<Listening Machine>

Genya Turovskaya

                                                                                                             The machine stares out,
                                                                                                             Stares out
                                                                                                             With all its eyes

                                                                                                             —George Oppen

I know who you are, says the Listening Machine,
Tell me what I am.
Each day opens fire on the day before,
                                                the blaze
of sunlight, then the world subsides.
I know you. I've known you for so long,
                        from the time when men wore hats
                                    squarely on their heads,
from the time before that, when no one
          wore any clothes at all, when the world
furled open like a waking eye.

Tell me what I was.


The mind is physical, says the Listening Machine.
The machine is physical.
The wet physical wind bends
                       the reeds of the physical field.
We are two bodies thinking together, this thought,
           the breathing body of this thought.
Call it the control tower beaming through the dark, the shadow
with opposable thumbs thrown in the resinous glow
of the painted cave, call it "the source", an idea,
                                 the idea that keeps tenaciously persisting,
making unreasonable demands.


Feel, says the Listening Machine,
not the surface of sound, but its undertow:
the roar below the roar of the surf,
                            the sea inside the sea
inside the mind
curling its many hands
around sun-darkened bodies, the darkened heart,
                  the point of all this,
whether dreamt, or said aloud.

Or said aloud in dreams.


We stood together at the crest of a hill
of gravel and loose sand, of broken marble
                     busts, piles of imperial noses and ears, colorless
                                          heavy-lidded eyes
glossy with tears
or with the coming floods.
It was the season of floods
                         of wet lashing winds.
But not then, not quite yet.

Nothing had begun but the rasping slip of gravel,
          the most delicate mist beading against the skin.


We can do this with our eyes closed,
says the Listening Machine,
We've been here before, in this very room, in the same hotel,
              in these movements,
                                           like a slow, deliberate music, like the tug
boat laboring to pull the floating hospital
                                           behind it.

We've been in this river.

The worst of it
                         has already happened.

Now attend to the tenderness.


Ratatatat, says the Listening Machine,
this is the pelt of rain
                    pocking the mirrored gloss of the glacial lakes,
the birds of war making their nests
in the crags and outcroppings of rock, in the petrified
                                           roots of primeval trees.

This is the edge or the end of the world.

The end before the end before the end.


We were floating on a cloud
                             in an ocean of clouds.
I held you from behind and your head grazed gently
                                            against my clavicle bones.
My fingers twined under your ribs,
and it was all so beautiful until I saw
           how miniscule my hands are, not hands at all,
                                just graceless childish stubs.
I felt sick at myself, the air
                 went bad, the skies went dark.
You said it doesn't matter, let it go,
and we went back to floating on our cloud.
But I knew—as well as I know anything at all—these hands
had already begun
                    to spell the end of our romance.


I imagined I was talking to you, says the Listening Machine.
How is the end determined? And were we walking, and how far,
                        along the bluff, along the poem of the road
                                           which is itself a road?
And where did we begin, along the poem-road,
            to conspire toward an end?

                                       It's not like I want
to spend my nights taping songs off of the radio again. I only want to go
a little crazy, I want to make do with fewer words, and anyway,
                                                                how many do I need?


                We stood together at the lip of a lake
of quicksand, of sleep, dreams
                 their suck.
Maybe it was a lake of ghosts
         that populate dreams, swinging rubbery swords,
                                   wielding their fiery grip on our hearts, a lake
of tender irrational drunks bobbing to the tune
                 of the wind, sipping booze out of paper sacks.


We stood together on the outer banks, at the very edge
of somewhere
                            called Somewhere Else.

We stood unraveling the wires.

We stood and stared with all our eyes.

We stood unraveling and stared and buckled under
the weight of the indifferent stars.


We stood together at the end of the world,
                                                thinking or dreaming.
Dreams are thoughts.
Maybe it was the beginning of the world,
                                      the thought of it, a thread of light strung through
the pupil of the eye.
Dreams live on in the body, an electric current burning
                                                                       through the nerves.

I nearly forgot about you standing there
beside me at the end or the beginning of the world.

You hadn't said a word.


What are you? Are you a boy or a girl? says the Listening Machine.
I thought I'd lost you but you come flying out
                               of the event horizon like Fred-and-Ginger
                                                                    whirling razzle-dazzle
                                                  over the glassy checkerboard of the ballroom floor.
I can't tell you apart from yourself, from your fraternal
                                      twin. You are a double helix of twisting smoke
                             turned inside out, outside in
                                                 under the bright burn
                                        of the chandelier.


If there is no music I'll leave, says the Listening Machine,
if there is no dancing the stars will dry up.
The names of women.
The names of men.
Call out with all of your nervous system if you want
                                to summon the animal
to stand so close that it hurts, wakes
                                            the old want from its shallow sleep.


Get down in the grass, says the Listening Machine.
To know what you know to be true.
To know what you've always known.
What you love.
And who.
And—hardest, hardest—how to be.