E. and I talked about you yesterday, over coffee. We wondered how you were. I confessed that you are my favourite poet among our friends, and that I have been a fan for a long time. You always seem to find the words for all of us.

I hope you are doing well.

Autobiography
Arkaye Kierulf

1.

You could say I grew up in a rough neighborhood: We owned boxing gloves. The red ones I loved, which represented fire and strength. I loved how they looked on me. It was rough because my uncle who lived next door was a blackbelter, and we were born with fists. My brother would wear black gloves and my uncle would be the referee of the two of us. When the fighting went on, we would hide love the best way we could. Everyday it was morning. The chickens my other uncle owned — he also lived next door — would flit and putter in their cage as they watched us step into and out of each other. The chickens had feathers so white you’d think heaven was caged with chicken wire. But they were delicious when cooked. Especially with butter, and with much care.

2.

The world is incomplete.

3.

I doubt goodness. For instance, I lost my virginity to a prostitute. My nature is to increase sin, to relegate/buy it with money. I am not capable of committing evil by myself: I need an agent. She was pretending to enjoy it, and I was pretending to enjoy it. We both lied about our age. She had hair down to her hips. I was once, you know, a child.

4.

I will make a list of things I know:
1) A leaf is green.
2) A leaf is black at night.

5.

According to its dual nature, light can also act as a particle. Seeing an object (a chair, table, or person) requires that we move it with the solid particles of light that make sight possible, much the same way that one billiard ball will push another. In other words, we move all objects to some unknown future so we can see their past. (I know this. I was a scientist in my past life.)

Conclusion: Nobody knows what’s happening now. The present is a rumor, a story spread by eye.

Said Werner Heisenberg of the subatomic particle: “The more precisely the position is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known in this instant, and vice versa.” To illustrate in bigger terms: if you know a white chicken is trapped in your bathroom exactly at the center of your bathtub, then you cannot know exactly how fast or in what direction the chicken is dodging your ax. The second case: if you know a certain girl is drawing away from you radially at a speed of 5 inches per day, then the universe won’t allow you to know exactly how far away she already is, or how to find her. (I know this. I was a scientist in my past life.)

Conclusion: Separation can’t be predicted. We cannot know, even by force. We cannot keep.

6.

The history of my body: this little nose I got from my mother, this daffy hair from my father, and my blue eyes I inherited from the sea. The earth bequeathed me brown skin. Look at my feet: tree roots. And my arms: branches. Twenty years ago there was only air where I am. Fifty years from now, air again.

7.

My family is crazy about white dogs. Our first one got ill and died. The second (named Petite) died giving birth. The third (Bingo) ran away. What I really mean: my family is crazy. Mother said Petite couldn’t give birth because her babies were too big for her. I think it was because we didn’t call a veterinarian. In any case, it was sad. We ate ice cream afterwards. It was delicious. Then it was okay again.

You see, years before he ran away, Bingo was a puppy. Then he got older, and as was our nature, we tried to avoid his ugliness by ignoring him. There was less petting going on, less tail-wagging. And we locked him up in our backyard for three years.

When he ran away, the dogs from all over barked at hm because they didn’t know he existed until then. He was always there and nobody knew except us. Everywhere he was lost.

We scoured the streets calling his name. We asked strangers. It was a time when words lost their connections to their referents. I remember sitting at our door-sill, waiting for any shuffle of feet, any bark.

8.

I believe, sometimes, that I am a good man.

9.

I remember
looking at trees.

I remember
Not looking at trees.

10.

In this world there are two types of things that make people happy: the first type pleasures the self directly (e.g., food, sex), while the second pleasures the self only after directing pleasure to others (e.g., clothes, shoes). The first gives solitary joy, the second social. There are exceptions — items that belong to both lists (e.g., beauty) or to none. This is only my observation.

To illustrate beauty: the size of my sex, at rest, is x inches. In the presence of a beautiful woman, longer (beauty elongates matter to fullness). The woman, in turn, now conscious of her erotic effect, will surprise herself with a sudden flush of happiness in the form of two hard nipples, pink like sunrise.

Another observation: a recluse is selfish with his joy, without care for clothes or shoes.

Another observation: dust collects itself out of nowhere.

11.

The history of my spirit: I don’t have a spirit, and borrow only from the air.

12.

