The crises in Julie Kantor’s poems are mythological, interpersonal, forensic, and “of volition,” and the voice at their center (“tell me what I’m dealing with / here”) is alarmed. Alarmed that the dead in her care won’t lie down and play dead long enough to be examined and prepared for entombment, but also—and even more distressingly—alarmed that the living won’t either. Here bodies in motion are suspect, the will is suspect, the Gods Egyptian, the organs scattered but recollected, the tombs lived-in and the plumbing exposed, the geologically pressured syntax repeatedly crushing itself against the consequence of a line break, which, more than just line break, seems like an obstacle located in the poem’s physiopsychic terrain. Inversive and torquing through pronoun and referent (“There are people all around us who aren’t / us, can’t get used to, but I’m only asked about you”), Kantor’s poetry is faster in its lineation, more loyal and astringently ethical, more condensed and driving than any other you’re likely to find. Despite the often hair-raising and convincing imagery (check out the literally visceral ending of “Roasting Galena in Hot Air”), and despite the constant refusal of the restless dead and living to behave, Kantor’s speaker keeps her head down and copes. She focuses on her failing “methods of reporting on paper,” but is calm in the emergent condition of that failure and always mindful of the other’s, and the reader’s, well-being: “I’m not asking you,” she writes, “to bleed // as much as me.” If the poems ask how to proceed when conditions are critical—and they are never not critical—then their answer, or cure, is modeled as honor and steadfastness. When you go down, Kantor advises, you should “stay committed to the process.”
—Josh Bell



I Told You No One Was Going To Die
So then, when you die you rise
with actual space between the ground

& sky—roam, inhabit before your
heart is weighed against, ready

for measurement—silently—
I’m glad you are gone. The adobe will

never again rumble, shift
as plates of the earth in quake,

my palm upon the wall for balance.
But I disgraced you, even when you were

most wrong you shouldn’t have been, & my
methods of recording on paper

can’t replace you. I brace myself
against unmovable bounty—I found

your favorite orange ottoman
thrown in the heap & the wooden

two-tiered side table—I refused to help you
gather when you told me, You stop, you die.


& if I mix & take what I want
    of this world & make the house

the home I once told you
    I would—tell me I still can’t

be trusted—keep me from the end
    I want before you leave this home last.

Hung the tapestry I wove for days,
    break nights for nights on

end, purple tells me it couldn’t be
    settled b/c it’s not how it

came, meditate it isn’t color
    that gives you away to me, drink

coffee: I will not have you tell me to
    wake up & remember you’re

gone, continue leave when day

    can’t sustain you. I’ll give the doorbolts

to Ptah, the window to
    the tomcat who—it wouldn’t

be this difficult if I didn’t
    remember—will kill your chaos

serpent; still have fits of vomiting
    when I don’t put the linen

against walls of your tomb, lean them
    best I can w/messages

still trying you when you’re dead
    as if now you’ll get them.


Mind Fuck
We keep telling ourselves we’ll
    just use little bits, calcium carbonate lines

the curve of the cylinders’ insides,
    water running non-stop,

not long enough
    for contamination, but

symptom comes acute,
    overdose of sense—you

call me too crazy to be loved
    by anyone: those kept in cellars,

no light, pipes outside not under
    dirt, the breaths deep & prolonged

belong to sleep—
    so ask me again, more nicely

that you can’t live without
    exposure. Muscular weakness

enervating my decision-
    making & I’ll go this

round with you, dying by going
   dull then arise suddenly into tremor,

convulsion. No symptom
    then permanent damage;

we don’t want to
     touch, anyway, unsure if

it’s of volition, or nothing like
    volition, or abulia come before or after

I breathed same air as you, thought
    we wouldn’t not breathe together.


Roasting Galena in Hot Air
A daily basis, thrown into intimacy

with lead, not coming up for air
or sun. If death comes premature

compared to usual lifespan, who is to
say, tell you it wasn’t long enough,

& you might have changed

your mind but it was in the moment
too late, already lowered, left under:

you decided staying was right or I decided
it for you. But, now, that you are down

stay committed to the process:

these platters have to come to
the surface flattened from your mined ore

into something useful, & I eat

with black specks lining the meats:
taste what you can’t even taste anymore

as delicious, or am I lost in the lore
of the gauche nature of loin, the veiny way

the slab was run, mesmerized by how
I can chew on arteries, rub my face against

this empty plate of the same element

you never held, oil left along my cheek
in long trails, the length.


There are people all around us that aren’t
us, can’t get used to, but I’m only

asked about you while you are
only asked about you, conflation of organs

when your back is against my chest

& stomach, are there arrows
long, sharp enough to make it

through two bodies at the same time—

or it will have to be one

then the other. I’m not asking you to bleed

as much as me, but to at least show

red on the broad leather straps
of your armor, softened by shower

ready for rush of maces, first
stone then metal-headed

melted for the temporal fossa. Lying

on my side, head cocked to the surface
of earth: body fallen into

inquisition when I really just lost

my capacities, power of receiving, & if I have
it this way you’ll have to be attached

to me—roll forward the parallel

planes of our skeletons, shift in
equivalent angles against

incarnadine ground, then will we have

to be travel partners forever,

judged by the same standards, & I keep

on better w/what’s behind
me, which is behind you, in front of me.


Tell me what I’m dealing with
here, heavy bodies move w/

quickness I can’t combat—know

we’re both still awake, carry
ourselves every where we go:

forward compulsions of body

you call after-thought:

there’s so much dirt we’ve tracked
through our bare land unmarked, but

we can’t tell when was
where we would’ve been. 

I forget preoccupation, figure if I will
like you better when dead,

natron-shrunken lips, & dried,
afloat w/me—dead preserver—

under you, your shadow lost

in my skin, tips of shoulder
blades darker than all your other

skin—I’m not asleep & will

tackle this dilemma
before you wake up even. Say

my first, middle, then
the last, don’t forget, entrance

me w/the letters of nothing
I’ve chosen—every syllable

adamant declaration of nothing—stop
to become what—I’ll still be alive.


In the Valley of Kings
I’ve put you into your tomb, tunnel cut

deep into earth, still sound resonant &
alveolate. There has to be an end. 

I’m willing to disparage you dead,

risk consequences with all your valuables
alongside; I stole my portrait, face

framed in yellowish-buff, when I was

young, confused intensity
with love, you told me under skylight,

Your face has the symmetry of Osiris’ plan.  

I know you thought about
cutting my cheek so not one

would agree. I don’t save these to address

myself daily, present arms; escort forgetting
& after I gouge out this hole

large enough for worming

into your cache, I’ll recline into
your favorite chair—

gold sheet embellished, inlaid

with colored stones & faience,

veneered with ivory; fall asleep—the sleep

of decades catching up. I will wake
with gems gripped under nail’s ledge,

cut corners off every piece of furniture,

increase surface area & leave

sun-heated sand to the rest, exfoliate

the leathers & woods into nothingness.