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The Elephants


Andrew Zawacki

Published April 1, 2018


A recent Howard Foundation Fellow in Poetry, ANDREW ZAWACKI is the author of the poetry books Videotape, Petals of Zero Petals of One, Anabranch, and By Reason of Breakings. His translations of Sébastien Smirou, See About and My Lorenzo, have earned translation grants from the NEA, French Voices, and the Centre National du Livre. Previous installments of his hybrid project on Paris graffiti can be found online at The Poetry Foundation and The Volta.

Infamously, in old-school schools, a student who’d been naughty was sent to the board, to write in white on the black or green slate a litany of what he or she would no longer do. I will not chew gum in the classroom / I will not chew gum in the classroom. The idea behind the reprimand, if basic enough at first blush, harbored a compendium of grandiose claims: public shaming would serve as a private deterrent; making an example of an outlier would cause the others to stay in line; commitments declared before the community would be more binding than quieter resolutions; the lactic acid from so much foot shuffling and scribbling standing up would encourage more salutary ways of spending energy from now on (for “whether he was to go simply to the pillory or to the stake and the wheel,” Foucault explained, “the condemned man published his crime and the justice that had been meted out to him by bearing them physically on his body”); writing the same sentence out a hundred times, or ten times a hundred times, would provide ample untrammeled boredom—when everyone else was outside at recess, if not gone home for the day—for reflecting on the sin, as a stage in the course of atonement; writing would right a wrong, i.e., the word overcome an act; repetition would dull the original deed and—by rendering its singularity plural, serial, viral, altogether banal—nullify the thrill of deviance, thereby preventing recidivism, and finally flatten the whole fucking thing.