The earth accommodates 6,398,649,394 human beings on 148,380,000 square kilometers of land. If these people were spread equally, there’d be a distance of 152.279 meters between each of them, give or take some. This is the average amount of solitude the world allows by distance. When a person dies, everyone in the world is allowed more remove from everyone else. Thus, the resultant sadness. When a person is born, everybody is closer to everybody else.

“I am waiting only for death,” said my grandmother one late afternoon in June.

I said to myself: “So this is the world.”

Some people are born diabetic: my grandmother hid chocolates in her purse and ate them when nobody was looking. The church, in the person of the priest, visited her every week. And the TV was always on. Once she thought aliens were invading the earth. It was a movie. She was really scared.

I said to myself: “So this is the world.”

13.

I will make a list of things I don’t know:
1) God’s first name
2) The color of a leaf

14.

In 1982 my mother was rivetingly beautiful. She had hair down to her hips. And red lips, too — a cunning innocence. But in the 1970s her pictures were black-and-whites only, and the sky was the color of a lie. I have asked myself many times: How many colors did she need to believe in the world? How many to reproduce beauty? How many so it can last?

15.

Said Gandhi: “If I had no sense of humor, I would long ago have committed suicide.”

I will be honest: I am a very funny person sometimes.

16.

In my uncle’s backyard where his chickens roamed free, I would search around for eggs. I loved newly laid eggs, especially the little brown ones with white spots. And if I was lucky — they are still warm.

Once I find one I would wrap my fingers around it and close my eyes. It was like holding life in your own — hands-your own life. Then I would put the egg back where I found it, and it was over.

17.

I will be honest: I love the world and I am curiously happy. Nobody knows this because nobody knows. I would tell you about the time I grew my hair past the norm but I don’t remember much about it because it never happened. This is another story. The world is incomplete and in a game of poker I lost all of my body-hair to a monkey. I will be honest: the sun is a flashlight and some divine idiot is checking on us once in a while in this eternal blackout. Watch out for me, my brothers! Before the next war I will be smug in my coffin wearing formal attire. I have been known, you know, to dress up extravagantly for such grand occasions.

It’s almost five in the morning. K and I once talked about grey rooms, and I said I was always engulfed in its spaces. And then I came upon this tonight. The universe is talking again, T.

Spaces
Arkaye Kierulf

1.

In this room I was born. And I knew I was in the wrong place: the world. I knew pain was to come. I knew it by the persistence of the blade that cut me out. I knew it as every baby born to the world knows it: I came here to die.

2.

Somewhere a beautiful woman in a story I do not understand is crying. If I strain hard enough I will hear a song in the background. She is holding a letter. She is in love with Peter. I am in love with her.

3.

Stand on the floor where it’s marked X. I am standing by your side where it’s marked Y. We are a shoulder’s length apart. I’m so close you can almost smell the perfume. If I step ten paces away from you, there could be a garden between us, or a table and some chairs. If I step another 20 paces there could be a house between us. If I continue to walk away from you in this way, tramping through walls and hovering above water, in 80,150,320 steps I will bump into you. I can never get away from you, and will you remember me? Distance brings us closer. There is no distance.

4.

In 1961 I was in Berlin. It was a dusty Sunday in August. In the radio news was out that Ulbricht had convinced Khrushchev to build a wall around West Berlin. I remember it precisely: By midnight East German troops had sealed off the zonal boundary with barbed wire. The streets along which the barrier ran had been torn up. I lived in that street. It was the day after my birthday. I remember the dust covering the sky. I remember being scared. Father had not returned from the other side. The Kampfgruppen der Arbeiterklasse had orders to shoot anyone who would attempt to defect. Father had not returned.

5.

Happiness is simple.
Sadness forks into many roads.

6.

Before the time of Christ, Aristotle believed that the earth was the center of the universe because he needed a stationary reference point against which to measure all other motions: a rock falling, a star reeling through the sky, his heart beating against his chest like a club. He needed to believe in certainty, in absolute space. Without it, the world would not be known absolutely. Without it, the world cannot be known.

Twenty centuries later Hendrik Lorentz needed to believe that every single molecule in the universe must move through a stationary material called the aether, as every human being in his various turnings must move through God. Scientists looked everywhere for proof of this aether. And everywhere they found nothing.

7.

