The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2022

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MAY 2022 Issue

A Selection of Drain Poems

Cruising Altitude

Have long debated the ethics
of flushing up here—through the
cloud—to know that the stench
and its chimera of spoiled fruit
and plastic soap will intermingle
with this cylindrical atmosphere
mixed with specific other

Trance turning to assume

   It’s rumor mill fiber that
   a plane dumps waste over
   suburban pools—rather the truth
   is that unionized baggage handlers
   empty the honey truck—the tank
   at the back of the undercarriage
   of the plane that can contain
   an average of 230 gallons
   of collective waste from say
   an 8 hour 747 non-stopper

So I press my finger into one ear
Press the button—sound dimensional

Inhuman swishing—perfect anti aggregate
of void and technology

Even if we tried to capture
the current remnants of the
who knows who of us

   Seems the impossibility
   of a step remembering itself
   that seems precisely why
   it leaves proof of itself behind

Globular—cup the hands

To time in choreographed eggs

Moving apart—resting
Even in enclosures

Forgotten maneuvers
sometimes move themselves

Remnants of skin act as
a clustering dance

Pieces of eventual center
split into miniature continents

   Most the time
   I don’t dream
   which I have always been
   jealous of others
   who do so deeply

   Most of my dreams
   are minor nightmares
   relative to a c-PTSD
   acute diagnosis
   and involve being
   chased by police
   or the threat of jail—
   sometimes crawling insects

   For Bergson—the dreaming self
   is never able to speak freely
   climbing out of an abolition
   of duration to offer only
   a precipitation of images

Put headphones back on
Breathe something ungrounded

In a waking state
I dream of nothing
but the end of convenience
even in this upper air

Breathing outside headphones
Can anyone else hear this?

As breath is a cloud
outside sound all its own

Cloaca Minima

In St Paul—our third apartment—
the Neil Hi Rise on Laurel—I remember
on the fourth floor

Having moved up from the second—Never
thought about the drop the pipes
must fall—downspouts
and p traps within doors
under the floor
behind walls

Used to babysit myself
Around nine years old

For a few hours after getting
off the school bus—barely
knew how to heat up food

Microwave made ability

   The republic of patricians agreed
   to the idea that the state
   could provide disappearances
   away from where the highest
   density of people were living

Plowing through what water allows


We come across
first—a song—translated from the Latin as

   No wounds
   in terra cotta
   but time

   No archive
   in time
   but corrosion

      Supposedly Tarquinius Priscus
      convinced the people of Rome
      his immigrant status
      would not interfere
      with his ability to lead
      by declaring
      water his war

More of the song—

   Swallow ocean
   Even nowhere

Whitney held my favorite song
when I microwaved a little dinner—
something I put on repeat—
like my mom did when
she cleaned the apartment
on weekends off—the upbeat
score of unpaid labor—

Sooner or later the fever ends

With the windows wide open

And that word—open
used to mean

   not blocked up or in Germanic
   often up

   Tarquinius Priscus
   is credited with ordering
   the construction of maxima
   still in active use—an

      outsider who wanted to begin
      to hide everything out in the open

   Now we know

Water is the least exact entity

Knew this as soon as my father
chastised me for making
the toilet overflow

Dry it all up—I ain’t plungin it for you

Remember being so afraid
each time after that
where the time
might uncontrollably
decide for me

Last summer in the Netherlands
A town called Sneek
Engineer for DeSAH—
an organization providing vacuum
toilets to every apartment
and cutting water usage
by 90 percent—says

   It is funny you know
   to challenge normalcy
   with something we
   cannot and do not
   desire to see

Paper products are also not allowed
in any apartment of the Sneek complex
Instead reusable wax and other items
are used to decrease physical waste

Of course this advancement
is also a cursor of privilege

First instance of pairing
the automatic with the dastardly

This—how bullies might be made

   Via del Velabro—

Mouth of the open air
Is it an eye—water permanent
without curvature

When the water high—big block letter
tag—says MUG or MLC

Difficult to decipher from centuries
of rising and lowering

Government fashioned placard—

   Diede inizio anche
   alle scavo di canali
   sotterranei attraverso i quali
   tutta l'acqua che scola
   d'alle vie si versa nel tevere
   ed e'questa un opera
   mirabile che supera
   ogni descrizione

To be this solid and aged—
everywhere and all over—set marker
of the beginning of imperialism

