Grete Stern

The Imagination, which we cannot anatomically locate in any rustling branch of gray matter, or toss coins into, as if a fountain—here, in this season of cruelty and of spleen, we watch Her stubbornly beautiful shadow beat like wings of moon moth in the embers of inextinguishable night—our patron saint and inextricably ourselves.

Hullo, let’s say.  Hullo onto ourselves.

For this post, I asked some poet friends to imagine new objects for our future. A simple exercise of imagination within the well-worn chaise of friendship—for in this month of earthly delights, we must not forget to thank and be thankful for our friends. And our place in time, we must not forget to mark it by living well beyond our limits.

For me, this is a post of pure enjoyment. Below you will find four “pillows” from Suzanne Buffam, a mysterious “traveling well” from Kendra Sullivan, a renewable energy “patch” from Robert Fernandez, an unfulfilled "couch" from Mary Hickman, and a mythical “nut” (turned "ship") with an incredible sense of history from Kit Schluter. Let us imagine these objects displayed in the sparkling greenhouse pavilions of 1851, right alongside the Koh-i-Noor, the Tempest prognosticator, and Samuel Colt's prototype for the Colt Navy Revolver. "The essence of an object has some relation with its destruction," says Roland Barthes.  As such, we are not looking for ineffable forms . . . already, we hear the murmur of disuse . . . and the untimely trumpets of the mind's procession . . .


Suzanne Buffam | Four Pillows

The Thrillow

Tired of the same old compensatory dreams, psychological healing dreams, recurring dreams of missing trains? Turn your pillow into a Thrillow, for only $19.99, using a patented, eco-friendly, hypo-allergenic, latex-free, phlalate-free, gel-free, battery-free, and electricity-free medical-grade foam insert, activated once and filled with four pints of hydroponic zombie blood. Only seven left in stock.

The Sarsaparillow

Drift off on an antebellum dream of shady oaks, creaking porch swings and hoop skirts. Each 4000 thread-count organic Alabama cotton pillowslip has been perfumed with hand-plucked sarsaparilla leaves cured for a month in a mossy field under the stars. A natural remedy for ailments of the lymph, skin, temper, and nerves, the Sarsaparillow may be covered by some health plans in your state.

The Umbrillow

Today’s commuter is tomorrow’s refugee. This portable, collapsible, camouflaged sanctuary comes in seven subtle colors and designs, including Honeycomb, Desert Mist, Arctic Vista, and Brick. Made of lightweight canvas flaps stretched over a flexible frame of titanium, spring-loaded and coated with a weatherproof, antiballistic, antimicrobial polymer, the patented UrbanSprawl Titanium Umbrillow is the dream you’ve been waiting for.

The Oblivillow

The Oblivillow is simple. Fill your pillowcase with snow. No reviews.


Kendra Sullivan | the woodpecker Pinocchio traveling well

Last night, I dreamed I was walking through a flea market, which I often do in dreams, handling every manner of oddment and object—influence of the early surrealists and Breton, doubtless—when I came upon a “woodpecker Pinocchio traveling well.” Constructed out of white wood, collapsible like a tripod, and kitted out with a chain, a hook, a bucket and a lever, it is meant to be used to extract water sourced from deep within the ground over which no well is previously established. Good for vagabonds.

But the crowning element of this well is that the lever that controls the length of the chain is mechanically connected to a crude animatronic Pinocchio who bows down low with each rotation. Each time he bows his long nose digs into a decorative aspect of the contraption: a small brightly painted wooden globe. This particular example of the traveling well was very old, so Pinocchio had broken much of the globe to bits with his nose and the representation of the earth was a kind of pulpy mess of sawdust at its upper poles. His nose, carved of harder stuff, withstood the attacks with minimal damage. Of course his nose is a lie! I don’t know what this apparatus means. Resource extraction?


Robert Fernandez | The Patch

A patch. A patch is “fit” to a house. It then “takes.” Using a compound derived from a particular jellyfish, the patch’s Artificial Intelligence chip charts the house’s layout. It then, like a patch of skin, begins to replicate, to spread, drawing an almost imperceptible, veined membrane across the house and making it, on completion, entirely energy self-sufficient.

A patch covers every part of a house and is resistant only—and herein lies a great irony—to non-corrosive metals like silver, gold, and platinum. And so that the patch isn’t punctured—it’s otherwise almost indestructible, impervious to scratches, dents, hail and heavy wind and to extremes of cold and heat—each house that takes a patch requires an ever-so-thin silver, gold, and platinum door.

Young, “avant-garde” organic and inorganic chemists and quantum physicists will have found a way to harness the Higgs Boson’s universe of secret energy and capture it in a “well.” Each patch has a well, which is about the size of the human hand and as thick and, in appearance, like a brick of mirror. With a patch and a well, a house can generate enough clean energy for twenty generations.


