be Astonished (University of Alabama Press). He translated New Exercises from the French by Franck André Jamme [Wave]. His plays have been presented in NYC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Hartford, and Paris and published in Mouth of Shadows [Spuyten Duyvil], The Sound of Fear Clapping [Obscure Press], Present Tense [Stage This 3], and Poets’ Theater [Ailanthus]. His radio plays The Sound of Fear Clapping and Foreign Bodies were produced on NPR and can be heard at pennsound. He is the recipient of a Dramalogue Award and the former editor of Theater:Ex, an experimental theater publication. He lives in New York City.

Editor’s Notes (Posit 15)

 

It is a bittersweet pleasure to introduce this magnificent fifteenth issue of Posit, coming as it does in the wake of what feels like an avalanche of national and global upheaval — both natural and human-made, toxically entangled as those categories are. But also: coming out on the heels of such a great loss for anyone interested in contemporary poetry. I’m referring, of course, to the death of John Ashbery, one of the greatest and most beloved poets of the past half-century. Although his loss hits hard, I find consolation in detecting his influence on so much of the poetry I love — and publish.

This issue is a perfect case in point, notable as it is for the singularity and variety of the voices it assembles — an aesthetic capaciousness which owes no small thanks to Ashbery’s paradigm-shifting work, which demonstrated by contagious example the extent of what is possible. Which ranges, in this issue, from the sizzling imaginative fertility of Will Alexander’s monumental monologue to the analytic calm of Robert Okaji’s meditations; from the poignant crises of Louis Bourgeois’ beautifully drawn protagonists to the understated humor of David Lehman’s and Stephen Paul Miller’s riffs on Frank O’Hara’s famous Lana Turner poem; from John Beer’s tidal flow of verbal riches to Charles Borkhuis’ razor-sharp yet deadly serious wit; from Patty Seyburn’s evocative experimentalism to Aliesa Zoecklein’s equally evocative lyric odes to love and loss.

To quote Mr. Ashbery, all of the work in this issue offers “what we need now:” these “unlikely / Challenger[s] pounding on the gates of an amazed / Castle” (“Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror”). So I hope you’ll honor his passing by reading, or re-reading, his work — and theirs:

the revolutionary heat and devastating light of this fragment from Will Alexander’s tome, The Ganges, the “supreme toil” of its “treasonous instruction” in the voice of an Untouchable, that “remnant outside a palace of hoaxes” banned “to exclusion voiced through tainted opinion,” with its grim echoes of the meanness and menace in our contemporary political landscape;

the rhythmic fluidity of John Beer’s “The Fictive Hour,” “split[ting] the feast of [its] intentions” in wave after melodic wave, enacting the sensitive pursuit of meaning embedded in the quiddity of the moment becoming “the mother of itself;”

Charles Borkhuis’ grave yet bemused invitations to puzzle over “the truth . . . which withdraws from the slightest observation,” deploying the insights of meta-and particle physics in his signature precise yet playful demotic idiom to “thread the eye through an ear / and . . . wing it outward on a word;”

the tragicomedy of Louis Bourgeois’ Salingeresque tale of the clash of integrity with pragmatism under the pressure of social reality and, especially, of time;

Lauren Camp’s evocative lyrics lifting off from the springboard of the personal to touch the universal, rising from the “rant in my inbox” which “is many / fresh-fallen failures /masquerading as failures” to the desert clouds over a party which “plump / then conjugate / all the pleasure for hours;”

Robert Farrell’s aphoristic, incantatory meditations delving, like “a vehicle into a vehicle,” into works by Anscombe, Aristotle, Zosimus, and Hala Mohammed to propose that “[a]ll / things hang together even lives that meet their natural / ends;”

the sensitivity of Cal Freeman’s meditations on literary and personal heritage in which “no one knows / what to measure or how” in light of “the terrible affront and tacit / threat [our] presence constitutes / for every seen and unseen creature;”

David Lehman’s tribute to Stephen Paul Miller’s variation on Frank O’Hara’s “Poem [Lana Turner Has Collapsed!]” — each as wryly gentle in their counsel as the charming original — Miller’s version literally raising the stakes on O’Hara’s by virtue of the weight of what’s at stake (“oh Hillary Clinton you’re going to lose get up!”)— while Lehman’s version hovers with understated complexity between empathetic optimism and doubt of a candidate who might or might not share the social ease of the kind of gregarious narrator who “want[s] to meet you / whoever you are;”

The contemplative focus of Robert Okaji’s koan-like meditations on perception filtered through the metaphorical and philosophical implications of abstraction, in which “[t]he images consume no space but the effect is of distance;”

Patty Seyburn’s richly elliptical and compelling investigations into the vulnerability of the human body and the mythography of swans, entailing “something about anomaly” and “mimesis overload;”

Devon Wootten’s delicious excerpt from Gimme the Pretty, enlisting the reader to partner its probing of the nature and value of its own endeavor (yes, poetry, but not only), achieving any number of “truly epic volta[s]” as it delivers “what [we] came for— / realer done right,”

and Aliesa Zoecklein’s elegant explorations of the grief and hazard embedded in the paraphernalia of the ordinary: the sequin dress of a former lover, the sustenance of a grieving survivor, the “convincing curve” of a swimming pool beyond which “there’s a gate-latch moment when the stranger arrives.”

Thank you for honoring these artists with your time and attention.

Susan Lewis

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Welcome to the visual art of Posit 15!

Jodi Colella uses traditional needlework skills to create artworks that are referential to the great traditions she is working within while also building a commentary on her travels throughout the world. Her work speaks to the evolving roles of women in Western and Non-Western cultures as well her experiences of the natural world.

Brandon Graving, a master printmaker, uses paper in interesting and innovative ways. She casts it, creating three-dimensional sculptures that seem to defy gravity. Her mastery of printmaking technique enables her to push the medium past its known limits until the results defy categorization.

There is a palpable visual rhythm and rhyme in the graphic work of Francis Pavy. His visual interpretations of the music of his native Louisiana dance and jump off the page. His ties to Southern American folklore and culture are deep, and he expresses them in a distinctly contemporary way.

The complex sculptures of Lina Puerta present a delicate and beautifully crafted view of the confluence of the natural and manmade worlds. Her great sensitivity to the found objects she often uses and her skills in combining them creates a universe that is simultaneously natural and artificial—as well as beautiful to look at.

Umar Rashid has created a new history of the American Empire. Through his brilliant and subversive series of faux-historical painting and writings he imagines a national history quite different from that taught in school. His pictorial style riffs on many historic sources and the result is something completely original. A self-taught artist, Rashid has combined his keen intellect with a sly sense of humor and political outrage.

Enjoy!
Melissa Stern