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I lay in bed awake from the weight of something
firmly pressing into my shoulders. Startled, I tried
to get up but couldn't. I nervously rubbed my hand
along the object of my oppression and felt what
could not be denied. Was this death? Even at my
arm's full length, I could tell there was more to this
dubious beast. Immediately, I dropped my hand
back to my chest. It felt like the pressure grew firmer.
At that point, I thought I must be dreaming. Why was
death so quiet? What did it want? Terror welled up
inside of me, the depths of which I never felt before,
warm and dewy like her skin after making love. I knew
at once this is what the angel came for. And to this
wretch, I gave her every ounce of fear from my black
body, and all the black bodies of my forbearers, with
the grace of a newborn fawn taking its first steps. I
made this offering for my dead. The dead intermingled,
tangled in the fear. The fear tangled, intermingled with
the dead. All of this had the same malignancy but
each carried with it a spiritual weight that even a
religious relic could not contain. As I exhumed this
something vague and immense, this ancestral grief,
the fear became one. Sealed together, but weathered
alone, each piece in various states of degraded beauty
but all one in perfection. I am still pursued by those
miserable shapes but the veil has lifted and I am sober
to its projections.
Why must I cast out the curse on this house? Let me
pour out the love that no one has wanted from you.
Silent as a grave. I make this offering to the dead. My
dead. Fuck your white horse and carriage. You can not
grow trees fast enough to murder your sins. What You
want, You can't buy now.
Yes, this shit goes way back, but I have learned that
the pain doesn't kill you. Remember when all you ever
wanted was a 100 million dollars and a bad bitch?
The Gucci? The Louie? The Fendi? The Prada?
I was dark, wasteful, and wild. Now the preacher is
growling, save us, lord.
We are all America's most wanted, hunted by the same
children that chased down my ancestors. I make this
offering to my dead. I am grieving, but this is not an
eulogy. I have stopped trying to understand why this
happened or how this happened. It's here. It's happening.
But I am a survivor. I survived child abuse. I survived
being whipped. I survived molestation. I survived being
bullied. I survived slavery. I survived Trayvon's murder.
I survived Rodney King's beating. I survived AIDS. I
survived being called a nigger. I survived being called
a bitch. I survived the Freedom rides. I survived the
Civil War. I survived the Nazis. I survived the Great
Depression. But I am not brave. Nor am I special
because I survived. You just do it. You just keep moving
forward. It's not a choice. There is no trick to surviving.
Some of us leave traces of our soul behind in the places
where our innocence was lost. Too exhausted to fill the
holes left behind, one begins to realize that these
violations don't just take something away but they
start to push you forward.
Yes, I had to remove any essence of my humanity so
that the parts beaten into perfection would not leave
me mute. When one personality is not good enough on
its own, I learned to throw all of them at you hoping that
would make up for my dullness. It didn't. You saw me.
I always rode the edges of failure, never quite succeeding.
Like the boxers in Paul Pfeiffer's video, I danced alone.
Fighting in the ring with my own fallacies. I make this
offering to my dead. I do not feel as if I have the energy
to fight. I am seduced by the sweet tyranny of stasis.
Like the Grecian Io, my people are banished. Maybe
someone else will do the work?
They ask me...How did you do it? How could you stand
all that pain? I would just die...no, you wouldn't die. You
would learn to lay still. You would learn to hold secrets.
You would learn to scream silently through your smiles.
You would survive. You don't know how to kill yourself
at the age of eight.
But this isn't about my survival. This is about a country
that is soft. That has never been bombed on the daily.
That has never had to flee to another country to find
work. That has never had to endure another regime
through a cycle of sons, who beget more sons, who
beget more sons, who beget more sons. How will we
do it? I no longer know how to lay still. I will not keep
your secrets. And screaming is not enough.
I saw granddaddy today...well, actually I saw
granddaddy's mustache. One of those thin lines above
the top lip. He whispered, Don't worry child, God will
soon come. No, granddaddy. God is not coming. God
will not bring down salvation. God will not save us.
We are the Gods.
The ancient Greeks believed the Universe created the
Gods and I believe America created us. I make this
offering to my dead. And with it bring back their fury.
