These poems appear in our Summer 2019 issue. Subscribe now to get the next issue of Jewish Currents in your mailbox.
The lyric “I” is often read as the expression of an individual’s interior, that most private and particular space. In Simon Crafts’ poems, where the boundary between the self’s body and the body politic is porous, the “I” is a shiftier entity. What “starts as graffiti”—the rogue marks of a single life—“by the end of a day . . . is law,” the mappings of state power. Yet, these poems do not chart a future foreclosed by authoritarianism. Rather, in conflating the language of individual agency with the language of authoritarian control, Crafts opens space for new social forms to emerge.
– Claire Schwartz
I declare myself a state—my constitution scribbled on my palm & up my arm. It starts as graffiti. Missives overflow the walls of me & by the end of a day it is law. It is smeared & smudged. My ideals are made illegible by diplomatic groping. I am already lost—that’s fine. My economy is bad—that’s fine. The potential is clear. The constitution will remain in crisis. I am losing my hair. A plaza opens up at the top of my head & people fill it. I feel them crawling. I hear them begging. Revolution is multiplying beneath my skin. My cells are radicalizing. I obscure them with a crown. My desires are dangerous. They become a war. They become a larger prison. They become an abandoned food court. Dying is the best thing I can do—so I do it. I make myself a fire. A kid runs away with my ashes. A kid writes my name on a building. A kid muddies his palm with the grime of my immolation. He finds a dictator to shake hands with. He declares himself a state.
I wish I was a better instrument of my feeling. There is so much self that gets in the way. The faltering machinery of my mouth—the rude figure of my body sketched by sunlight. The strained circuitry of my convictions. A common practice is something we all engage in. I am living with my death. I am participating—I understand there is hugeness I’m missing. In the privacy of ourselves it’s clear. It’s only a thin layer of skin that keeps it contained—that prevents us from spilling into one another. That’s what I want the most—that boundary to recede & fail. A stillness that is agitated. A surface tension that becomes so disturbed that it will never be able to collect itself again. I wish it was obvious. The sky coming down on our heads. The ocean filling our vision.
Simon Crafts is a poet and bookseller from San Francisco. He shares a birthday with Walter Benjamin.