The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2019

All Issues
SEPT 2019 Issue


There Are Not a Lot of Universes in Which Time Travel Is Possible

It’s winter 2019. Apparently the very old are waiting to die so that they can see the Mueller Report.

NPR says: “some elderly, ill critics of the president say they want to try to hang on to see how it all turns out.”

For instance, a World War II veteran named Mitchell Tendler began to fade. And, his son recounts, “it just was quiet for a little while and then he just sits up in bed halfway and looks at me and he goes, 'Shit, I'm not going to see the Mueller report, am I?' And that was really the last coherent thing that he said."

Some of these people will, I imagine, live to be disappointed by the Mueller report, and some of them will die without having seen it, disappointed instead by the timing of their deaths.


It is a shame when people die at the wrong time.

Mark Fisher: January 13, 2017, in the wake of Brexit and then Trump’s election, several months shy of June 8th, when Jeremy Corbyn will do unexpectedly well in the snap election Theresa May calls, upsetting the conservative majority and also indicating a larger leftward shift.

Mark Fisher, presente.

You watched the British elections with a new lover who told you everything he knew about the UK as you watched and fooled around and ate Seamless and fooled around and watched more. He had planned to sleep over even though you no longer wanted him to because, even as you were rooting for the same thing, there was a gap between you and him; he stayed; you thought about Mark Fisher’s death and were relieved when the lover got up in the morning to go to the bathroom and you were alone in your room, hearing him pee through the bathroom wall but nonetheless alone.

The elderly who are waiting to hear the Mueller report will be cordoned off when they’re dead but they will not even hear the world through a bathroom wall; they won’t know any of it.

Kathryne Lindberg, my teacher in grad school, who spent her life writing about African American literature and communism, jumped off a bridge into the Detroit River on December 13, 2010; Tarek el-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian fruit vendor, set himself on fire on December 17, 2010, four days later, the flame of his body sparking the Arab Revolution, after police officers who regularly harassed him confiscated his fruit and the electric scales that he used to weigh it.

Clearly if you spent your life studying communism and knew that in four days someone else’s suicide was about to spark a massive political shift, you would not yourself be able to commit suicide. Clearly if you were Mohamed Bouazizi and knew the effect your immolation would have you would have to do it anyway, knowing you’d never get to see its effects. Which sounds nearly impossible to do.

I wish they could have negotiated a trade: if Kathryne, Mark Fisher, Mohamed Bouazizi had known when to have hope and when to despair and collectively saved a body for the three of them to animate together, swapping in and out of it, watching events unfold, channeling their rage into this anchor-body that could move in the world if it wanted to, or rest, undead, and watch things get better and worse, better and worse; watch suffering and death, watch joy, in patterns that at least are different than those we might’ve expected, suggesting the possibility of better patterns yet to come.

The one brief period in which I regularly engaged in “suicidal ideation”—i.e., I did not want to kill myself but enjoyed flirting with the idea every day, noting, with titillation, as the train came, how easy it would be to fall in front of it, whereas normally I tried to avoid thinking about exactly that, and whereas later the thought of the train would not cross my mind—in that brief period of suicidal ideation in 2016 my brain played two thoughts over and over again:

—Why are we still doing this? (“This” being getting up, going to work, everything we associate with “life,” tbh.)

And then the response:

—If you stopped doing this, you’d literally never find out what happens next.

It’s hard to answer why we’re all still doing this, but also very easy to answer why you personally are still doing it: to see what everyone else does. The gap between yourself and others—which we might think is a source of isolation—is actually what keeps you wanting to animate your body.

It’s 2011 and you are getting fingered in a bed that belongs to neither you nor the person fingering you; you’ve taken a break from the protest. You moan; they return it; their finger glows, ET-style; your clit glows back; the glowing finger and the glowing clit become vine-like and entangled, become animated by something else, pull the two of you back out into the world.


In 2019 your mother’s friends and family keep dying.

Everyone in your family who has died before seventy has not had money, or even a union job, like your father did:
—an uncle
—another uncle
—your mom’s cousin, who you never knew well, no idea what she did for a living, but you have the impression she definitely did not have money

You went to visit your mom’s cousin’s family when you were ten. Your second cousin, a year older than you, had John Conner hair, per Terminator II, and you watched Doug with him in his room and your prepubescent body felt a sort of proto-lust. Messy room, skateboarder, John Conner hair.

