from “DREAM WORK” (MY AUGUSTINE)
A boy is standing on the toilet’s rim dreaming the quiet of porcelain. His sweater’s edge floats in the bowl. “Selvage” is what prevents a garment from unraveling, he says, but it’s only the word that’s important to me now. Where polyester turns green, things take a sinister turn. Being somehow “broken” inside, this is a political event. That’s when I falter, seeking a peaceful decline between the kayak and the trench. I wake dreaming of H.D.’s adolescent fantasia, and the word hérisson, whose sound carries me beyond any referent. It’s the opposite of “selvage,” I suppose, but I’ll do anything for the huckleberries I need to survive. The door is locked, but the way is always open.
I’m accused of publicly fondling myself. Slimmed to a flap of skin, “the self” is born of sinister caress, a thing to be pet, aroused, then corralled, like a wig set on fire and immediately doused. But my crime is a social fiction, I say, like some “democracy to come,” or a flame to be wet whose source is electric. I protest the indictment by smearing peanut butter on my cock to oppose any suggestion of lubrication. The house is protected by a cordon sanitaire, my room withdrawn behind a movable wall. Even there, an organ is exposed. Such dream objects arrive like coyotes in the night whose howls take days to quiet.
Bushy shrubs frame the ledge I need to walk if I’m to reach the train platform without being caught ticketless. Fearful of the darkness below, I waffle, then decide I can’t risk it, feeling at once relieved and ashamed, like that time on the Klamath when I decided not to wager the rapids, using my kayak’s “damaged” fiberglass as an alibi to sit out the “Big One,” thus betraying the river’s “essence,” as if there were any real difference between a cascade and an eddy. So I turn back and sprint to hurdle the turnstile, recalling my jump in the Paris metro back in ’91. I show the cop who grabbed me the unused billet in my pocket, and in some shitty French I tell him I’d happily jump back and use the ticket properly. Je crois que ça sera mieux, says the cop, teaching me a phrase I’d then use frequently, despite the law that clings to it.
The clink is made of salt & kelp. Sharing a cell with AJ, I’m locked up inside the jail where I’d been organizing. This is about working undercover, or poetry. Disguised as a sea farmer, I hope to continue “the work” from inside. “But I’m really in this shit,” she says, “so I can’t just, you know, hop yr train, as if it’ll take us all to freedom.” Grabbing some stripes to shield my chest from flesh-eating plankton, my arms get lost in the sleeves, so I set my clothes on fire. “I’ve taken a vow to liberate all beings,” I say. “That’s yr thing,” she retorts, “just don’t equate that liberation with abolition, coz that’s my thing.” Something about the difference between “language” and “code,” she goes on, but I’m beguiled by all the marine cabbage. Like the ad for Aladdin Bail Bonds on Spotify, this delusion of words remains inescapable.
I’m standing at a crossroads in the middle of an endless field, like Cary Grant in North by Northwest. It’s a drug drop-off, but I don’t know if I’m using or selling. Either way, I’m afraid I don’t have “enough,” tho it’s obvious I have more than I need in my Hermès Picotin tote. What’s it take to rescue freedom from necessity? I ask the wind, a whorl, a coin, a trice, there being no just measure. That’s when the real Cary Grant arrives with more, dropping one baggie at a time by my feet, each holding a handful of Pepperidge Farms Goldfish. Every few minutes he returns with another drop, before leaving on the same dusty road to vanish in the corn.
Rob Halpern is the author of several poetry collections, including Music for Porn (Nightboat, 2012), Common Place (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2015), and most recently, Hieroglyphs of the Inverted World (Kenning Editions, 2022). His translations of Georges Perec's early essays on culture and politics are forthcoming from Verso. He splits his time between California and Michigan, where he organizes The Writers’ Bloc inside Women’s Huron Valley Prison.