—admirable work

superscripting all description

Fatberg Futurism

Your epidemiology is all yours but also leaves you with a peculiar visibility—being
boxed up beneath a manhole—assessed for opioid usage frequency—disease
evolution in the dinners of yesterday filtered through the myriad miles of coiled
ventral processing—Throughout you—underneath city—west of Celio the Bocca della
lets you know—where the hundreds sat on monolith benches with incised
large keyhole shapes—Imagine bathing with a bucket and a warthog brush with
thirty simultaneous others—I want to know when we’re cooking that moisture is
escaping both down and up—under the floorboards and over the plaster but is it—
Is it relentlessly trapped—I ask M that every time either one of us cooks—Called
glass repair expert about condensation on inside of window—he said oh you must
be all sealed up—Certain times of year—Back to image—Ideal plump maggot
replacing fishmeal—The babies eat the waste better than watered treatment can
work—Around here the flies linger in number until at least October—we joke that
they’re ticked into a fake second summer—Ordering a single onion ring so fat it
could be an empty coaster—Under our Whitechapel feet—Maroon from bricks
shaped as a giant tube—no piercing light—Stalactite hairs of cobwebs cornering all
points of the halfpipe cone—deep fried glacier—these occasionally grow so large of
collective grease and hair that they need to be broken apart by gloved human
hands and pick axes to free up the flow—Nothing has ever given me more courage
than anxiety—how trauma does not inform a person but pushes her to survive even
if the baseline has been exceedingly lowered—See the panphysicist porch chair
trying to seize the sky endlessly—No one sitting in it—we’ve moved the salt around
to melt accumulation winter—plankton blend with the dark now—They don’t want
to look at your construction runoff

I make the decisions

Split brain       send me
             To work

Split brain       get me
out of the snow

Split brain       let me leave
Split brain—         What’s vacation

like / Split brain / Even vacation
is proof something is wrong—

Wasn’t your fault—moralism

Split brain—      bonkers language
Split brain       concept-less

Split me
Who again is deciding

Split brain—don’t let me leave my friend
Split brain—beginnings frequent themselves
only in luminescence

Split brain—      you’ve thrown

a block ice tumbler at me
Hijacked my funeral

Split brain—      solo split brain
more than mountainous

Does it require meaning
to acknowledge simulation

Split brain—      you the opiate
of useless presumption

Split me—       no sun is out
but switch switched brain

Why isn’t there          non-employment

Switch me back
Opting out

Leave the book by the door
but so the boss’ll never see it

Different doors     civitas dei

Your best asset
is acceleration
of the useless

Split brain—      I’ve made
a life / Don’t pretend
to be just a shed—switch
me /            Half of me

never wants to be here

Split brain—      how can
this cord wrangle that elevator crossbeam

All of me is not quite

Separate        knowledge
from information

Split brain—      don’t kink
what you know—
in code—         split me so

you can bin me—    natural methods
say I can transform    entirely

Increased efficiency   hung up
on economy       of scale

Split brain—        dial tone long gone
Libido sciendi—     no one there

any longer         Not sure

how much longer
this value can vector

You have me       at honey
You’re figuring me out at anther transfer

Phantom Cellphone Hypothesis

We can never scream
directly into the ground—you say

   Reply—Dipping this chip

   represents an ethics of intermingling

To be lowered into a design

To design as if to maintain
the constellation of a cover up

   In the colonist language
   Kuala Lumpur means

   muddy confluence

   In January 2013
   Beijing's air quality
   was PM25—a density of 755 micrograms
   per cubic meter—completely off
   the US Environmental Protection Agency
   air quality index

   A number never before seen

I dream of nothing but the end of convenience

It is the end that seems the only end

   At opposing ends of Pedraforca
   a group of children
   have painted
   opulència / obsolescència

It would take at least four days
to hike from one term to another

   Originally the official EPA Twitter
   account labeled Beijing’s air quality as
   crazy bad
   and was later changed to
   beyond index

Nearly 9 years since MH370

But where are the bodies

How are bodies not locatable

Is this not the basis of violence—locatable bodies

The most intrigue for me comes from the notion
that nothing on earth can vanish—not necessarily
in the sense of reincarnation but in the sense
that forms tend to show up or surface
and fall in and out of duration
but never truly disappear

How a translation loses details or purposely adds them
but the essential fabric spots of the curtain remain hidden

How to translate unknown
military strategy

And yet

To drift with the aggression no one will find you

And then

If MH370 can disappear
and yet our own excrement
is filtered handfuls over
and over and out in the rain
underneath us it cycles out again

   And yet
   And then

   An airplane filled with bodies
   and potentially
   sensitive cargo

The US Embassy later
acknowledged there was no point
measuring Beijing’s water quality
below the off-the-charts air

What does it take for a stomach to explode

In a beach chair
you say
the ocean is a stomach

Where there is no infrastructure
relative to the human need to disappear

Our inland distance from points in the ocean
make what we can never see
into a woven uncertain dream—net
of consequence and accident

Did water begin in the dark
and if so is glass its dream

   I can sometimes feel you call me—
   the muscles in my arm twitch

The crates of bottles
will arrive by helicopter


Ken L. Walker

Ken L. Walker has published two chapbooks—Antworten (translations of Georg Herwegh from Greying Ghost) and Twenty Glasses of Water from Diez. He has poems and translations in Boston Review, Tammy, Seattle Review, Atlas Review, and ANMLY. His prose and reviews can be found in The Poetry Project Newsletter, Hyperallergic, and Diagram. He holds an MFA from Brooklyn College, works in advertising, and spends the rest of his time documenting drains.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2022

All Issues