I have sometimes been accused of being a bore. I beg to differ: people laugh at my jokes, and I’m handsome. I would like now to talk more about myself: I don’t like going to airports and hospitals. They make me uneasy. In both cases, somebody is always going to leave. I was born in 1983, and have never been to Berlin. But I have a memory of being in Berlin in 1961. I have a memory of something that never happened.

I would like to elaborate on myself, but you will understand if I talk instead about the sky in Berlin in 1961: it was covered with dust. There were no birds. There was no sky.

8.

Memory is brutal because precise.

9.

She said: give me more space. I said: don’t you love me anymore? She said: give me more space. I said: why? Did I do something wrong? Is there something wrong? Is there someone else? When did you stop loving me? In what precise moment? In what room? What city?

I held her tight as one who’s about to lose his own life holds on. Then she said: give me more space. I said: no.

10.

I have only one purpose: to live intensely.

11.

I wish I never met you
and I wish you never left.

You taste like a river in June.

12.

I’m going to say something important. Look at my face. Ignore my eyes. Just listen to me. But listen only to the timbre of my voice, not to what I am saying. They are different. They are two different rooms. The first is an exhibition of despair, the second only an explanation.

The first is all you have to listen to. So listen carefully because I cannot repeat myself:

“Everything/ one suspects to be true/ is true.”

13.

In 1879 a boy is born in Germany. At age five he’d throw a chair at his violin teacher and chase him out. In time he would develop the capacity to withdraw instantaneously from a crowd into loneliness. At twenty-six he would publish his theory of relativity in Annalen der Physik. He looks crazy, but he is certain: there is no aether, no absolute space.

14.

Sometimes they thought it was the words.
What they wanted to say could not be said.

They fixed the TV, vacuumed the rug,
dusted the furniture, looked out the window.

Sometimes she would purposefully lose hold of
a plate and it would smash to the floor.

Then they would have something to say,
only to begin to say it then stop.

15.

Look at this box. It is empty except for a diary, a book, and this picture in my hand. Now look at this picture. It weighs nothing and occupies almost zero space. I can slip it in anywhere and it will fit: inside the diary, under the box, through a crack on the wall. If I tear it several times, it will occupy a different volume, many and various. It mutates, you see. If I burn it, it will smoke into the air. It will take up a whole expanse.

16.

How many more times
are you going to let the world
hurt you?

17.

My father is an incorrigible storyteller. He would tell the same stories in different ways. I wouldn’t know which ones to believe. So I believed all of them. “There is no story that is not true,” said Uchendu.

Father would point at the TV. He would repeat lines, rehearse the beginnings and ends, explicate with his hands the elaborate twists and turns of every road.

He said: “I am dying.”

I said: “But aren’t all of us dying.”

18.

And I thought the world
was about this leaving,
not about anybody’s leaving
but about this leaving.
The next day it was the same.

19.

A beautiful woman walks into a room. The room is dark. There are no windows. There is one light bulb but any time now it will go off. I pretend not to notice and look away, my heart beating against my chest like a club. If I strain hard enough I will hear a song in the background. What other forms of happiness are there than this?

20.

In 1989 the Berlin wall falls down.

21.

I believe in love only when it rains.

22.

To appreciate the value of land, one need only look into a painting: so much beauty. Buying land means buying the layers of beauty directly above it. It means buying the sky above it. And the birds above it, the clouds, the gods.

In truth you are buying a corner of the universe. You are saying: this is my room. You are saying: I live here. Here I exist.

23.

Your sadness is immaterial. You did
not come into the world to be happy.

~

You came to suffer/survive.

24.

How many words have you spoken in your life?
How many did you mean?
How many did you understand?

25.

Somebody picks up a phone. He dials a number. His voice travels a thousand miles into another country. On the other end somebody picks up and hears the voice. Who is this?– This is me. The phone is hung up. The voice travels back a thousand miles.

Elsewhere somebody picks up a phone and before he could dial forgets the number.

26.

Sometimes wars are waged because there are too many people in too few rooms.

27.

Memory is incomplete–lost.
The world is incomplete–vanishing.

Nothing more happens. You open your eyes and it’s over.

Memory is brutal.
Memory is precise.

28.

In the next room people I do not know are talking with hushed voices. Their secret slips out the window like a cat. It is raining, and I press my ear to the wall. I imagine that one of them is smoking a cigarette. I imagine that one of them is covering his mouth in surprise.