Terminator II is a movie about the future, and a world in which Skynet, a synthetic intelligence system, has gained consciousness and decided to kill all the humans. In this movie you can travel back and forth in time, altering things, an ability unavailable in real life, so that the proto-lust of a ten-year old for her eleven-year old second cousin must remain forever encased in a husk.

There is no way to jostle it or repurpose it; there is no way to feed it to the souls of your mother’s dying loved ones and use it to reanimate them.

The proto-lust walks in the woods with sticks. It sleeps on an air mattress. It goes away. It returns years later and drives around the Beltway with older teens to watch the Robin Williams movie Jack, about a child who looks like a grown man, which is a metaphor for nothing, and it sits, much younger, in the back of a car as the car speeds along, and then it arrives home, where the two sets of parents reminisce about their parents, some of whom are dead, and joke about family traumas. The proto-lust is encased; it cannot be penetrated.

Other lust can do things. It’s summer 2018. You want to fuck someone who is texting you about cheap popsicles usually bought in bulk for children. Like, come over, we’re going to watch documentaries and eat popsicles, you know: the shitty ones. Freeze pops in plastic tubes. You go to a public swimming pool and talk about Mark Fisher, and also about how this pool wouldn’t exist except for the New Deal, public-fucking-pools, they would never make that now, as teenagers splash around you; your prospective lover is reading John Reed’s Ten Days That Shook the World; water is the best feeling; the lover bails on actually fucking afterward, citing a text received about the illness of a family member; your lust then exists in the form of a freeze pop, slushed up in a plastic tube; the slush in the plastic tube merges with the slush in the freeze pop plastic tubes of your youth; you’re eating a freeze pop in your neighbor’s backyard; your neighbor shows you a secret; she’s written the word “fuck” in marker on the bottom of her shoe; this only increases the power of the freeze pop, which you then grow, which you then suck on as though it’s fingers.

It’s 2019, you put your fingers into one person as she lays back on the bed while you ride another person as he too lays back; you make your lover come with one hand, your forearm hurts, you are sweating; when you pull your fingers back out, your fingers are each a freeze pop covered in her fluids; you raise the freeze pop fingers to your mouth to suck the fluids off, but as you do the plastic part of your fingers dissolves so that the flesh of the fingers itself—the colored ice—melts into your mouth and you’re left without fingers.

Okay. You lie in this bed letting people stroke your back while the family members with the hardest lives die first; their deaths are the shitty kind.

I was wrong here: you don’t get to bottle any of your lust, whether you’re ten or thirty-six. You return months later to the lover who took you to the pool and texted you about shitty popsicles. It’s morning and cold out and you arrive to his sunny apartment and recover from the walk over and excuse yourself to the bathroom to blow your nose and then enter his room which has bright yellow sheets. You fuck his face. “You look so happy,” he says after, and he’s not wrong.

Unsolved Mysteries Is Mostly about the Dead

I watch it one night; I walk past Greenwood Cemetery the next, carrying takeout, wondering if the graves will eventually melt because of climate change.

Such that Greenwood Cemetery won’t even serve its purpose as a cemetery; graves are constant upkeep; that’s why they’re a commemoration; one day the stones will blister and recess back into the earth.

Long after the world has become inhospitable to human life, it will, I guess, become inhospitable to the vestiges of our deaths.

Not that I think humans will all die: this is all certainly going to continue to proceed along class lines and colonial lines, refugees drowning in the Mediterranean, the migrant caravan, this is already happening and was already.

But: let’s not argue with our terror at events as they unfold.

A few years ago I saw an exhibition at the Rubin of Genesis Breyer P-Oridge and Lady Jaye’s work, of pictures of their bodies, of mannequins of their bodies, of a rotating wolf’s head, of their fingernails and hair.

Lady Jaye “dropped her body,” as Genesis Breyer P-Orridge puts it, years ago.

The headstones in Greenwood Cemetery, gone; our digital graves, probably also gone—all the abandoned Facebook profiles, etc. now also wiped away completely.

We’re all definitely going to drop our bodies once, then drop them again as the earth sheds its human tails.

Like when you want to go to sleep but can’t, and you use one arm to gently stroke the underside of the other as it rests above your head. The way that the stroking feels good, almost like it’s from someone else but thank god no one else is there.


Marie Buck

Marie Buck’s most recent collection of poems is Goodnight, Marie, May God Have Mercy on Your Soul (Roof, 2016). She is the managing editor and online literary editor at Social Text and lives in Brooklyn.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2019

All Issues