The Future is Trashion

Erasure based on “The Future is Trashion” by Vanessa Friedman. New York Times. December 26, 2019.


Cooing & Longing


A bird perched on the fence for a minute—

its cooing brought me out of the house.

There was so much color on its feathers.


Its beak didn’t jut forward but bent downward

like in most of birds of prey, but this one didn’t prey.


I couldn’t feed it so it left sooner

than it used to when you were here, no grains

to litter the compound with, but then

there was no kind of fodder in the house.


It was the kind of bird that knew its beauty—

perhaps a special thing for its species.


I had thought it would cut me some slack,

but, like you, it didn’t, fleeing on instinct;

like you, it left a trail of leaves in its wake.



I remember the first dry season I spent

in that house you lived in until you died.

Harmattan almost bent you double,

dragging in its dusty perfume across miles

and into every room, sparing nothing

so much so I never knew I would ever

be so expectant of rain; even the birds,

the animals were having a hard time

of all the charade that was the weather.

Even the wooden shelves cried as they cracked,

their grains warping into undulant hills.

I was addicted to the city life.

I tried to hide my feelings because

somehow the weather benefitted you.

You had never so stood at the window

with such longing, in your eyes, to be outside.

I looked into your clear brown eyes and tried

to will the young agile person I knew

who would walk miles with me merely to see

what the landscape was like at the moment

because, for you, no one stepped into

the same landscape twice, for you the wind

was always changing something, eroding

either the soil, or the trees of their leaves,

the rain would always wash something away;

even the cities could not escape this.

It was like a process of aging.

Sometimes the wind brought more than dust

and its empty smell: now a sweet smell

but one which you doubted: maybe it was

the smell of bodies carried over miles,

maybe the dust was part of their bodies.

I knew it couldn’t be real yet I let

myself to imagine it, as scary

as it was, for didn’t we hear about how

the rivers, though how dried up they were,

still vomited tumescent bodies

from their silvery bellies, about how

the beggars didn’t wake up in the streets,

their stiff bodies curled up like balls of wool?

I tried to find things to love in this place

but couldn’t, rather reasons to leave

were monthly stacking. Minna was almost

like this and each day the people I stayed with

tried to convince me to cut the place some slack,

I took a piece of my clothing and quietly

folded it and threw it in my traveling bag

until one night I realized it was full.



Pollarding & Animal Spirits



In this unwitting dawn. In the begonia
I put in the poem because of its incantatory


sound. In the vine I thought was a sweet

pea—to put a sweet pea in the poem—


but was actually a weed, common vetch.
In the still early summer heat like gentle


pressure on the forearms and wrists.



A trio of military planes screams overhead.

I squint into the glare and the leftover


cosmetic product on my hands flashes
in a type of dim recognition. Wash it off. Who


is going to read about botanical misprision.

There’s a war on and I am the yellowing


pages of Bishop’s National Geographic.

There’s always a war on and its location


is not a function of place but of people, plucked

for the vase or the oven, wilting or burning or


eaten as a delicacy. The word of the day

is upward. The word of the day is all cops


are bastards. Who am I to say what we should make

of the clay at our feet, minor gods with shovels


and grass seed, with kilns and molds, the joints of

our fingers curling around some texture, releasing


it in the checkout aisle or through the window

that backs the checkout aisle.



After adrenaline, a comedown just like any
other high. You’re sitting on the floor in a hoodie


and biting all the skin off your lips. Outside,

the day continues to mulch itself, there are


robins, someone is invoicing someone else

for another order of rubber bullets.


The symbolic vulture will not arrive



To hunch in the middle distance. Sorry,
I’m back now, I was on the patio this whole time,


my mouth is bleeding and the roar has faded
such that it might be mistaken for an air conditioner,


the mechanical hum of comfort
in deeply inhospitable environments,


a fueled and speedy monarchy, it’s coming,
I tell myself, get up, it’s well-rested and armed


to the teeth literally but also and importantly
for my purposes metaphorically, a giant blossoming


of dipshit noisemaking. It doesn’t have to go
to the office and it is responsible for the existence


of Phoenix, Arizona. I wobble on my feet

like a newborn anything. I am melancholic


about structures. Look: no matter what you grab

out of the kitchen drawer, it can be used


as a lever. In what follows, we’re on the side

of the ice, those tropical begonias be damned.



Animal Spirits

“If the animal spirits are dimmed and the spontaneous optimism falters, leaving us to depend on nothing but a mathematical expectation, enterprise will fade and die.” —John Maynard Keynes





Enterprise withering on the vine. Enterprise left to rot in the sun.

Out of its carcass, a cooler wind—





/ / /





If the world is bad to you, you are sad.
If the world is good to you, but you know about the world, you are sad.
If the world is good to you, and you do not know about the world, you will not be sad.
If the world was bad to you but it is no longer, it is easy to forget about the world, and easy to

forget you were ever sad.


O dripping globe. What we’ve blamed

on the elements. On the accident
of our cells rather than the rapidity

with which we turn water to cement.





/ / /





The idea that the brain is the seat of the soul is older than most people think it is.


The history of naturalizing economic activity is exactly as long as you think it is.


