from Song of Polymers






is a breath mark. Now you’ll know when to take a breath.


only origami gulls all

choking hazard plangency
a hair-band, a hair-tie

tire, tired

there, here


no sapling wobble

no heron nesting

no revamp

no skylines


only our beach hained

in plastic our



“Have you ever heard of the Doppler effect?” O flotilla, our collective rhythms, our backwash! O plastic Patch of the Pacific, 600,000 square miles! You’ve already grown and outgrown your name, you so-called patch! You beard! You motor-boater! Do you doubt it? Do you doubt you’ve outgrown global scale? Your years of emptied albatross? Your scoops of pelicans no more?



Pelican wants to carry its song in its Pouch—its Throat.



Pelican’s song—its Stomach—no longer stirs with Fish.



“Have you ever heard of the Doppler effect?”


Do you recall the rash and rendering of NASA buoys across the oceans, mimicking our garbage, blips on a dimming radar?



            “SPLIT the lark and you’ll find the music”


Choking Hazard.png



Bottle caps, crushed coca-cola cans, cigarette lighters, fishing lines, bottle caps, shriveled balloons, shreds of plastic bags, whole plastic bags, lego bricks, sharp plastic pellets,

bottle caps, microfibers, microbead after microbead—

traces of nylon, polyester, spandex—

all microfibers absorbed

into the fibrous wings

of Pelican



There are three size classes of plastics being ingested by seabirds every year: microplastics (which are 1 to < 5 millimeters in size), mesoplastics (5 to < 25 millimeters in size) and macroplastics (≥25 millimeters in size). Microplastics, specifically, consist of fragments (sharp, jagged particles), micro-pellets (round particles), fibers (fibrous particles), films (extremely thin layers), and foam (the Styrofoam kind of foam).


I remember the rainbow at the end of Jim Jarmusch’s 1981 film—his first film—Permanent Vacation. I remember the rainbow at the end of the film. I remember that there wasn’t one. I remember the wake. I return to that wake yearly for the wrong notes and the missing lyrics. The way New York City grows smaller and smaller as the viewer, our sixteen-year-old point of view, exiting the harbor. I return to that wake at least once a year for its incomplete song, its jazzy, effeminate boy-decadent, its saxophonist struggling to find the right chords until the very end of the credits, its degeneration, its dance, its revelry.


“Citys to day & a dead sea tomorrow
& what they was they ne’er will be again”


Poetic fragmentation, as seen in the above Byronic ruins of John Clare’s “Where are the citys Sodom and Gomorrah,” has been defined in many ways. According to the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & Poetics, a fragment “connotes a broken part or detached piece of a complete and integral poem—either a whole that once existed or one that was never written and can only be imagined.” The Academy of American Poets defines fragment as a “part broken off, something cut or detached from the whole, something imperfect.” The Oxford English Dictionary similarly defines fragment as a “part broken off or otherwise detached from a whole; a broken piece; a (comparatively) small detached portion of anything.” Urban Dictionary defines fragment as “the most useless grammatical error in Microsoft word.”



“In the world we search for a design—this design is we ourselves. –What are we? Personifications, omnipotent points.”



Novalis’ one hundred and forty-third fragment.



A fragment might be something isolated from the surrounding world. Here, a fragment, to inform a self-understanding by way of process. Here, a fragment, to visit now, to revisit later.



Alexander Regier has argued that fragmentation and linguistic fracture are an essential part to understanding Romantic aesthetic. He writes, “[…] I mobilise fragmentation as a notion whose multifacetedness and intricacy enable conceptual and textual analysis of texts not normally thought in relation to brokenness. The catalyst of my argument is conceptual rather than generic.”



All my life I have been consuming what is broken off.



                And yet, it tasted, like them all,

                The Figures I have seen

                Set orderly, for Burial

                Reminded me, of mine –



Today it is Sunday morning. Last night I arranged the following pieces of plastic on my desk: a toothpaste cap, a cap from a plastic soda bottle, eight inches of dental floss, three craft beads, one six-studded Lego brick, a tiny doll’s head complete with saran hair, a sliver of plastic bag, and a single red plastic strand cut from a red solo cup. I very carefully put all ten pieces into my mouth and hold them there. Trying not to gag, I attempt to focus on flavor – nylon, plastic. The taste of non-taste, of nothing. Nothing but my own mouth. This is all I can taste. My own tongue. The hardness of a mirror. My tongue concerns itself with preventing the Lego brick or doll’s head from obstructing my throat. I have strategically positioned all three craft beads behind my tightening lower lip. As I feel my closed mouth begin to fill with saliva, I concentrate on the texture of the doll’s hair against my tongue. This distraction keeps me from gagging. My mouth of doll’s head. I do this until I achieve balance – all the materials resting inside of me. I continue holding these materials inside of me, as if in a trance, until I finally can’t differentiate between my own teeth and the six-studded Lego brick resting against the molars of my mammal’s mouth.



