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The Elephants

Politics and the Desired: Fourteen Poems

Marc Gaba

Three Silent Films about Human Rights

1. Club

To sing because one can (as she can)
Even when the song alone can listen
Until of course the eventual regard (the place fills)
And the voice she has breathed into the microphone looms larger
Whose inaudibility is remark on representation here
That her face be raised through the voice of vision
And she be seen, all the way, to the exit of her choosing.

2. Cartoon

Here what there is to feel is not felt
Hanging instead before and above one like philolosphy
Or a pendant loosed from its necklace, or a drop of ice afloat
Frozen in time and melting, in drips disappearing, a note—
One note from a muted, glassy concerto,
When what there is to feel is the whole orchestra
Where there is no difference between the two.

3. Disaster

To remember as an adult how the legs could run
Foregoing the nuance that cinema not turn away,
And something linger—a narrative, for example, or death
We cannot be sure, it is a man, a clerk, in panic, running
As the story goes large without being pictured in the frame
Which locates itself in the story rather than vise-versa
And the disaster goes on within and without
That we must believe it to believe him.

The Clock Imperative

The clock on the desk as you read the paper.
The clock you wind up each night before you sleep.
The clock that waits to wake you, the clock in the deserts of Dali.
The clock in the headquarters, the clock that came free.
The clock made in Bangladesh; the clock made in Stockholm.
The clock on the right side of Syria at the time of this writing.
The clock that said here & there, and there & here, the clock that said so.

Vogue, Vogue

“Let your body go with the flow” – M. Ciccone

Where a pin could end an empire the empire makes a pin. Place it
Behind glass, behind glasses, there’s a history of glass and it’s breaking
My heart in the age of iron, my heart in the age of gold, ah my heart
Which isn’t quite a heart, but someone cut it out outright: Vogue
Where the stitch that loved the fabric pulled out like hair from soup
She was over whose ditch really loving the rhyme tres riche and thoughtless
Thought less and less about yet what world won’t love its trivia: escape
And who’d be caught dead fleeing the new party unscented, Marie, but you!
Famous for cakes and balances, not dull yet somehow the very pin inserted so
Hey, remember that time when they opened the bottle of your body and saw
Through it a window, your body, then the guillotine again, your head not ahead
Of “Imagination” the song once went and goes, wear something nice, “one must
Be so careful these days” quipped someone from history, you wouldn’t really want
To set off a revolution that just might end you all over again: Vogue

Between Grave and Song

Lies a pool a pool is not,
It is entirely merely imagined yet

You see water or blood in fact
You’ve made it yours and can change it

That no bird full of fleeing could shatter
The film of chance reflection

But what language on glass broken do you speak
Animal, are you an eventual dog

When you must sing the way you live
Between your song and the grave


To be banished and know why, to reason with one’s heart—
To live without either is intolerable and therefore
To slow down how the margin is drawn, top to down or vise-versa,
Top to down or vise-versa a promise inheres in the exercise
Of truth and other gates, though there be inside and outside still
Something remains that shouldn’t be anywhere but if
The reason is as legible as its heart, then perhaps tomorrow darling.

Real Time

I behave as if you were here because you are there
Wondering bravely enough to ask a question or dare
To receive an answer I know as the sensation of listening:
Hello? Hello? Are you really there and do you know
Whose point of view I raise through this love when I ask
If you’re there and have I lost you, oh my parting shot?


To approach a sea one must keep a secret
To keep a secret one must have a gun
To fire a gun one must be possessed by the sea
To approach a sea is to travel inward then and surface bearing it
To allow, through shock at, what the arms in a sudden could do
To the eyes betraying the unwillingness to pull the trigger
To kill anything at all—remember that: anything at all.

Three Short Films about Violence

1. Neighbor

To put on some music over a neighbor’s radio blaring
Late afternoon, in the tenements by the zoo, in the sprawling City of Q__
And notice in the duration one listens more sharply to find one’s station
A neighbor closer by, sleeping on his motorcycle and snoring
As a piece of evidence to obliterate; an adult, you understand
Whether or not you wish to, why when the police gun him down
To cleanse their so-called system, only the animals fuss over the shots.