We were made for money / / we were made of money





/ / /





Falling through a substrate,
the gentle “u” of the body as it faces upward. The hands and feet like a dancer’s, directional.


On the curb, a man turns over shovelfuls of dampened sand in a wheelbarrow. The sound is like

stiff fabrics hung too close to one another on a line. A recursive intimacy.


A brief and wild optimism, and then the grinding sludge of machinery, its unmatchable






/ / /





A bull in the blood.
A bull made of blood, made of air, air carried in the blood air seated in the brain.


The brain a bull. The world a bull with its hooves on the world.


O beast that could be gentle. Asleep in the beige autumn of the shaken head, slow wading

through the pool of counter-liquefaction.


Abolish selling.
In the hand outstretched, these cool bristles
like a hand broom, a horned smoothness and the scent
of fields and a fire recently extinguished. This animal pause.





/ / /





Frenzied acquisition of undergarments,

small vases, linens, soaps, followed by the hatred of stuff—





/ / /





The dog on the surface of the water, the dog on the silver of the coin.1






1See Robert Burton, in Anatomy of Melancholy, on rabidity: “That in Hydrophobia they seem to see the picture of a dog still in their water” (222).



Then there was no more singing.

All the lights in their throats cut:


the protest of evening wolves & black

bears nuzzling a parched creek for any-


thing that might sustain them another

white-skinned winter, those foreign


birds we never learned the names for.

Invasive, my grandfather called them.


Like the silver carp haunting our

local river. Bullfrogs & possums.


He called us natives after living

three generations on the same


hard land it took so much blood

to own. At the end of the path


the bullet takes to meet the right

body, the right body drops like


nothing worth losing sleep over.

It’ll cost two men three hours


to drag it home in one piece.

That wilder silence lasts but


a brief eternity. Before the unseen

choir shakes the forest. Again,


the same damn wolves & starlings. Men

still dragging. The season closing.


Its wiry legs kick & quiver in our hands.

Like strings. Song. Our song now to sing.



Long Marriage (Parable of the Skull)

Over years we lifted it sometimes
from its cardboard box, studying


the fifty teeth and gazing into the open
eye sockets, this possum skull we found


in our sixth year, half-buried in the dirt
behind the rental house. For decades, then,


we moved it everywhere we went,
and always it lay quietly, as patient as dirt,


and only now and then did I imagine it
dreaming that skin formed once more around


its body—the moon face and moon tail—
so it might waddle again along the river.



This poem was originally published in The Florida Review (43.2, Fall 2019) and was a runner-up in the Humboldt Poetry Prize.


Notes on Pet Monkeys and How to Manage Them



This box should be fairly heavy. The door
never needs opened or undone. Bend the rim
into a square. Little danger to your
self—the room to be afforded him.

A looking glass hung up by a small chain—
your pet’s vanity exceeds belief. A
flimsily made affair is soon bitten
to pieces. Body of a cage. Many a
good monkey is killed by swallowing
fragments of glass. Rub on a coat of
maroon. A little ornamental topping.
Or Venetian Red, most suitable of
colors for a cage. All that remains
is to procure your monkey and put him in.




From the time my fingers were big enough
to manufacture fly-cages with hollowed
cork and pins—all other lines of
fancy well threshed out—Simians have held


great fascination. The schoolboy’s definition
is “the plural of monk.” Or humonculous.
Much is lacking in what might have been
told. I cannot pin. Great naturalists


have labored to show a relationship.
I cannot pin my credibility.
Below the average human idiot’s,
the head of a chimpanzee. I am drifting.


What might have been. A fertile source of
drollery. My fingers were big enough.




Disease—Symptoms of Indisposition

Quinsy—Good Riddance—a small apple

hollowed out—Toothache—Headache—treat him

as you would a child—Useful Article—


as you would—Broken Limbs—a human
being—Rheumatism—RuptureRisk of

Being Bitten—first he should be en-
veloped—Treatment—in a bag—Costive-


nessBiliousness—Monkeys Eating Their
Own Tails—a ready sale is better than
the nuisance—Excrement—the “Kill or Cure”
Treatment—treat him as you would a human


being—Simple Remedies—a small apple hollowed

out and plugged again is greedily devoured




Savagely grabbed, the hand that has fed and
petted him all along. The very moment
novelty is lost, sit and write off an
advertisement to Exchange and Mart,


Bazaar. I haven’t always had the heart.
A passing menagerie generally

has a vacant cage. With an iron bar
a sharp and heavy blow. An exceedingly


human-like affair. As if we all of us
come at last to this. In skinning him
yourself you’ll find his hide fairly tough.
Put him in a natural posture. A bit


of dried moss, artificial leaf you might
purchase at the milliners. Keep him in full light.




The source material for these pieces is Notes on Pet Monkeys and How to Manage Them, Arthur Patterson’s 1888 handbook, which was published in response to the colonialist British fashion of adopting exotic animals without any idea of how to properly provide care for them. These poems erase and rearrange the text into sonnet form. The poems were originally published in The Florida Review (43.2, Fall 2019) and were the winner of the Humboldt Poetry Prize.