The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2020

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MAY 2020 Issue

five from Unemployment Insurance

When I shave my head I will
claim each hair as a dependent
on my taxes. When I am denied
by unemployment I will send
the bag of rotting potatoes
in my pantry to the state house.
When they ask for work search
activities I will instead say fuck the police,
because Sean Bonney told me to.
When my boss blocks my unemployment
claim I will simply block their driveway
until I decompose, elegantly, in
their driveway apron. I will send
a bouquet of past due bills
to whoever gave them 5 stars on Yelp.
I will enter in every week until
I expire the birth dates of the dead
-- the coordinates to where
we are throttling-- in the weekly
claims field. The conspiracy
of a dying empire is only to
kill faster. I am entirely overwhelmed
by the collapse of the political
economy in my body so I am
sorry for the late reply.

There were jokes or rumors for
awhile that the city was dying
& then that it was resurrecting
via the miraculous intervention
of various celebrity chefs
turning empty storefronts
into petit bourgeois playgrounds
& the under educated &
formerly incarcerated into
their personal servants.
This Cleveland chauvinist image
-- the image of the resurrected city
can be seen now as a mirage offered
as consolation or distraction
from our continuing
brutal conditions. If those were the
good times & these are the bad times
I’d like to abolish “times”.

People on the internet are talking to each other
too little & about each other too much

I imagine this will continue & worsen.

I’m not writing poetry anymore I’m writing unemployment insurance
& I resent every aspect of the system that produced this
relation to my work

But I keep thinking
that has always been our relation
to this work: a desperation
for reimagining the context
of our lives as fluid
or malleable to a larger
power of masses

so again out of this desperation I am trying to make poems

I am a cute selfish animal
in the time of the great
ruinous longing. I ate
an apple. I ate a banana.
I drank a pot of coffee
& found the dawn came late.
I am filled with longing & rage.
I filled an ashtray & a page.
I checked unemployment
& unemployment never came.
I sewed a mask out of a bandana
& called through my friends
who live out of state.

I’m alone with the night again thinking
every union, every right: the ghost of a
failed general strike. The smoke laughs out
of me against the night: every union, every right:
the ghost of a failed general strike.
My father taught me how to play poker
next to the Murphy bed. After every deal, he said
“the pot is right.” Whose pot is right & why:
the ghost of a failed general strike.
In his metallic mauve Altima the Black &
Mild’s cut sharpie-sized holes in the
tan leather interior. Every cigarette,
every car: the ghost of a failed
general strike. His uncle kept a sawed
off in his jacket “to keep the scabs in line.”
Summer ‘59, nationwide steel strike.
Every empty steel mill I spelunked in
-- drunk & under age, every warehouse
empty like my pockets, every cavity
in this city’s foaming mouth, every
inch of the continued occupation of
this continent; the ghosts of a failed general strike,
teeth, leather, bricks in the pavement,
the river & its course, the speed
at which a car becomes criminal, the
color & quantity of my hair, the height
& weight of my father & uncles, the percentage
of the stars in the sky at night; the ghost
of a failed general strike.


Brendan Joyce

Brendan Joyce is a busboy from Cleveland, Ohio. His poems have appeared in Protean Magazine and the Johannesburg Review of Books. He is the author of Character Limit (2019) and Unemployment Insurance (2020) in which these poems appear. Both books are available as digital editions here


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2020

All Issues