I tell a friend about this project a few weeks later. She expresses concern for my mental health and reminds me that performance art doesn’t have to involve choking hazards. This isn’t performance art, I say. She says, I don’t care. You should have someone with you when you do this. In case you choke.



I think about the glass beneath Chris Burden’s body. A bottle cap against my gums. Today I am walking along Milledge Avenue in Athens, Georgia. I walk past a frat house and hear Toby Keith lyrics: “Now a red solo cup is the best receptacle / For barbecues, tailgates, fairs, and festivals / And you sir do not have a pair of testicles / If you prefer drinking from a glass / A red solo cup is cheap and disposable / And in fourteen years they are decomposable.”



            Ah! well-a-day! what evil looks

            Had I from old and young!

            Instead of the cross, the Albatross

            About my neck was hung.



Poeisis or another choking hazard?



And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth.

(Revelations 11:18)



A fragment is one of five types of microplastic ingested by seabirds each year. In 2009, ocean litter was said to have affected 44% of all seabird species. This is a large leap from 1960 when plastic was only being found in less than 5% of seabird stomachs. Researchers Michelle Paleczny, Edd Hammill, Vasiliki Karpouzi, and Daniel Pauly compiled a global database of seabird population size records. Their findings were published in 2015: “We found the monitored portion of the global seabird population to have declined overall by 69.7% between 1950 and 2010. This declining trend may reflect the global seabird population trend, given the large and apparently representative sample. Furthermore, the largest declines were observed in families containing wide-ranging pelagic species, suggesting that pan-global populations may be more at risk than shorter-ranging coastal populations.”



Australian research scientist Chris Wilcox has claimed that global plastic production doubles every 11 years.



In music, a fragment is often considered to be more of a gesture or idea. I like thinking of a fragment as a kind of musical gesture. As a sign. A sign of what’s to come. An omen.


In 1968 at the Galerie Konrad Fischer in Düsseldorf, Germany, John Cage filled the space with six problems. Six days of tape loops. Six days and six different sounds. Fischer’s gallery became Cage’s studio. Day one: walking sounds. Day two: ball sounds. Day three: violin sounds. Day four: walking sounds featuring violin sounds. Day five: ball sounds featuring violin sounds. Day six: walking sounds featuring ball sounds. These six days—six black ribbons—were cut to loop and match the physical boundaries of a room inside the Galerie Konrad Fischer. Whenever a patron would enter the room, they would travel the length of a flowing ribbon—a black straight line juxtaposed against a white gallery wall. The long, steady line traveled from a tape recorder resting on a table to a modest chair at the opposite end of the room. Though, depending on the day, the chair might be found located in a different spot. These six problems were music. These six problems were sculpture.





The lyric is momentary, fleeting, self-reflective. Or, it is spontaneously self-reflective. The lyric is a momentary, fleeting, self-reflective, and self-expressive thing. Or, not a thing. What do I mean by thing or thing-ness? This plasticity of lyric?



The lyric is a thing. The lyric is a boundary. A momentary, fleeting, self-imposed boundary. A deployment. A deployment of a music that can no longer be heard. It is the desire to preserve an idea of a music that can no longer be heard. It is a music not sung. The lyric is a model. A Romantic model. The lyric is sublime. The lyric is sublimely momentary, fleeting, self-reflective, self-expressive, brief, and longing. The lyric is sublime. The lyric—unsung, recited, or spoken lyric—exists for a present. For presence and no future.



The lyric has a history of association with lyres, harps, and dulcimers. But the lyric is not a lyre, a harp, or a dulcimer. What happens when you read a lyric poem silently to yourself instead of listening to the lyric? What happens to the preservation of the idea of a music that can no longer be heard if the reader is reading the lyric as if it had no musical qualities whatsoever?



If the lyric is a lyre, then it is also something false, a machine.



The lyric poet is both lyre and liar.



“and rose reincarnate in the ghostly clothes of jazz in the goldhorn shadow of the band and blew the suffering of America’s naked mind for love into an eli eli lamma lamma sabacthani    saxophone cry that shivered the cities down to the last radio”



At a bar, a friend tells me he believes a poem is a machine. This agitates me, but why? I most likely spent two hours that same day on Facebook being influenced by algorithms. Engaging in algorithmic activities of my own. So then why am I so angry that this friend just said he believes a poem is a machine?