2. Poverty

To be made a child as though one were a child
And recall the fun of its freedoms
By himself in a room with a table set for starvation
Cup noodles, portions of, other acquired tastes
For living on, as nearby a party does begin
He covers his ears, his eyes, everything was alright
Until the videoke hovered over the gleaming roasted pig—
He has no need for imagination now, and that is power.

3. Disbelief

To refuse one’s death with one’s death, it is useful to begin half-naked
As a body that does not beckon but that to the morally blind does
Even when disagreement has been signified with one’s entire being
Turning one’s body in a field into a corner of a room
That none escape art, the actress screaming despite her beauty
Which doesn’t save her in the film, it saves nothing and no one
As history is as real as she, in the sudden the orchestra stopped.

Explain the Millions

Explain the millions dead.
Explain the millions missing.
Explain the millions for?
Explain the millions who?
Explain the millions fooled.
Explain “too late to ameliorate.”
Explain “the choices of others.”
Explain knowledge, anger warping the night.
Explain truth?
Explain the little golden name.
Explain the booby prize.
Explain education. Explain one difficult choice.
Explain the millions of silence.

Politics and the Desired

To thank heaven when heaven is a chair at the end of it when
After days playing the fool, any chair at all would do, and then remember, no
To drop each prop, no—the flower-gun, no, the hat of ridicule, no
And reach the gloves of this careful work, no and no, slowly
That the young woman or man emerge, astounded by accomplishment when
The clown suit falls to the floor, then so does the wig, and so does the no.

Briefly on Democracy

We must banish the circus lion and bury our circus tent
We must loosen our ties and let the rejection of stricture end there
And dance the dance of the mirror the size of America
In unison until everything’s good and there’s no way out
From this which we know like democracy will never happen
Without slaves—with every cunt and penis voting.

Three Short Films about Human Rights

1. Mirrors

To notice how a kiss confesses fragility as to keep looking
At the mirror that he kissed, consider priority in this sequence
Although here it is collapsed, we see double seeing one,
It is a man tilting to kiss his reflection totally kisses him back
That vision slow down and you choose which eyes to look at—
A moral regarding images, happening only among humans and the mirror
Is blank, because it remembers only what it never saw.

2. Work

To one morning, to all mornings, to time, to waking
To getting up, to work, to the light that does its work, to safety
And no harm done, to the word “done,” to the vanity stripped from one
To the old rhymes old and new, to however many or however few:
To waking after waking, for the shell of life contains not an ocean
But a universe to wake to, inside and out facing
Whatever there is to face even when it says dumbly only yes.

3. Opacity

To remain cold means being neither insensate or insensible—
Ask any child how brief childhood’s filament anywhere is
And they might mention sleep, a time, or a scent also blurry
Of which they couldn’t be sure. What to say of forgetting?
Where did the candle go? Did something in the distance explode to say distance?
When there is no one to speak to as himself he will describe the furniture
Inscrutable, but to the ear tendering toward him, he will speak.

On the Didactic

To cry after aging makes not of tears the embellishment
To have cried after having aged, to silence one’s self revealing what after
All are implications, a curious word meaning layer, in
To remember with curiosity the comfort of where it lead and turn
To imply a further secret that intelligence imply for another
Another destiny yet, where neither I or they could go, sorrows
Tradition has never illuminated because its path goes elsewhere.

Delacroix Leading the People

The face you show upon instruction determines your place in history.
How you raise it to be slapped through is a love song loving conquest overmuch.
Come ye as an apprentice? No knowledge more flawed than an atelier thus divided.
Show me the face you wear when you wish to walk away, and I will show you a mirror:
It is a flag. Hand it now as we wait for wind, for by fabric we see and hear what we breathe.

Marc Gaba is an exhibiting artist who received his MFA in Creative Writing in 2005 from the University of Iowa's Writers' Workshop. His work is interested in the communal, while being critical of relational art. His most recent solos, all in Manila where he lives, include Property of Space and Good Morning Gotham in Artery Art Space; Days of Creation about Genesis and human political agency in Galleria Duemila; and Meryl Streep in Archivo 1984 Gallery. He would love to work with galleries in the US.

This originally appeared on October 8, 2017