The Operating System and Liminal Lab


03_24_HumanFaceIn 2005, I happened upon a copy of Richard Siken’s Crush while browsing at Saint Mark’s Bookshop in the East Village. Published that year as part of the Yale Series of Younger Poets, the venerable Louise Glück had written the foreword. Her first sentence: “This is a book about panic.” Second: “The word is never mentioned.”
My knees buckled. I sat down on the floor and read the sixty-two-page work from cover to cover; several hours later, sick to my stomach, I brought it home with me.


Crush lived with me for years; during this time I lost copies left and right to friends and colleagues who borrowed mine without realizing how difficult it would become to part with it once immersed in the undertow of Siken’s text.
In my final year of school, knee-deep in my own studies of poetry and art, I decided to write Siken: “It’s cliché as fuck to write a note like this…” I began. His reply: “It is cliché as fuck.” Thus began a war of words. Six years later, Siken’s bite still draws blood, and it feels good.


Dirty Valentine
by Richard Siken
There are so many things I’m not allowed to tell you.
I touch myself, I dream.
Wearing your clothes or standing in the shower for over an hour, pretending
that this skin is your skin, these hands your hands,
these shins, these soapy flanks.
The musicians start the overture while I hide behind the microphone,
trying to match the dubbing
to the big lips shining down from the screen.
We’re filming the movie called Planet of Love-
there’s sex of course, and ballroom dancing,
fancy clothes and waterlilies in the pond, and half the night you’re
a dependable chap, mounting the stairs in lamplight to the bath, but then
the too white teeth all night,
all over the American sky, too much to bear, this constant fingering,
your hands a river gesture, the birds in flight, the birds still singing
outside the greasy window, in the trees.
There’s a part in the movie
where you can see right through the acting,
where you can tell that I’m about to burst into tears,
right before I burst into tears
and flee to the slimy moonlit riverbed
canopied with devastated clouds.
We’re shouting the scene where
I swallow your heart and you make me
spit it up again. I swallow your heart and it crawls
right out of my mouth.
You swallow my heart and flee, but I want it back now, baby. I want it back.
Lying on the sofa with my eyes closed, I didn’t want to see it this way,
everything eating everything in the end.
We know how the light works,
we know where the sound is coming from.
Verse. Chorus. Verse.
I’m sorry. We know how it works. The world is no longer mysterious
Little Beast
by Legacy Russell
After Richard Siken
Originally published in the Santa Fe Literary Review, 2010
There are so many things I am not allowed to tell you —
I touch myself, I dream.
I smoke cigarettes and sit outside in my underwear late at night when
I feel sad
At midnight when I go to bed I know there is a woman
who moves into the other rooms of our house she expands and makes
things snap and buzz
this I know I have felt her presence
I say “fuck you” to my mother and I have a mild crush on
my boss I forget sometimes to lock the door or shut the
windows when it rains
When it rains sometimes things get wet and I dry them up
quick so they’ll be like new again for you if you decide to
come home I make dinner for you sometimes — I do — then
realize you’re not the woman filling up the rest of the
house (she doesn’t eat) so your portion falls into the trash
To rot for days
I sit in the bath for six hours at a time to clean off the missing
that clings like ash I sing at the top of my lungs in the hallway as
I’m unlocking the door —
I don’t care if the neighbors are sleeping —
I touch the inside of your hats, put them to my face, hoping to smell
your smell, even though wind through open windows has stolen your
scent from this house
I drink bottles of wine at a time and don’t get drunk
This loneliness is sobering, this “being alone” is
immovable, unchanging
I like fast cars, handsome men, and having sex
I don’t want bike rides or co-ops or dread-locks or days without
showers and tattered clothing
I don’t want the revolution I am not a radical nor a fascist
I don’t want to dictate but am too afraid of centrifugal force
I like engaging in entropy and disorder then cleaning it all
so that it glows
I go to bed early because the days are too long I am always thirsty
I fear for us—I do—I fear for this space these states
separating us the plane rides bumpy and dissatisfying with crying
babies in overhead compartments and luggage strewn
all over the floor
I talk to myself when no one else is around
I ask myself “How are you?” and respond, “Good, thank you,
and yourself?” and do a little soft-shoe in the dining room
I spin like Michael Jackson
Often I am not so sure how to write or to paint or to read or to think
(I know I love you it’s the only thing that is for certain)
I don’t follow hip music I don’t really know the lyrics to that song
I wish all I had to wear out into the world was a pair of boots
I like being naked
I like being green with you
You come and go as you please and I’ve lost perspective I’m no longer
at the wheel
We swerve and swing and I want this lurch to stop it makes me sick it
gives me headaches
This romance is composed of ballads and valentines
Soiled with omission of contact and intimacy
Divided by the steely plastic of a telephone and the unforgiving hum
of the receiver
Okay, I’ll let you be the hero
This time I will shut my eyes tight and drop off the edge
Plummeting down wind raspy and unrelenting with acceleration
Before I contact with cement — come lift me up
      come make this safe
Legacy Russell shares more of her history with Siken’s work as part of this interview with the poet in BOMBLOG
You can find a lovely bio and links for Siken at the Poetry Foundation. 

2nd Annual 30/30/30 Poetry Month Series:



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