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From Tournament, by Patrick Durgin


Objects are arguments.

But bodies are feuds.

Sardonic allegories

No longer suffice.

The bodies

Were corralled, divided, and

Ransomed at the borders.

Those that couldn’t be

Evaporated before arriving.

Bodies are sign systems,

Several, in fact, that must,

To be in order, read in tandem.

Bodies align.



And so they wander off

To that canopied forum

Only to learn the nature of the evidence

Of that must is sullied but conscience cannot

Bolster iffy testimony. Empathy can’t lie. Suspense

Sits with its sheepish careen at every angle of the rotunda



(now we atomize a gesture

now we intercept a glance



with boozy humor

or with grey solemnity

poached from one another

with the authority of a preposition

derived from the lexical status

of things

ignorance is another partner to normal


the liquor won’t

let you forget

the liquor itself forgets)



You can tell when

you pout that

novelty needs

innocence. Has it

to mean that? I think

it has.

I think it has

its tedium.

It has that aspect.

For example,

is every


a cliché?

How can

you tell I

think it has

to be that way?



A responsive system

Almost is the

Name it gives.

No one says

What everyone knows

No one has to. No one has

Met any one.

If, while, break.

Midst from a distance.

A ghastly sacral zero.

Motif for a poem or a picture.

The sky is

Simple; there is

Only one.

to be that way?



It is the irreparable

Fundament, the genocide,

The flaccid adjacency of our

Best intentions—not amnesia—

That will have to be settled.

You get a poem, maybe you do

Just to say it.

No meaningful decision

Has ever been taken

Without options.

The problem is not a lack

Of options. It is a poetics,

Another way of saying affordances.

A system of cooperation, one

Or the other. Conscience is as good

As hunger a reason to disobey

Or invent, one or the other.

The nature of evidence is

Already botched, since everyone

Is more or less conscientious.

How can a system of cooperation

Compel a decision that

Surprises anyone? Who cooperates

With someone else’s conscience?

Who can imagine universal migration

As a system of cooperation?

Because that is as close to

Your only option as you now have

To decide among.


  • Patrick Durgin is the author of PQRS: A Poets Theater Script and a collaboration with Jen Hofer entitled The Route. More recent work appears in Black Box Manifold, Chicago Review, Emergency Index, Poetry, and Tripwire. Durgin translated Miyó Vestrini's French Unpublished Poems & Facsimile 1958-1960 and edited Hannah Weiner's Open House. He teaches Art History, Literature, Visual & Critical Studies, and Writing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

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