On the Speculative Present
Playlist by Janice Lee 6 poems
"Speculation may seem necessary—and insistently dystopian—for the present to appear as a site of struggle." –Madeline Lane-McKinley

"The future is not some mystical, magical place. The future is moment to moment." –Octavia Butler
1. Speculation on the Present
Claire Donato
2. World War
Molly Brodak
3. Urning
Layli Long Soldier
4. This Brilliant City
Mariko Nagai
5. The Future Is Here
Bianca Stone
6. THE TRANSHUMANIST’S LAMENT or TOO MANY RIVERS, NOT ENOUGH LAKES or OH, FUTURE — YOU SO CRAZY
Ben Burke
I.

I have imagined my life as a container with a flat base and sides.

I have watched its contents expand in consequence of the atmosphere’s increasing rarefaction.

I have noted it cascading down, and I’ve wiped it away
to the last trace, leaving only remorse behind, and

I have grown impatient looking inward, so I refresh my inbox
twelve times, although the conclusion is always the same:

                Dear Claire,

                Thank you for submitting your poetry. We regret
                that we are unable to carry your work, but we are grateful.

But I am not Claire. I am five people.

Or, I am the sum of the five people
with whom I spend the most time,

none of whom know the reality of my crisis, and/or
how I have grown thinner

thanks to photographs of bodies that reflect
“achievable health goals.”

Nor do they know I have visited http://apply.interfolio.com at least twice today in a gesture of professional wrath.

Nor can they imagine the ways I envision the world ending.

“haha but oh torture is amazing”

What’s unclear, of course, is how I’m going to die.

II.

I press pause and wait for a reply.

III.

I have published at least 48 objects of despair whose square root, Google tells me, is 4√3. But step-by-step simplification is not part of my psychic landscape, and I cannot theorize free radicals apart from form, for I stood alone together in Zuccotti Park in November and noted the simultaneously comedic and exhilarating affect induced by the People’s Mic, and so too did I employ this means for speech as an NYPD officer fingered his pepper spray canister while admiring my cardboard sign containing a sentence via Julia Kristeva: “There is nothing better than words, above all words, to deepen and sustain debate.”

And I have refreshed— my inbox only twice in the middle of this line, which is both a political gesture and an object of despair I carry with me
in the street as I walk home alone on this 70°F November
evening, neither admiring nor disapproving of my life, but rather
watching its fissures, spaces separating convolutions of the brain
where thoughts are live online for everyone to like, although
some require two to three waves of repetition, e.g.,
1) “Is misery place-based?” and 2) “Should I run away?”

Even in this—our exuberant century of doves spreading across the heart
of the computer—there are no operations.

There is no easy or pain-free way to cure anything.
The cold buffets into my coat.

A neutron star is measured in teaspoons.
 

The dark and regular pine grove,

human history,

same ahead, same behind, I don’t know

which direction I’m walking. Fate,
 

monstrous

and empty.

The sun just rolls around the arctic bowl.

 

A private devotion crystallizes without a target.

A pile of bodies near a well,

for later.

The distance to the future, you could walk there.

This is what I mean by single bind.

The nest is very small but eggs
* bring us to dark knots the black
eyes along white aspen skin to scrape
with a rock on surface where I press
I carve the initials of all and **
*** bring us to a returning         no
an urning a vessel of corpse
ash in the active state of being
held by two hands positioned
gripping the sides to tip
and scatter my night dream
of an acquaintance who
presented me a ledger opened
to a page handwritten in pencil
dates names and meetings ****
***** I said I don’t want to
see it I don’t want to know
if my father betrayed me
as the words left
my dream mouth I woke I shook
to the bone a hot line notched
from heart to elbow throbbing
vein-ache in my body how
I’d replaced another man’s name
-a man I once loved I mean to say-
with the word father in a flash
the sleeping eye ripped me
from denial I’m not so complex
see my mind unclothed
is a crying newborn
predictable
aspen leaves in untimed
wind-filled rhythm my mother
turned eighty what at that age is left
to surprise though
                                    suddenly

the tone here shifts to listen
she said I don’t know if I ever said
when I was pregnant with you
I found out he’d cheated
I threw ****** into the yard
I locked him out
pregnant with you I cried
and I cried so long and hard
I thought I was going to
die yes she said it a heavy bass line
beneath aspen music and timbre
I sit on the patio to smoke I think
at night always at night maybe
cause I was born / at night or
my name means night God bless
my mother she believed
my name meant pure
spirit so it may be the darkest
hours are when I’m purest
when I am I      I am fluid
a clear stream over rock or
*******
as poetry goes ********
I think about a baby in utero I can’t help
but wonder what the baby knows
a study says babies and toddlers
remember
through impression not specifics
I rummage the syllables and stress
of each line in *********
impression is a mark
on the surface
caused by pressure or
a quick undetailed sketch or
the imitation
of someone / I
carried her nine months
beneath my own skin her small toes
relaxed her eyes shut
within me her fingertips
pressed into palms she made
                                                     a fist
                                                     or was it
a symbol
for the Sun what rising
what of battle my child knows
scares me to the pure
the one I      I burn in question



