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Are we too mediated? Too tired? To answer these questions, Uyen Hua builds lines and strophes that are born of too much screen time—at work, at home—and then spikes them unexpectedly with political and intellectual ferocity that you would never expect to emerge from what seemed like a zone of purely flat affect. Sixty years ago, it was possible to make great poetry out of traversing the city (in New York, at least). But compare O’Hara’s attitude to Hua’s: “I go to target and buy a bag of gummy worms / and in one sitting, give up on anticipation / in what I reason as the greed of preservation.” It is hard to imagine the pleasures of swanning through midcentury Manhattan more emphatically deflated than in these lines. At the same time, the multisyllabic “anticipation / preservation” rhyme recalls the fearsome Mina Loy, who willingly risked comedy and absurdity to insist on the incantatory power of her poems.
In this zone where flatness and defiance, defeat and ferocity meet, Hua’s poems burst into life. Another way of saying this is to say that they are Oakland poems, poems that live in the memory of a brief bright light of insurrection. But that is reductive. There are many great Bay Area poets writing out of post-Occupy political struggle, but Hua’s poems bear their own stamp. When she writes, “I’ve been personified as feeling,” you hear her capacity to take distance from herself, which both exhausts and briefly liberates her. And when she concludes that poem by writing, “—we meet the sun and grief:” the poet makes peace with having no idea what comes after the colon: what tomorrow will bring. The effect is electrifying.
the body is currency.
the body is a vessel.
the body is process. the body is a catalyst. the body is land.
the body is a miner. the body is elle macpherson.
the body is a barrier. the body is a sounding board. the body is a bank. the body is touching.
the body is being touched.
the body is a map.
the body is a constellation.
the body is a consolation.
the body is mind, and the body is mined, and then “the [body] is mine.”
the body is destination. the body is a process.
the body is work.
the body is a source. the body is a consumer. the body is unionized. the body is a messenger.
the body is respite. the body is reform. the body is decomposition. the body is beside the point.
when the body is idol, the body is idle; the body is silent
and sometimes the body is silenced.
the body is dialogue/the body is dialectical.
the body is regression.
the body is useful, and so the body is used.
the body is water. the body is helping. the body is helpless. the body is changing.
among other bodies, and elsewhere,
the body is dichotomized.
the body is so many bodies. your body against my body—
the body is affirming the body is a bomb the body is a path the body is notation the body is calling the body is answered, and the body is called into question. the body is a building the body is occupied the body is intact then the body falls apart. the body is trying the body is tried. the body is speaking so the body is spoken for. the body is empty. “show us the body” the body is a receptacle the body is negation the body is yielding the body is a body the body is withholding the body says yes the body is stopping the body is
• • •
I feel like I spent my afternoon watching lil wayne apply carmex.
whether the action is looped or forever repeated remains to be seen.
what’s happiness? a moment before you need more happiness
I go to target and buy a bag of gummy worms
and in one sitting, give up on anticipation
in what I reason as the greed of preservation.
I watch the heartbreaker video and it makes me feel good
so I watch it again
you say, the best part of this music video is
race is the anachronism
we swim through the commodity of affect, till we can’t swim anymore.
and I’m depressed.
and you loop that frank ocean song for me
that makes me cry
and makes the neighbors want to kill us.
• • •
8:45 pm at the plaza
an inventory of twos
two walking, two talking, two kissing
two holding hands, two standing in line, two eating ice cream
two arguing, two checking their phones, two not talking
you say, every woody allen movie has two parts: Saturday and Sunday
and after a weekend of movies, I suggest we mobilize
because it’s just depressing
always seems to come back to two
two people, two things
when two, unlike one, never seems to be enough
today and at any given point, my greatest hits
will have been a bank of things
I wish I created we are diminished by debt;
and what my friends call ‘bad politics’
still doesn’t alienate the ‘other’
call it revolution, call it dichotomous call it not working
it’s still always you and me
it’s always them and us
gathered, chainsmoking our cigarettes
everything is a crisis
we’re huddled, linking arms in our complicity
commissioned to kill ourselves—
we fight back and we do
we come together and all the unoccupied space that surrounds us
• • •
content, you’ve been abstracted.
into commodity dialectic of logos
neo-knowing dialectic of certainty
renamed a catalyst
walk with me—two tambourines
off the record, and between us
cityscape that bumbles to the highway,
impenetrable hills. an intimacy
that goes without saying, and so,
goes without saying
speculative lens funnels
through every vacuum / I’ve been personified as feeling
double fist and down
your finger slips in
and tucks itself into the underside of the outer corner
of my shorts’ hem
selective hearing and chase
this park through the saturation of the district
—we meet the sun and grief:
• • •
in bed, alone on the train
my thoughts are a series of letters to friends
“brave your intent
or be honest about not having any
because a feeling
could be weakness
could work in your favor
because, without feelings,
we’re just shitty people
doing shitty things to one another”
“the way we talk is different
but the ways we’ve been quiet are the same”
“it’s not always negation,
sometimes I just don’t want to be touched”
from my doorstep to the train platform I count 674 steps
and keep inventory of each cement block
a leaf to the light and
from every corner, the insistence
that there’s stock in every vein and fiber
in my coin purse
and my bed
I feel the pressure of accumulation
the weight of things
insisting they’re worth
we walk the streets at night
and when I dream I see every city block of worth, lit up.
you think you love the city
but it could never contain
we hold together with silence
you say we’re like this
and gesture to a deck
before it splits
and shuffles—just like holding hands
I meet you at the corner of montgomery and sacramento; the way
we share problems and have them
everything is a crisis
one less bank, one more problem
• • •
it’s 6 am when the sound of sade playing on kblx wakes me up
and it doesn’t matter what day of the week it is
she’s calling me to work
because I’m repositioning myself to reach out, to turn the radio up
and boiling water for coffee
eating is work
combing my hair is work
and trying to write about anything other than work
the way replying to your text is work
and not replying to your text is work
and the way my explanation for why I’m late to work
when I’m lying about it
and when I’m not lying about it
like, I don’t even want to hear about it,
having sex is work
finding sex is work
and getting rid of your source of sex—
that’s a lot of work
the way saying yes is work
and even saying no is work
because being a bad friend to you is still work
because you ask stupid questions like “does miley cyrus know html?”
and you say stupid shit like, “she probably does”
and you think fucking dumb shit like, “miley cyrus IS html”
the way overhearing a coworker reference a scene from a tv show I love
is a moment to connect and it just tires me
it’s not joy, but the threat of it—
when I’m sitting at my desk
where every song that plays sounds like something else;
glazing over the screen and bart tracks
when every train that passes is hope someone will jump so I can go home;
when nine hours is dreaming about mass shootings, sewage problems that flood the office full of poop water;
my own death;
and in that,
the only feeling, which exhausts me,
is the longing for my own bed
Chris Nealon teaches English at Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of two books of literary criticism, Foundlings: Lesbian and Gay Historical Emotion before Stonewall (Duke, 2001) and The Matter of Capital: Poetry and Crisis in The American Century (Harvard, 2011), and four books of poetry: The Joyous Age (Black Square Editions, 2004), Plummet (Edge Books, 2009), Heteronomy (Edge, 2014), and The Shore (forthcoming from Wave Books in 2020). He lives in Washington, DC.
Uyen Hua is author of a/s/l (Age/Sex/Location).
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