I think I tend to equate poem with lyric.  



A lyre is an instrument. Or is it a machine?



In 2011, I came across a seagull’s corpse near a sand fence when traveling to a small press festival as an undergraduate in Toms River, New Jersey. Most of its flesh was already gone when I found it—only bones and a few feathery remains. The tiny skull. The tinier eyehole. The bird and the missing bird and the missing eyes. I cannot shake this image. Yet it wasn’t the bird’s remains that caught my attention; it was the small collection of plastic bits that lay at its center. Where a stomach should be. An eerily colorful display. One of the pieces was a six-studded red Lego brick. Many animals only leave a skeleton behind—a record of existence similar to the rings of a tree. But this seagull’s corpse provided a different kind of record. A shameful record of human history. Plastic and, therefore, true.



In a 1978 “Rime,” Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famed Mariner kills an albatross with a crossbow because he mistakenly believes it to be an omen. The mariner’s shipmates force him to wear the same slain bird around his neck (“Instead of the cross”) as a symbol of guilt. Publicly shamed, the Mariner goes on to meet Death (a skeleton) and the Night-mare Life-in-Death who “thicks man’s blood with cold.”



In Charles Baudelaire’s “The Albatross” (1861), the figure of the poet is compared to that of a simultaneously “handsome” and “comic” albatross. Sailors imitate the bird by mimicking its injury (“Another imitates, limping, the ill thing that flew!”) or mocking it (“Someone bothers his beak with a short pipe”). In the final stanza, Baudelaire recognizes the albatross as “the prince of the clouds.”


Microplastics aren’t always successfully filtered by water treatment plants. British Labour politician Mary Creagh once told the BBC: "A single shower can result in 100,000 plastic particles entering the ocean." The Microbead-Free Waters Act was signed into law by President Barack Obama on December 28, 2015. The bill passed thanks to bipartisan support in Congress. Because microplastics can absorb chemicals and pesticides, a major concern being raised at the time was: what happens when humans consume the same fish that are consuming microplastics?

Shame has been the recent project of literary critic Gillian White. In Lyric Shame, White addresses antilyric discourse and the embarrassment poets experience when they are shamed for using the lyric “I” to produce an expressive self or selves in their work. White describes the production of this expressive self as a shamed lyric subject that gets projected onto its abjected others. Why does our own confessional expressivity or self-enunciation so often induce feelings of shame?


In the essay “Shame and the Shape of the I,” Julie Carr importantly reminds us of Eve Sedgwick’s definition of shame: “the affect that most defines the space where a sense of self will develop.”

Guilt—a synonym for shame—is the focus of Jennifer Jacquet’s “Human Error.” Jacquet believes “survivor’s guilt” is something humans might be experiencing right now. In the Anthropocene. We might feel embarrassed when we learn news of yet another animal species going extinct. We might experience extreme guilt for somehow letting such things occur. Jacquet cites different studies that acknowledge a shared heightened commitment to attempt repair (for the future’s sake) anytime humans are forced to confront their own environmentally destructive behavior. In this way, guilt might actually be valuable. However, this idea of guilt as utility might also require moderation.

In February 2018, a two-year study of 70 fulmars inhabiting the Labrador Sea revealed that 79% of the birds had ingested plastic (11.6 pieces of plastic per bird).

“SPLIT the lark and you’ll find the music,
Bulb after bulb, in silver rolled,
 Scantily dealt to the summer morning,
Saved for your ear when lutes be old.”


How long? How long for seagulls, pelicans, tubenoses, cormorants, gannets, phalaropes, skuas, terns, auks, loons, ducks, and mergansers? How long? How long do they have?



I am aware that seabirds are not necessarily songbirds. But there are still many birds that are forced to sing a song of polymers.



When it comes to any kind of understanding of a human future, I don’t believe it’s too late to turn our attention to poetry. I’m not saying poetry itself should be a future-oriented medium, but I think it can help us make sense of our present.



                It was not Death, for I stood up,

                And all the Dead, lie down -

                It was not Night, for all the Bells

                Put out their Tongues, for Noon.



Our current situation. The Anthropocene is as real and as present as Dickinson’s forever-looming dash. It is precisely that ghost-like dash that invites the reader to interpret the living as what will one day be the dead. The variants “Death” and “Dead” are capitalized and, as scholar Cristanne Miller has observed, capitalized words in Dickinson poems typically indicate “concrete, immediate presence” (58). Not counting the words that begin the lines of “It Was Not Death, for I stood up,” there are a total of 24 capitalized words in this particular poem. The strange use of the word “lie” in the second line reinforces that the “Dead” are actually still the living. Dickinson takes measures to assure us of this in her opening line: “It was not Death.” Thus differentiating “Death” from “the Dead.” In this poem, to be dead might be a perspective, while a word like “Death” appears to be more finite.



