by Eleni Sikelianos, as presented during a panel at the Naropa Summer Writing Program, June 2008:
In this very room, Robin Blaser once quoted from Giorgio Agamben’s The Coming Community: “The coming being is whatever being.” The “whatever,” or latin quodlibet, Agamben notes, means both “it does not matter which,” and, cleaving to its opposite, “being such that it always matters.” Agamben elects the second meaning as the essential one.
Let us be in a place, a community of private thought and collective thinking, as we are now, that reminds us that every thing, whatever it is, “always matters.”
Each cab driver
Each partridge-feather plant
Each plastic bag
Each piece of water
I try to web my private community of thought around that thinking, but my thoughts drift…
I forget and remember and forget. My thoughts drift … among communities; some I have elected and some I have not, and would not, but each contributes to generating my surface and interior life.

First communities of sun, water, air
of mother, father, sister, brother
of ancestors and the ancestors we become
of lovers, partners, daughters, sons
of poets, artists, writers, politicians, politics
Community of hours in the day, of seasons, minutes, of time and space
Communal work of my liver, kidneys, spleen
Of cells bartering, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen
Virtual communities, web communities
Work communities
None of these communities are stable
There is conflict, breakdown, renewal, entropy, death
Of course, we are in the midst of community disaster
Our business partners the polar bears
Our co-investors the frogs, bats, salamanders and bees
Our web-content the whales, salmon and silverfish
Are in the red.
Whatever the problem is, I am always a part of it.
Another community list: My cell phone, my jeans, my salmon, my cotton sheets, the dyes to color them green, my car, my commute, my coffee, my hair color, my soap, my book, my lamp light, my laundry, my groceries and my grocery bag, my president, my money, my daughter, my daughter’s diapers, her blocks, her magnets, her dolls — every thing I do or use or touch seems to connect me in turn to a web of destruction. That is the crushing truth of our current existence on this planet.
Our community, our eco (house) logos (thinking). Our community, our eco (house) nomy (laws).
Clearly, our household laws, our eco-nomy are in disorder.
Clearly, our household thinking, our eco- logos is bewitched.
We have not yet learned how to embody a new order. What is the coming community?
What is my poem’s carbon footprint?
The poem, like the world, is intimately concerned with community and webs, and can detonate in an emotional explosion. But the poem, unlike me, is a stealth worker, and can slip through the world undetected. In the wake of the poem, I crash through the world breaking everything the poem has stitched together.
Our great contribution to the exploration of the human psyche, the total investigation of self as center, has now reached the end of possibility. In the new age of biology and weather, we will adapt or we will not. At that point that we no longer adapt we become a closed system. As far as I can tell, closed systems are not living systems.
Another of logos’ meanings: the telling of our tribal tales, our speech, our talk, bringing a deepened sense of reality. For centuries, poems and art have been teaching us how to be in the community / room(s) of the world and listen. The poet’s ecosystem is one in which we THINK-SEE and THINK-FEEL, where we learn the only way to get it close to “right,” in reading or writing, is to look, and look again. Poems help me move in the distance between the theoretical and the real.
As Agamben puts it: “It is the Most Common that cuts off any real community.” What I take him to mean by that, in simplest terms, is that it is our attention to the particular, the singular, rather than “the reduction of things to a fact like others” that leads us to “whatever being,” the every thing that matters.
A tree bends, gravity
pursues it, a hound
after its rabbit, the body
takes flight, physics
gives chase
The deep looking the poem requires, the way it questions habits of seeing and of mind, makes me more attentive to singularity, to relationship and pattern, around and within me. Thus, any poem is community web-work, with world as prey.
Out there is a radial symmetry that the poem reflects.
The poem says, nothing is lateral.
It says, nothing is bilateral.
What community, what catch have you there, web of words?
The lineal confines of language, its pure morphology, moving in straight lines from left to right, forward to back, or right to left, suggest we were hoping to fix a kind of logic/logos there — to understand and express our words in no uncertain terms. Syntax pushes us ahead in the assumption that meaning adds up, as we thrust through time in the arrow’s forward motion. This sequential progression allows us to strip the economy without looking too far forward or back. Numbers tell many stories, but they don’t tell all the stories. Not everything adds up. The simple acts of metaphor or simile pierce the closed system, and suggest a community of meaning, also known as simultaneity. We look through the poem’s microscope and see that a cell nucleus resembles a sea urchin. A minute resembles a mitochondria, and it’s our mother’s.
In the communal economy of the poem, a cardinal is a flying tulip.
In the poem, community, economy and ecology adhere.
Words are, language is, despite our demands upon it, its own community, its own wild collection of species and inter and intra-species interactions. It growls, it pounces, it purrs, it grovels, its populations rely on each other, they die out, they explode. Language comes from the world, the human and animal and planetary household that birthed it. Each possible word, even an of or an and, is itself webbed to the world, and this is its further, ideal logic. This communal symbiosis of the word stuns me.

Originally Published: July 17th, 2008

Linh Dinh was born in Saigon, Vietnam in 1963, came to the U.S. in 1975, and has also lived in Italy and England. He is the author of two collections of stories, Fake House (Seven Stories Press 2000) and Blood and Soap (Seven Stories Press 2004), and the novel Love...

  1. July 17, 2008
     Michael Robbins

    People in Chicago, please note that Sikelianos is reading tonight at Chicago Review's launch party. Would love to see fellow Harrieteers there.
    The party starts at 7pm at Experimental Station (6100 S. Blackstone) and will go to 11. The event is free, but donations to support the magazine will be accepted. All are welcome!
    For more information, visit:

  2. July 17, 2008
     Kent Johnson

    So the party's tonight, I'm in the issue with two different pieces, and NO ONE invited me!
    the most popular guy in the poetry world,

  3. July 17, 2008
     michael robbins

    What! I'm sure that's just an oversight. I know we'd all love to see you there, you big racist.

  4. July 20, 2008
     Angela G.

    Thanks for posting this, Linh. Wonderful! I like your title too, "Elective Affinities." ;)