R.S. Armstrong is a New York based artist and writer whose manuscript Phrasebook for the Unrequited Country was a 2009 semifinalist for both the Walt Whitman Award and the Beatrice Hawley Award. Poems from the manuscript have appeared in Post Road, AgniOnline, Seneca Review, Salamander, and failbetter, among others. The Brooklyn Rail recently published an article about Garment Worker, an ongoing conceptual project. Her studio work this year has included beginning a new manuscript of poems, finalizing the project Sound Diaries, and continuing to work with late medieval texts about gender switching to generate both visual and written material.
Image credit: Joel-Peter Witkin, Un Santo Oscuro, with permission, Courtesy Catherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago
Excerpt from Phrasebook for the Unrequited Country:
The Doctrine of the In Between
The translator wants to experiment.
I am working at verbs: to hustle, to humble
to honor, to hone.
He says: in another language bowing down
is either more or less possible.
What verb, I say, articulates this difference?
He says to mourn.
I keen. This is it, the moment
I let go of the language. Yes,
he says. With feeling.
Just not your feeling.
I wish to be lost.
I want to turn back for the gun.
I can’t be the one in front, wielding the blade.
I wish to turn back.
I will to be lost.
Here, he says. Take this body.
He hands me a dead fish
and a knife.
In the street the tiny soldiers play at war.
I, too, had a wooden gun. I, too, of the Sinners
of the First Order of Ignorance, though I try
at repentance, at repair.
In the game you can switch sides but only once.
Rules to be made up as you go along and enforced
by all means possible. This includes but is not limited to
discussion and agreement, refusal to behave otherwise, force.
I pile my stones at the fortress.
I dream of drifting downriver.
I make food for the journey
out of mud and ash.
Santo makes a fist of what he knows.
When I see him he is never whole.
I, too, am partial. In the sweep of narrative
we are neither of us in control. He has a sister
Release, I have a child Unknown. Sometimes
I think he knows more and will not say.
We are each of us too multiple to hone.
This is modernized homelessness, the ache
full-on in the bathtub, in the breeze.
The words slip. We are only words.