Heather Lynn Johnson is a writer, photographer, performance artist and poet, living in New York. Her work is characterized by its lyricism and cultural critique. Through the use of imagery and the written word, Johnson explores being other-ed in a consumerist society by mining the history of gender, sexuality, and the racialized body. Her formal approach to the narrative, whether visual or poetic, is distinguished by her willingness to lay bare her own existence. Johnson received an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and her BA from Columbia College Chicago both in Photography. Her work has been exhibited internationally and most notably at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture's exhibition of Ntozake Shange's choreopoem i found god in myself. Johnson is currently the 2016 literary fellow for the Queer|Art|Mentorship program.
Conor Messinger is a poet, writer and translator. His book "The Land Was V There" was published by 89+/LUMA Foundation in 2014. His poems, writing and projects have appeared in HTML Giant, Molossus, Powderkeg Magazine, Packet-Biweekly, Sensation Feelings Journal, RamonaWeb, and Imperial Matters.
In honor of its one year anniversary of physical incarnation, TROLL is now free to read online
Theadora Walsh's written work has been published in Kaleidoscope, Kitsch Magazine, SleepPrint, 11.33”, the Cornell Literary Review, and elsewhere. She was awarded the Wood/Tarrow grant to study Hungarian fiction in Budapest and an Andrew W. Mellon fellowship to create text-based digital art.
A strange flickering bespeaks—what? Some distant megastructure, perhaps a Dyson sphere? Clickbait fodder. Idle speculation of the wonder-junkie. Yet the thing, whatever it may be, is not spherical, which is the whole point. Unless it be the remnant of some collision, a chunk of planet imperfectly strobing the starlight. Which is it, then—accident or design?
Must a taxonomy take the form of great chain of being, the God at the top, toward which all energy flows?
I remember learning about the kingdoms in biology, about the archaebacteria, who in their lately discovered existence had come to crash the party. Now I see, via the most cursory online research, that the once definitively demarcated territories of life have become only more contested, more embattled.
I remember the question of the virus.
A taxonomy is a living encyclopedia. Like all encyclopedias, it is a work of the imagination, a spell that requires constant attention, or it will break. An imposition on reality. A taxonomy is like a map, a political map, and it makes enemies of these disparate kingdoms: like all maps, it is an act of violence.
Borges: “If we explain (or judge) a fact, we connect it with another; such linking, in Tlön, is a later state of the subject which cannot affect or illuminate the previous state. Every mental state is irreducible: the mere fact of naming it—i.e., of classifying it—implies a falsification.”
Bear in mind that Tlön does not exist, but is part of a hoax, a fictional construct within a fictional construct.
Le Guin: “Many a mage of great power . . . has spent his whole life to find out the name of one single thing—one single lost or hidden name. And still the lists are not finished. Nor will they be, til world’s end.”
Bear in mind that magic is not real.
“Proliferating difference.” The universe as difference-generating engine. As a medium, a canvas, a page, on which mutations are to be written in nucleic acid. But what then is the quill, and whose hand holds it?
Taxonomy is the grammar of life, and like all grammars, it confounds itself. The language of Pirahã seems relevant here, the tongue of a very small indigenous Amazonian population, heavily intonated, such that entire statements can be whistled, requiring no further phonemic elaboration. As I remember, the problem of Pirahã was that it invalidated some previously unimpeachable Chomskian universal linguistic principal, therefore requiring that particular taxonomy to be revised.
A taxonomy is always under construction, like a body, like cybersecurity measures, like New Jersey.
If we discover life on other planets . . .
When we discover life on other planets . . .
If/when we discover life on other planets, will we become part of their taxonomy, or they ours? To what extent is technological sophistication relevant to this question? To what extent, moral, psychological, spiritual development? To what extent apparent physical ferocity, i.e., horns, tentacles, auxiliary protruding jaws, what have you?
Too many questions? How they proliferate, like horny paramecia!
The mind’s taxonomical impulse far outstrips the varieties of real life, however inexhaustible they may in fact be. Cue an explosion of mythological bestiaries. Sea serpents, dragons, unicorns, yetis. Enter speculative fiction and cinema. Aliens of all sorts, humanoid, reptilian, fuzzy, slimy, physically present, or abstract like viruses, concepts, informational processes. This is the representation and categorizing of life as it exists in the dream state. Even there, in that obscure country, we must articulate our taxonomies.
I watch as my metaphors bleed into each other and do nothing to stop it, because this is not a taxonomy.