*            may all the grief
**          may all
***        the loss
****            all your misdeeds
*****          love of my soul
******        all his things
******* spit in a cup
********     night is a womb
*********   the definition
: of the destroyed : this brilliant city that lives for its dreamed future : the city lay in ruins : then rebuilt, first shacks, then permanent : it moves forward as its inhabitants walk, not looking back : the war has been over for a decade : ten years, in this city, is another lifetime ago : buildings pop up like mushrooms after a rainy season : a man without legs sits on the sidewalk, wearing the white of the past : he begs, I am a former soldier, have mercy : people walk by, carrying their invisible losses & griefs : they do not look at him : (we all lost someone or something ten years ago) : another war has started in Korea : another war brews in Indochina : this brilliant city lives on the backs of wars : see that tower, Tokyo Tower, made out of decommissioned tanks from the Korean War : see that building : built from profits earned from wars close & far : roads are built over rivers : rivers lie fallow & forgotten : people do not look back : the hunger they felt during that war another lifetime ago ghosts their steps : they walk, trampling away the past : (we all lost someone or something ten years ago) : the sun rises : the sun sets : the city shines bright at night, eradicating the darkness : the city has conquered nights & darkness & the past : another man walks by in his construction worker's clothes : he sees the legless man in white : he carries with him an anger : I lost my parents in the war : my father died like a dog on some South Pacific island, they said that he starved to death, & when you are starving, hunger consumes you : my mother died that night when Tokyo burned bright : she was trapped underneath a burning beam : I was only five years old : I couldn't lift the beam to save her : she said, Go, go, leave me, or you'll die with me, go, go : I cried & cried & no one helped me or my mom : I know hunger : I don't ever want to be hungry : he walks by the legless man in his steps of his anger : (we all lost someone or something ten years ago) : the night is here : the city burns : the city burns with hunger for more : & there is never enough in this city : the city shines brilliant & hums its electric song, footsteps keeping beats : (we all lost someone or something in that war a lifetime ago) : there is never enough in this brilliant city : the city hungers : it can never conquer its hunger 
Man burns at a certain degree
but I always burned a little slower.
When I went into school
I left a trail of blackened footprints
to my classroom of spelling words,
never starred. At the end of the earth
we’ll be locked in our own spelling mistakes,
our arms around the legs of our mother
so she won’t leave, our heads filled with beer, the light
receding. What kind of death is reserved for me?
The green plastic soldier has his gun up against everything.
And what does one do with a gun really?
I’ve only held three my entire life.
The third I held was the first I used.
I was with Rebecca and her father, deep in the woods of Vermont
when she was staying with me in the heap.
I shot at a beer can until my hands went numb.
And I loved her the whole time.
With car accidents and barbiturates. The way
she got wasted, knocked her teeth
into her lap and told me
I loved her too much—what was all that?
What man does is build whole universes out of miniscule
disasters and educational degrees.
I have mine in an enormous envelope two feet behind me.
My name looks good in gangster font.
It makes me want to alight
on the thigh of my beloved like a moth
because I know all careful grief
comes out from behind the thigh
and makes a fist at the grey sky above Brooklyn.
The destroyed continue into the snow-filled future, shoveling.
And love is either perpetually filthy
or intermittently lewd.
I’m sweeping the entire apartment because it’s mine forever.
And that’s valid, too: domestic eroticisms. The way
he gets up out of bed before you
and puts on clothes and can’t find his keys.
All of it, without parents, without children, without roommates.
It feels good to get something
back. And the whole feels
detrimental and complicated and forever stimulating.
Which is why we live—and why we send out
balloons into the atmosphere
with notes tied to them that say
Nothing bad can touch this life
I haven’t already imagined.
I arrived in the basket that was weaved here before me
And I stayed in any place with a roof that would store me
    I have lots of belongings
    But didn’t pack for the trip
I got here, they put pants on me
And then the world gave me the slip

I’ve lived as slowly as I could
    Because there was no time to waste
But then things just got so weird
That I just had to grab your ear
    And give the tongue inside your mind a little taste:

For example:

The wallpaper can see that you’re stressed,
    So it turns a lovely shade of blue
The thermostat has thought things over
    And is ready to have a word with you

And your closet picked out your outfit
    for the party Friday night
Whilst the blender and the toaster
    made vindaloo by candlelight

And Doctor mailman robot
    Printed your pills in quite a hurry
Your vitamins were running low
    Now there’s B12 in your curry

But your personality algorithm
    was accidentally miswritten
You forgot your fingernails were all encoded
    and you bit them

Now the discs of your thumbnails
    are gangrene, corrupted
The chip that was slipped
    twixt each digit erupted

