- Poetry, Reading, Writing

From “Disorientations,” by Michael Leong


My teacher said
nothing is never not entangled
in emptiness.
Even the perpetual “bullet-like” trajectories
of the sacred.
Or the divided invisibility
of the most visible pyre.
The energetic movement
of traffic,
now forcing     the attending taxis
to make a detour,
is no more
than a system of evaporated streams.

The garlands on the walls
that ring around the city are falling
in small
illegible clumps.
The eyes
beneath the trees
have evolved to be less rapid.

No one thought that the banks would put
industrial scraps in the mangers,
that the low crest
was, in effect,
an added center
from which the Department of Urban Cancellation
could irradiate
an imaginary roux
of here  and  koko ni.
In the empty well
behind the pines.
the abstract roofs
of the Spanish churches,
whose forms ceaselessly strive
to order the vital
and aggressive
calligraphy of heaven.

Once my teacher rose with a burlap-bag
full of money.
“Here,” he said,
“let the dharma of modernity
go up in flames.”


Note: “Disorientations” collages together—and so “disorients”—two postmodern Orientalist texts: Kent Johnson’s Doubled Flowering: From the Notebooks of Araki Yasusada, a yellowface simulation of hibakusha literature, and Roland Barthes’s Empire of Signs, a semiotic treatise based on an invented system Barthes calls “Japan.”


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Michael Leong is the author of the poetry books e.s.p., Cutting Time with a Knife, Who Unfolded My Origami Brain?, and Words on Edge. His creative work has been anthologized in THE &NOW AWARDS 2: The Best Innovative Writing, Best American Experimental Writing 2018, and Bettering American Poetry, Volume 3. His co-translation, with Ignacio Infante, of Vicente Huidobro’s long poem Sky-Quake: Tremor of Heaven is forthcoming from co•im•press in late 2019. His critical monograph Contested Records: The Turn to Documents in Contemporary North American Poetry is forthcoming from the University of Iowa Press in May 2020. He has received grants from the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses and the National Endowment for the Arts. He teaches in the School of Critical Studies at CalArts.

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