This past March I visited Tampa, Florida for the first time with my friend Jake Syersak. We took a detour across the Howard Franklin Bridge to visit the Dalí Museum. Jake concentrated on the road while I reacted to pelicans dive-bombing the ocean that surrounded us. “I’ve never seen pelicans like this. Flying this close to cars,” I said. “Really,” he asked. I couldn’t believe how close some of the pelicans got to other cars. Even our car. No fear whatsoever. Just hunger. Stunning, dynamic, large-mouthed birds.



I attempt to focus on flavor – nylon, plastic. The taste of non-taste, of nothing. Nothing but my own mouth. This is all I can taste. My own tongue.



Suddenly, I cannot stop thinking about the insides of the pelicans as we cross the bridge. I wonder to myself: what are their stomachs filled with? I revisit a note I left myself on my phone. Fragments, ideas: “I can only see them as already dead. Anatomically - their insides are already plastic. A ridiculous percentage of these seabirds are plastic. Plastic anatomy. Physiologically speaking, the anatomical diagram of a pelican should include the plastic that will later be found inside the pelican.”



Pelican is becoming a text. A fragment. “…texts not normally thought in relation to brokenness.”



                It was not Frost, for on my Flesh

                I felt Siroccos - crawl -

                Nor Fire - for just my marble feet

                Could keep a Chancel, cool -


The unnamed event of Dickinson’s “It Was Not Death, for I stood up” is further called into question in the poem’s second stanza. The poet specifies that “It” is not the burning sensation of “Frost” or a literal “Fire,” but siroccos—a term for a series of cyclone-like winds that make their way from the north coast of Africa to the Mediterranean. As these hot, desert winds travel eastward, they accumulate moisture and dust, producing a hazy sirocco-fog. The poem’s focal event goes unnamed because it is not yet visible. The “Siroccos” are only “felt” because the sandstorms themselves represent an earthly blindness. It is the reader and the lyric “I” that experiences this momentary impairment. The stanza concludes with the poem’s statuesque speaker (“for just my marble feet”) firmly planted in a “cool” Chancel, perhaps dressing to deliver a sermon. The word “cool” is not only significant because it repeats in the poem’s last stanza (“like Chaos - Stopless - cool - ”), but also from a linguistic standpoint. Should you choose to vocalize the word, you will feel your tongue sink down behind your lower teeth, making space for the word to crawl from out of your mouth. To say the word—cool—is to imitate a sirocco-wind. To understand Dickinson’s dashes, you must cyclone like the siroccos. You must embody the dust of the earth.



I don’t know a ton about Salvador Dalí, but, as early as 18 or 19, I have always found myself drawn to the boxes of Joseph Cornell. After what happened between the two during a screening of Rose Hobart, I admittedly formed an early bias. I still enjoyed the museum though. Jake and I opted out of the headphones tour. An older museum guest wearing headphones kind of pushed me out of his way when I was trying to look at Average Atmospherocephalic Bureaucrat in the Act of Milking a Cranial Harp. The gentleman barely looked at the painting before taking a picture, and, despite my own disbelief, farted quite loudly. He took no notice of his fart. No one did, thanks to all the headphones. Then he left my side. It was as if the fart had never happened. I continued roaming the busy museum. There were a lot of paintings that I had never seen. But Jake and I both had stopped in front of Dit Gros, Platja, Luna, i O'cell Podrit (Thumb, Beach, Moon and Decaying Bird). We paused in front of this painting for a long time. “It says he used real sand and gravel to paint this,” I said, staring at the lifeless bone-white bird. Suddenly I realized Jake wasn’t even standing next to me anymore. How long had I been standing there?



In the museum gift shop, I found a postcard of Thumb, Beach, Moon and Decaying Bird. I don’t know why I felt so drawn to that painting. The cashier said, “Didn’t even know we sold this. Most people just buy the clocks one or the Lincoln one.” She put my bone-white bird into an envelope-sized plastic bag. “Thank you. Have a nice day!”



I sit in the passenger seat staring at the postcard. My eyes move closer and closer to the postcard version of the painting until I regret the purchase. I move my finger over the postcard’s shore, but there’s obviously no sand. No canvas. No bird.



Walter Benjamin: “Every day the urge grows stronger to get hold of an object at very close range by way of its likeness, its reproduction.”



