Responding

        I


This is a place without a terrain a government that always
          changes an unstable language. Even buildings disappear
          from day to day.

[gendered pronoun] wanders in this place
                                                                       [searching
                                                                                                [waiting

the condition of unbearableness is the constant state of mind
            for all occupants

we read all day in the village square during the rule of [name
          of major historical figure] a book that is so subtle

                                                   [its political content goes unnoticed

what is political content?

                                                          [the question or the statement

[gender pronoun] creates

                                        [a reader culture

                                        [generic plural pronoun] prefer both

                                                      II

realism's authenticities are not the question

the question [role of art in the State

we know art is fundamental to the [New State] as is evidenced
         in village scenes, majestic ancient views, masses and
         masses of [generic human figures] marching in columns,
         swords coded as plowshares, image as spectacle

we kn0w [name of city], [adjective], [name of major composer]
to recode [reduce] it: Linz, ambiguous, Wagner

we know [name of major historical figure] calls, authentically,
         for a more total, more radical war than we can even
         dream in the language of the avant-garde

we know a commercial promises to reduce plaque more
         effectively in this same tone

but sometimes we exceed even our own expectations to
          surprise even ourselves

something encloses the impossible in a fable

an unreal world called real because it is so heavily metaphoric

we can't keep our fingers of connection out of it



it is a ride in the country, the car crowded with children
                                                   [each child represents a different
                                                              ethnicity of [name of nation]

it is a moment of standing with light resonating around [major
          historical figure

it is a guiding of the child towards the right path

it is a picnic in a field, the spread is bountiful
[the spread of [name of nation] is represented through the
          arrangement of food on the checkered tablecloth

it is [name of major historical figure]'s Art Collection:
           figure after figure
           each carries spears, lunges, draws the arm back to pull
                   tight the bow

a ruined plaza has a [gendered human form] at its en
        trance

a [generic child] draws a sword under the guidance of
[generic possessive pronoun] [honorific denoting repro-
ductive role]

a [generic human form] raises [generic pronoun] arms and
four horses turn away

another plays a lute

an eagle holds a symbol

fake [name of nation used as an adjective] heads



while the end of lunacy in art was explicit in [name of major
         historical figure]'s rhetoric

while when nation turns to art, art loses its divergence

while the [generic human figures] come back from war, their
         legs in fog

while a [generic human figure] sculpts, small against the
          expanse of marble, giving into the monumental human
          form that symbolizes eugenic possibilities

while another [generic human figure] pedantically draws
          postcards of village centers, operas, mountain vistas

while overwhelmed by an opera [name of major historical 
          figure] plans genocide

                                                    III

we know we respond resistantly as faked children's books of
         realist adventure tales have turned into military instruc-
         tion manuals


or [name of major historical figure] hails a cab, [generic
          possessive human pronoun] hand raised here, beckoning
          as the red flag with [name of fast food chain] waves
          behind [generic human pronoun] and the red star on top  
          of the [name of cultural landmark in major city] twinkles.


many people raise their hands for different purposes all day
         long


we are always waiting for our cab to come



the question here is the same as that of a relationship
where does art define our vocabulary?

the margin declares


[it is impossible to speak about something


it is only possible to speak beside it
                                         









                                          [a film with a voice-over of nonsense

to act in the unsecular forbidden margins [claims a certain
         privilege]



                         [generic human pronoun] cast a colonizing eye


a scripture of space / a place where




a [generic human form] twists in space
                                                               [follow this body]

getting you to recognize yourself in [generic possessive
           pronoun] work



                                                                                    [is kidnapping]

in the space of this question some emigrate or lapse into total
         silence



some co-opt this language and paint a series of meticulous and 
          beautifully colored monumental images of people impris-
          oned and alone at the edge of a tedious despair



some [refigure [refuse] respond] call out for an end



rewritten, the goal of the artist is to prevent reality in a true and
            concrete manner


                                                       IV


[generic human figure] claims I can get more information at
         home than by going to the war scene



what [generic pronoun] sees is [gendered naked bodies] in
          news photos—dead bodies, discarded bodies, junk


 

i  saw  this written on the bottom




                                                                                 [a way of testimony


the poverty of image among the people of [name of nation]


the continual increase in the amount of image a viewer can
          tolerate

                                                        [who went to [name of nation?


returning again and again to images of torture

covert activities depicted              [blown up

                                                                                   [to show power

                                                              details of photographs
                                                              or Xerox degradations
                                                              of photos on Duraclear
                                                              hang loose are
                                                              vulnerable and
                                                              fragmentary and
                                                              images are seen
                                                              through images and/or
                                                              viewers



[call this]
                the fate of Madame Bovery, the fate of Anna Karenina

A dog with a [generic human face] has slogans coming out 
          of its mouth as angels hold its head back suckle at its
          tits



taped to a [gendered hand, adorned with ring] is a photo-
         graph of [gendered naked torso], gagged



[generic human figure] infects computerized images with
           digitized viruses and then transfers them to canvas with
           a robotic device




                                                   [possible responses to what is seen

in [name of nation] at another time another set of reponses:



a [sexual category withheld] cuts hair and cameras circle
          around and [generic human pronoun] is dragged out of
          the room



another [generic human figure] says passionately we express
          ourselves in a language of regulations. Symbols and
          numbers best convey our ideas



another [generic human figure] makes an enormous painting
           of a massacre victim, mutilated and bloody, and hangs it
           by night on a pedestrian bridge



what a nation gives us is the image in [name of major weekly
          news source] of the [generic human figure] standing
          before the tanks with white flag


[generic pronoun] painted on houses, streets, stones, trees


[generic pronoun] covered [name of island] with strange marks
         in chalk, oil paint, and dye


[generic pronoun] wished to reduce writing to the zero level
         where it is without meaning. When culture invades
         private life on a large scale [generic pronoun] said the
         individual cannot escape being raped


another [generic noun] made a font that was scratched into
         paper by a knife


this font made each letter into a single scratch


[generic pronoun] scratched the other [generic pronoun]'s
         statement on rape into a banner and hung it outside


                                                       [my zero-level writing
                                                       [generic pronoun] said
                                                                           protest rape
                                                       [generic pronoun] said
                                                          my zero-level writing
                                                       [generic pronoun]  said
                                                       dangerous cultural rape
                                                       [generic pronoun]  said
                                                           my zero-level writing
                                                           my zero-level writing


                                                     V







a voice stutters in the background of our waking mind




[generic possessive pronoun] stutter is our stutter




or it is the way we define our difference?




                                                                                  stutter is nation


beneath an image of human figures the words [you have
          nothing to lose but your chains








                                           at times two voices talk to one another








                                                             [generic human] faces [tired]


we know we are all constructed


when it comes down to it we don't believe it


the social always holds us back


while the ways that we encounter relation are various


we remain


searching [searching


we question, respond



                                                              [deny we [move forward




                                  
 

Juliana Spahr, "Responding" from Response. Copyright © 1996 by Juliana Spahr.  Reprinted by permission of Green Integer.
Source: Response (Sun & Moon Press, 1996)
More Poems by Juliana Spahr