Your sensors and servos
    Implants and additions
All bent towards a personal program of precision

Your body’s expanded
    Your spirit is failing
The row boat got a motor but wants to be sailing

Yes every Thing now is thinking
    We are each our own king
But there’s no kingdom here to speak of
    It’s a pot luck, but we’ve nothing to bring

For the air now is as thick as the sea
    With every thing we created, each idea we have dreamed

Yes we screamed and filled the skies with drones and clones of drones
Now they’re crashing on our couches as they move into our homes
    And taking in some old stray nanobots
Now the drones have a family
Now the drones have a dog
    There’s so many drones, we all miss having cops

Yes life never stops, there’s no room to start over
    Though we have deftly fashioned countless walls
Every thing that you want or you need or just hoped for
    Is always round the corner, and just down the hall

We are tubes inside of tubes inside of tubes inside of more
We are a sinking ship that’s filled with valves, and pouches, switches, doors

A whirling servo for your heart-
It no longer beats, it hums
Every poem will be disposed of that once compared our hearts to drums

We are a hurricane that just built a fountain
    A pile of rocks with an eye for the mountain
But keep your ears to the ground for the counting
    For the number of hooves that are rumbling round it
    Numb to the sound of the sirens surrounding

For we will stretch ourselves further
    Than we ever have before
    And one day, there’s no doubt, we will snap

With our nose to the grindstone
    of progress
    We’ll all make our way
    to the top, then collapse

For though we’ve imagined where it is we’re all headed-
    We do not yet know where we stand
The future can’t hold for us a promise, my friend
    It’s a ghost with a pair of clouds for hands

Yes the future isn’t waiting there for us-
    It is quietly being pulled through us
It’s an illustration of our secret ways
    and yet we cannot say who drew us

For as soon as the word is pronounced
    There’s a parade!
The new product arrives!
    In your ear
    On your finger
    Up your nose
    And
    In your eyes

Yes we’ve figured out a way to make you all feel MORE alive
    (side effects may include
    shortness of breath
    thoughts of suicide or death
    but most likely just
    anxiety
    and hives)

You’ll be a walking coral reef
    You’ll be the tide pools filled with teeth
You’ll be a mouth that’s always chewing
    You’ll be a tongue that’s underneath it all
    You’ll be the roof, the ceiling, and all the papered walls

You’ll be prefixed
    With endo
    And intra
    And supra

As they watch you
    And poke you
    And cut you
    And shoot ya

Let us mend every seam with some sutures
    Let them sew up the holes in your life with the future

But who are we inside of this thing that we’ve built?
    We’re a bowl full of milk that’s about to be spilt

For there is always a storm that is coming
    The word on the tip of all tongues now is fear
We’d all love to cry out, but we’re too filled with doubt
    That’s no diamond, my friend, it’s a tear

That’s no animal, in fact-
    No we’ve all just learned
    each of them is a sentient being
Why there’s so many facts
    That are all in the past
It’s unbelievable- the things that we weren’t seeing

It turns out that Reiki is real
    And meditation’s no longer a joke
We’ve all been such fools, but now we teach it in the schools
    And yes the hippies are all pretty stoked

And the universe, it just so happens,
    Is just the way Tesla found it-
It’s all about frequencies… and vibrations….. and things
    We just had to wrap our little heads around it

Yes, we still don’t like the unknown
    We need to have things defined
We want our world to make sense
    We like it when nature rhymes

Even if only slightly
    Even if we must bend
What we see and we hear to fit the means to our end

We all just spend our lives
    Trying to overcome our births
Trying to get along with Death
    And then untie ourselves from Earth

Now we vacation on the moon
    And yes, we’ve flown beyond the stars
And can you guess where I just sent this from?
    I’ll give you a hint- It’s Mars

Now we can grow your bones for you
    And buildings build themselves, for free
But there’s still work for you to do:
You must remember how to be-

Just like the ocean when it’s thinking
Just be that storm that’s always brewing
    You’re an idea
    Just one idea
Of what one person on earth could be doing

And what animal doesn’t love
    Going out to chase wonder?
Only to learn of the lightning
    just before there is thunder?

Look above you- it’s raining
    Look around- there’s a flood
Who can say when it started,
    but now the ghost is in our blood

We can only move forward
    Only turn back for a time
Now the only sacred space left
    In the world
    Is our mind

And it’s running away with itself and the others
    Like the wind through the trees-
Phantom sisters and brothers
    Have gone the way of the bees
And the birds and the lovers

Yes they’ve all been drawn and quartered
    A million horses left the track
The future will take your mind off of itself-
    So I suggest you start stealing it back

For our time here, like the twilight
    Is precious and fading
And while there’s certainly nothing new under the sun-
    Under the moon, there is waiting

Signed-
    Sincerely,

    Future Self
    Good day and good luck and good bye

    P.S.
    Oh that’s right,
    I nearly forgot-
    Everyone in the future says Hi