 “[…] saxophone cry that shivered the cities down to the last radio”

Have you ever heard of the Doppler effect? A lot of this reminds me of the Doppler effect.  The way the frequency of something changes as it moves closer to you. Or away from you. It doesn’t necessarily have to be sound. It can also be light. This event was first described by Austrian physicist Christian Doppler in 1842.



A good example of this is an ambulance passing you.


Someday I’ll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds  are     far      behind       me



NASA Voyagers 1 and 2 contained gold-plated vinyl records mounted to their outsides. Carl Sagan hoped that someone, an alien, an anything could hear these preserved sounds: its ultrasounds; its First Movement; its cooing babes; its guttural uteri; its tractor racket; its clamoring train; its hoarse carts; its morse code; its riveting rivers; its blacksmith clang; its ripsaw pound; its K9 treble; its Spherical trouble; its witches’ brew; its rainy timbre; its ragey frogs; its hyena cackle; its elephant gun; its chimpanzee freak-out; its howling hills; its game of marbles; its biggest bang; its piano mumbles; its Chuck Berry.



John Cage hated records.



Dickinson eventually revisits the corpses observed in the first stanza “It Was Not Death, for I stood up,” but substitutes the word “Dead” for a more efficiently ambiguous term in her third stanza: “The Figures I have seen / Set orderly, for Burial.” Forcing the reader to substitute “Dead” for “Figures” sustaining the sirocco-fog from the previous stanza and advancing a complex idea of death-in-life. Why would Dickinson, observing the “orderly” dead, visualize her own lifeless body among them? She notes how the bodies of the dead remind her of her own body (“Reminded me, of mine – ”) as that final breath-like dash branches outward. Is the speaker living or does she imagine herself as already dead? If the latter, how people benefit from visualizing themselves as already dead?



This is the question Iraq war veteran Roy Scranton has asked himself many times. Author of Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization, Scranton has devoted much of his life to reimagining what it means to be alive in the Anthropocene. In the following passage, Scranton recalls when he first began meditating on his own eventual death when stationed in Baghdad:


“I found my way forward through an old book: Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s 18th-century Samurai manual, the Hagakure, which advised: ‘Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily.’ I took that advice to heart, and instead of fearing my end, I practiced owning it. Every morning, after doing maintenance on my Humvee, I would imagine getting blown up, shot, lit on fire, run over by a tank, torn apart by dogs, captured and beheaded. Then, before we rolled out through the wire, I’d tell myself that I didn’t need to worry anymore because I was already dead. The only thing that mattered was that I did my best to make sure everyone else came back alive” (22)



We must embody the dust of the earth.



Scranton believes we can organize against carbon-fueled capitalism by turning away from techno-utopian promises of promise (i.e. participating in TED talks, investing in ‘innovative’ entrepreneurial projects, etc.). Instead of denying that irreversible damage has already been done to our earth, we should instead accept and adapt to the harsh realities of the Anthropocene. (No matter how disturbing.) Scranton recommends that we “let our old way of life die while protecting, sustaining, and reworking our collective stores of cultural technology.” Despite its seemingly grim title, Learning to Die in the Anthropocene calls for a new form of humanism; a humanism that doesn’t shy away from criticizing its own celebrated progressivism. A humanism in which human beings unlearn techno-utopian innovation, slow down enough to fact-check suspicious sources, and, finally, learn to accept the most frustrating truths about our own dying planet (23-24).



“I feel sad because I can only see them as already dead. Anatomically, I can only see their insides as plastic.”




Dickinson’s pronoun “I” stands among the deceased. Prepared for burial, her lyric “I” also bears witness as it stands within “Siroccos,” an “oppressively hot and blighting wind.” Dickinson’s speaker’s flesh, as designated by “my,” metamorphoses into “marble feet,” also designated by “my.” In a way, she appears to be taking ownership over her own future death (“Reminded me, of mine – ”) and the speaker’s “marble feet” implies a corpse-like positioning. She appears to be experiencing survivor’s guilt for living among the dead. The voice in this poem also feels suspended (or frozen?) somewhere in time—not necessarily dead, but also not entirely alive. This idea of a “frozen” voice feels reinforced by the way “Frost” repeats in the poem. The space itself is what freezes over.



                When everything that ticked - has stopped -

                And space stares - all around -

                Or Grisly frosts - first Autumn morns,

                Repeal the Beating Ground -



What’s most puzzling about this selection might be “And space stares – all around.” How does space stare back? According to Shelley, if we are meant to perceive poets as mirrors of the “shadows of futurity,” perhaps this staring space of Dickinson’s poem is the reader-interpreter’s own self reflected back at them. Or is it a reflection of Dickinson’s self? A reflection of absence?