29.

When my aunt died the doctors said the fat clogged her arteries. Every week she visited the hospital, and every week the vein on her wrist had to be ripped out so a catheter could be stuck into her body to suck out her blood. You could see the plasma pass through a filter and then back to the body. If you put your ear to her wrist you would hear her heart.

Before my uncle died the heart attacks were so excruciating he said he’d prefer to just die. They transported him to the hospital, and on the way to the emergency room his heart gave. Mother said my uncle ate too much pork and drank too much beer. She wonders if he’s going to be happy in heaven.

30.

In some house in some province in some country in some novel there is a story of a man a father a child a lover who dies because of too much sadness.

31.

Nobody thought that what was wrong was the love.

32.

She said: give me more space.

Ah, but this is so wonderful, I have no words.

Textbook Statistics
Arkaye Kierulf

On average, 5 people are born every second and 1.78 die.
So we’re ahead by 3.22, which is good, I think.

The average person will spend two weeks in his life
waiting for the traffic light to change.

Pubescent girls wait two to four years
for the tender lumps under their nipples to grow.

So the average adult has over 1,460 dreams a year,
laughs 15 times a day. Children, 385 more times.

So the average male adult mates 2,580 times with five different people
but falls in love only twice in his life—possibly

with the same person. Seventy-nine long years for each of us,
awakened to love in our twenties, so more or less

thirty years to love our two lovers each. And if, in a lifetime,
one walks a total of 13,640 miles by increments,

Where are you headed, traveler?
is a valid philosophical question to pose to a man, I think, along with

Why does the blood in your veins travel endlessly?
on account of those red cells flowing night and day

through the traffic of the blood vessels, which if laid out
in a straight line would be over 90,000 miles long.

The great Nile River in Egypt is 4,180 miles long.
The great circle of the earth’s equator is 24,903 miles.

Dividing this green earth among all of us
gives a hundred square feet of living space to each,

but our brains take only one square foot of it,
along with the 29 bones of the skull, so

if you look outside your window with your mind only,
why do you hear the housefly hum middle octave, key of F?

If you listen to the cat on the rug by the fire with
the 32 muscles in your ear, you will hear

100 different vocal sounds. Listen to the dog
wishing for your love: 10 different sounds.

If you think loneliness is beyond calculation,
think of the mole digging a tunnel underground

ninety-eight miles long to China
in one single night. If you think beauty escapes you

or your entire genealogical tree, consider the slug
with its four uneven noses, or the chameleon shifting colors

under an arbitrary light. Think of the deepest point
in the deepest ocean, the Marianas Trench in the Pacific,

do you think anyone’s sadness can be deeper? In 1681,
the last dodo bird died. In the 16th century,

Queen Elizabeth suffered from a fear of roses.
Anne Boleyn had six fingers. People fall in love

twice. The human heart beats 3 billion times — only — in a lifetime.
If you attempt to count all the stars in the galaxy, one

every second, it’ll take 3 thousand years, if you’re lucky.
As owls are the only birds that can see the color blue

the ocean is bluish, along with the sky and the eyes
of that boy who died alone by that little unnamed river

in your dreams one blue night of the war
of one of your lives. (Do you remember which one?)

Duration of World War 1: four years, 3 months, 14 days.
Duration of an equatorial sunset: 128 seconds, 142 tops.

A neuron’s impulse takes 1/1000 of a second,
a morning’s commute from Prospect Expressway

to the Brooklyn Bridge, about 90 minutes,
forty-five without traffic.

Time it takes for a flower to wilt after it’s cut from the stem: five days.
Time left our sun before it runs out of light: five billion years.

Hence the number of happy citizens under the red glow
of that sun: maybe 50% of us, 50% on good days, tops.

Number who are sad: maybe 70% on the good days—
especially on the good days. (The first emotion’s more intense, I think,

when caught up with the second.) So children grow faster in the summer,
their bright blue bodies expanding. The ocean, after all, is blue

which is why the sky now outside your window is bluish
expanding with the white of something beautiful, like clouds.

Fact: The world is a beautiful place—once in a while.
Another fact: We fall in love twice. Maybe more, if we’re lucky.

I remember Robert Creeley. I remember a field of wisteria in my dreams. But mostly I remember my enchantment at having read this poem one afternoon, in a small room, with the rain outside.

