Anne Boyer is a single mother who works three jobs in the ivory basement, or for at least two of these jobs, the sub-sub ivory basement. She lives in Kansas. 


Because I decided to get as many jobs as I could and work these jobs in between sleeping and eating and caring for my child, I wanted, also, to build muscle and then more muscle, eat lean protein, and lose all intrusions of language or imagination or whatever it was that distinguished a poet from anyone else. This is not the first time I had to quit like this, but with all of these jobs I could eventually begin to see my hamstrings. I learned to do the reverse prone jacknife, and though later I understood it was a question of "How much poetry can I remove from me?" at the time it was a question of numbers, each hour accounted for in a notebook devoted to the accounting of hours.

In that my life consisted of working many jobs and taking care of a child and eating protein without any reading or writing, my life was not that different from the lives of many other people except that sometimes traces of an earlier life would appear in the form of people wanting things from me. I resolved to give them nothing. I barely gave them no. I learned to do my deadlifts with one leg behind me straight high in the air. I was always wanting balance challenges, like the twenty pound bicep curls with one foot tucked against my knee.

There were a few nights I would feel sorry for myself and cry about capitalism and what it had done to us, but not too many nights. Some nights we would go to the strip-mall bars of these old suburbs of the gentrifying city, and in these bars the people who worked too many jobs and also took care of their children and did not read too many books sang songs by Shania Twain and Destiny's Child.

I could not even stand in the bruised world yelling "It's a bruised world!" Was this some kind of macro-nutrient imbalance? Who knew?


I had a dream about the labor conference. I hadn’t been invited to speak and don’t know why, then, I was speaking there, but stood up in front of you and said, "Now imagine that once every seven years one Tang drinker gets to sip on the orange juice. Imagine being the one who is always being promised the orange juice. Imagine, sometimes, they even let you pour them their juice." This was a “provocative model” and “highly efficient de-professionalization” -- and I realized even then I couldn’t keep talking about Tang-life but couldn’t stop, could also not start to say what I meant or finish it. It was a graceless dream, or a dream in which I had been graceless, and afterwards I woke up and wondered if I had been reading from someone else’s notes.


I had never even thought of trauma as a trauma, perhaps because that word seems to be used by a kind of despised class to indicate the disappointment they feel that they are not able to have exactly everything that they want. I don’t even want what I want. What delicious possibility is inherent in the world of those who do not have the everything of the few, who do not have to make one false choice, then the next, traumatized always by the stakes of mere taste, by the terror of an incorrect move among the serious, spectacular minutiae?

After the second night of hemorrhaging I promised in an email “I will not let myself die” but still almost did. Even my boss said out loud what was killing me. It would have been perfectly literary if I had let myself die there on the bathroom floor asking for no help and afraid of the cost of the hospital. I had two choices and bleeding to death or losing all my money was too much symmetry. The bills later shook in my hands, shook on my lap, as if they were a kind of wind-up terror toy. The project of devaluing had made me, as a concept to myself, almost entirely expired. Once I got out of the hospital, my daughter said “humans die easily,” and I told her that “yes they do,” and also, “no they don’t.”


One has slivers of the self-directed life. I can give you the exact days and months and years: two days here, in a city I might never see again, or one month, there, thanks to that. At first, a pie chart, then something else: there is a brute in these rooms and apartments and duplexes and trailers and shared houses and single-family houses. The brute is not human, but like a bear, if a bear were a shadow, and ten times bigger than any figure I let myself imagine. This brute like a shadow and the bear not like a human is named survival-life. The brute is always saying something, is always paraphrasing Hannah Arendt, is all-like give me the labor of your body, not the work of your hands. There are children who fall asleep every night in that bear's arms. My favorite arts are the ones that can move your body or propose a new world. What at first kept me enthralled wasn't justice, it was justice-like waves, and a set of personal issues, like aestheticizing and the limitations of reading lists before the digital age.

I read my Epicitus until I realized I had enough, already, of the corrective imagination of a slave. People told me, of themselves, my whole life has been that brute. I’ve never figured out how to write about anything, like narrative is allergic and analysis is violence and discursion is betrayal. I’m sure I don’t know how I fit in here, but if you look for “all life into survival and all survival into life” I am something like the third hit down.

1 comment:

  1. pretty striking kickoff, with reference to a somatic response to our hi-low culture/labor split, "to build muscle . . . and lose all intrusions of language or imagination". it elicits the feel of a big thud, but also a sort of... relish. i like how the approach feels two-sided, how the inherent duality comes into sharper focus, yet merged: passionate/dulled desperate/eased forced/willing pushed/abandon. realizing also that that step into the maw is a dangerous one for an artist, bringing with it the occasional, tense, and very real fear that you might not ever come back; that you will become the borg. or the bud (-weiser). the piece oddly makes me think of a possible value in this, how a turning away from one's art production for an extended period of time can be critical in expanding the capabilities of that production. it requires a total immersion into the mainstream culture (like embracing your role in jail), a drive deep into the parking lot where escape is a constant thought. if you come out of it in one piece, however, the benefits can be tremendous. viva anne boyer, *the romance of happy workers* indeed. (