Mary Hickman | Theodore

Theodore, a black velvet couch, has the sun’s power inside it. Theodore, grown in the sweat swamps behind the nightclubs of Majorca, does nothing with its power. It likes expensive jeans. You can buy Theodore and there are other Theodores out there but none have reached their potential, all of them spineless and obsessed with jeans. Lemon-scented, tobacco-smudged, wire-springed Theodore. Term of life: eight months in southern Spain.


Kit Schluter | The Water Caltrop, Caravel

According to The Portuguese Expedition to Abyssinia in 1541-1543 as Narrated by Castanhoso, the last willed deed of the life of Portuguese military commander Dom Cristóvão da Gama, first son of Vasco, was cracking a  Lisboetan water caltrop with his bare hand in Africa. It is our responsibility to note that Da Gama's dying act took place beside an unnaturally cool spring, for it was into this water that the shelled nut fell, soon to be followed by his head, which had been severed by Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi, Adalite general of Zeida. Having denied Imam Ahmad's command that he convert to Islam, the Portuguese Christian's death narrative became a matter of hagiographic legend throughout early African (and shortly thereafter, high Iberian) Christendom, and the spring into which tumbled his lifeless head soon came to be known as a source of water that brings health to the sick.

Castanhoso—whose name curiously bears the Portuguese word castanho, or chestnut—associates the development of this spring's restorative powers with its invasion by the water caltrops (or water chestnuts), spawned from that first one which had fallen, its shell broken, from da Gama's hand. His history suggests that as the spring became a site of rare and extreme pilgrimage, water caltrops became an important keepsake for the pilgrims who had traveled there by foot or by water over what were, in that time, literally unthinkable distances. Amongst the pilgrims, eating a caltrop's raw meat by the spring became one way of allowing da Gama to satisfy his final volition vicariously through the body of the devoted; and to prick one's palms unto bleeding upon the points of their shells, a form of communion with his sacrifice for Christ: a union at the site of stigmatism.

Now, in 1558, Matsuura Takanobu, samurai and hereditary lord of the Matsuura clan of Hirado, Japan, dealing ably as he did in arms with Portuguese traders, came across a water caltrop that had been misplaced in a box of arquebuses shipped to his domain from Lisbon. History has only presumed its provenance: the blunder of some Portuguese pilgrim turned arms trader, a token of pilgrimage perhaps fallen from an unbuttoned breast pocket. Its form—its horns like a bull's, its wings like a bat's—took his imagination by surprise, which was soon dominated by the rigid curves and nocturnal colors of the mysterious seed. So taken was he by its presence, in fact, that he commissioned a lateen-rigged caravel be built in its shape out of African Blackwood—a rare wood whose density and hue he found fittingly akin to those of the water caltrop's shell, and of which much of his preferred personal dishware was crafted. Orders for the construction of the unique ship, to be called the Water Caltrop, were sent back to Portugal with traders eager to endear Takanobu, and the project was taken on by shipbuilders appointed by Estêvão da Gama, once governor of the Portuguese Gold Coast and brother of the saintly Cristóvão, in what today is referred to as Ghana.

When he had first found the water caltrop in the crate of ammunitions, the Buddhist Takanobu was heading the expulsion of the Jesuits from his domain. Little did he know what seed this shell bore of its Christian origin, for perhaps, had he known, he would not have allowed his imagination to sail away into such indulgent fantasies: due to the scarcity of the required wood, which had never before—and has not since—been used for boatbuilding, and due as well to the expenses, which Takanobu financed slowly through an interest-heavy trade of firearms with the Portuguese, the vessel's construction took over a decade. By the time of its completion, the Japanese lord had no money left to finance its maiden voyage to its destined port of Hirado. Takanobu was thus forced to sell the unsailed craft for a great sum of gold and a historic stock of rifles just to pay off his debts to Estêvão da Gama's crew, and his dream of a piloting a vessel in the form of a water caltrop was lost, almost as quickly as it had first come to him years ago.

Whose hands the ship fell into next is unrecorded, but as the Water Caltrop now resides, beached in the mountainous inland region of Pico das Agulhas Negras in Brazil, its two masts having been turned into crosses, we could do worse than wonder if it fell into the hands of a sea captain bound for Brazil, who had once made a pilgrimage to the healing spring in Abyssinia where the water caltrops had come to choke away all other vegetation and life.

Originally Published: April 24th, 2014

Born in Shanghai, poet Lynn Xu earned a BA from the University of California at Berkeley and an MFA at Brown University.  She received a Catherine and William L. Magistretti Fellowship and a Jacob K. Javits Fellowship for her doctoral studies at the University of California at Berkeley.  Influenced by surrealism,...