What, then, am I doing here?
Two peculiarities. The first: these section breaks I use, Ψ, the Greek letter psi. I’ve chosen the character because it is the penultimate, that mark directly preceding the omega, which concludes the alphabet. I have chosen psi because it reminds me of the unfinished quality of the taxonomy, how it is never concluded, never truly complete. Always another beast comes crawling from the denuded forest, demanding to be accounted for, converted to use-value.
The second: these questions that keep popping up. Reading back, I see I have anticipated this sentiment. “I remember the question of the virus,” I wrote, and perhaps in that remembering I was also imagining the question itself as virus. The question marks seem to reproduce themselves across the page; the more questions I ask, the more curious I become.
The question of the virus, of course, is: is a virus alive? Does it deserve inclusion in our taxonomies?
I imagine an alien world with its alien ecosystem. Perhaps I go to the work of representing it in all its interdependent complexity, my own attempt at a Codex Serafinianus. How easy, then, it might become to lose oneself in such an obsession, to give oneself over to the schizogenetic act of naming.
Let’s get down to it. A “taxonomy” is an arrangement of names. To name is to attach a word to an object. A word, in the spoken iteration, is an arbitrary sound vibration. A taxonomy, then, is a reduction of the complexity of animal life into progressively encompassing sounds. What, then, is the most encompassing sound, the over-sound?
Answer: the one name to which all the names of the taxonomy belong is, in English, the word “life.” But the word “life” is not included in any taxonomy. It is the absence that endows the other words with meaning. It is the silence that gives meaning to the sound.
Le Guin: “For a word to be spoken, there must be silence. Before, and after.”
I see now that my etymology of “taxonomy” was false. It is not an arrangement of names at all: nomia means distribution. An arrangement of distributions, a distribution of arrangements. Something of a tautological ring, if you ask me.
A list. A list of lists. A list of lists of lists.
Sam Stoeltje is a writer and musician living in Brooklyn, New York. He grew up in Texas, and is studying the tarot and other forms of divination. His favorite fictional hero is Jesus Christ.
Michael Frazer currently researches and teaches at Auburn University. His writings tend towards the absurd and experimental. Because words are are a game to play. His writing has appeared previously in Neon as well as in Used Gravitrons, Parable Press, Kudzu Review, and Bellow Literary Review. For updates, follow him on twitter: @micfrazer
Emmalea Russo is a Brooklyn-based artist, writer, and member of the Ugly Duckling Presse editorial collective.
Alina Gregorian is the author of *Flying Bark* (Coconut Books, 2016) and the chapbooks *Navigational Clouds* (Monk Books, 2015) and *Flags for Adjectives* (DIEZ, 2015). She curates Triptych Readings, runs a video poetry series on the Huffington Post, teaches at Rutgers University, and lives in Brooklyn.
odam alaki is the pseudonym of a poet and playwright from Tehran who currently lives in Isfahan, Iran. Navid Sinaki is an artist and writer. Though born in Tehran, Sinaki currently lives in Los Angeles.
Christopher Rey Pérez is the author of the chapbook "On the Heels of Our Enemies", which was published by 98Editions in Beirut. Other writing appears in Better: Culture & Lit, The Brooklyn Rail, PARAGRAPHITI, Shoppinghour, and more magazines. He’s the recent recipient of the 2015 Madeleine P. Plonsker Emerging Writer’s Residency Prize for his manuscript, “LOVE PANT ALIEN.” Currently, he lives in Palestine. He’s originally from el Valle del Río Grande de Texas.
r.lew is a complete genetic mutation, boasting the label of "red-headed, left-handed, identical-twinned homosexual artist".In addition to writing, r.lew works as a performance artist, theatre-maker/actor/director, dancer, and solo saxophonist in Providence, RI.
Joshua Kleinberg lives in New York. He is an MFA candidate in Poetry & Translation at Columbia.
Simone Wolff is the baby of the Vanderbilt MFA poetry program, incumbent poetry editor of the Nashville Review, and social media intern at Coconut Magazine.
Brad Liening currently resides in Minneapolis. He is the author of Death Salad (gobbet press)
Andrew Bartels was raised in Spokane, Washington, currently lives in Brooklyn, and is a candidate in the MFA program at Brooklyn College. His poems have appeared in Atlas and Peaches and Bats.