For Example: A Flower
Arkaye Kierulf

We are protected from so much pain. For example: graves.
The earth’s roots and brown-black blood are busy

covering the soft, violated bodies of our loves.
Death is a secret, and the rain with its many hands

washes off the streets to the gutters death’s thick surprise.
The automatic shutter of the eye never fails,

the courtesies of the tongue. What goes on in the rooms of houses
is guarded from us by the hardwood doors,

the carefully closed windows. Whatever was said or done,
night will come, eagerly, to clean up.

And death will shield us, in time,
from the sun’s megalithic promise:

Tomorrow, the same day.
Tomorrow, the same day.

For example: A flower
is the most beautiful lie.

Today I pressed this close to my heart and prayed that I was strong enough to be okay.

The End
Arkaye Kierulf

You must have felt it working in your bones. It’s begun: The papers
print the same stories over and over, and have you checked

the obituaries? Already, nobody remembers

how their first kiss went. The phone keeps ringing and ringing
when nobody’s home. Between our skins is a necessary friction

that separates us forever. Look: space. Somewhere, a lost key. It’s begun:
What was once the wind or an echo or an accidental sweetness

is now a bird outside your window singing with perfect pitch and timbre
the song that’s on all our tongues, cut. What pulls from the earth to exist

the earth pulls back into itself: this and this and this is mine. You own nothing.
Our bodies breathe to a rhythm, to one direction, to one regression. It’s begun:

The truth stares us down like an owl: There’s no place to go: You own nothing.

In the dark you hear movement— a squeak, a hiding. The heart opens, closes, opens.

Some things I believe in: Past lives. Parallel universes. That I am meant to meet and know and love certain people at certain times and hours in my life. Kindness. That one can both be happy and sad at the same time. That one can both be brave and afraid at the same time. That quantity is not equal to quality. Hard work. Possibilities. Mistakes. That creativity takes courage (Matisse). That dreams are revolutions (Shawn Youngblood). That if you can take the worst, you must take the risk.

Horses
Arkaye Kierulf

I believe in trees.
I believe in birds that live in trees.
I believe that behind every one bird is a sky forever expanding.
I believe all windows look out to the same sky.
I believe in keeping secrets.
I believe there is sincerity in lies.
I believe when the lights go off the furniture keep to their places.
I believe in faith.
I believe that if you believe hard enough you will soon enough be saved.
I believe in walls. That we need them.
I believe in open spaces, that we need them more.
I believe once in a while we crave loneliness.
I believe we need sadness.
I believe in the soft cave of the mouth, in what it has to say, savage and comforting.
I believe in roads and streets, that they lead to ruins.
I believe violence is a plea for mercy.
I believe in the heart’s destructive implosions.
I believe behind every painting or picture is a white canvass, complete in itself.
I believe philosophy is difficult and silly; I prefer instead small delicate things like a knife.
I believe Plato’s forms do not exist.
I believe behind every space is just another space, and behind that just more space, and so on.
I believe in clouds.
I believe in the divinity of clouds.
I believe mathematics is useless and noble.
I believe in numbers.
I believe that behind all distance is an admission of connectedness, that all space admits of openings.
I believe that everything is open.
I believe inside every mind is an open gun waiting to go off.
I believe the mind is a gun.
I believe behind every face is another face is another face.
I believe some of us would like to be saints but cannot.
I believe some women are virgins.
I believe some women would like to be virgins.
I believe in the inviolable and the insane.
I believe in the quiet dignity of horses.
I believe in the benefits of buying a house.
I believe every house should be surrounded by trees.
I believe in this century, that it is not yet over, that we are on the verge of yet another discovery.
I believe our many voices thin out into only one voice.
I believe in the end, but only if it fuels the past to continue expanding.
I believe in the layering of clothes, one on top of another, in the Victorian style.
I believe in skirts and lingerie and long black hair and virtue.
I believe in sin.
I believe in the woman under the man and vice versa.
I believe in the invisible hand, in the wind that lifts the bird and elevates the sky.
I believe in love without proof.
I believe in landscapes.
I believe that behind all love is all love itself, pure and soft and intense.
I believe in things so huge we forget what they’re about and why.
I believe in things so small that it’s taken us all these years to realize we’ve seen nothing.