Excerpts from Jessica Baran’s poetry manuscript, Common Sense, a finalist for the 2015 TS Book Prize.
Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness
– Thomas Paine
C’EST LE GUERRE
Sense is rarely made when plummeting. Some directions
are never foreseeable, like the bitterness parade
in which speech undresses. Our place
ages, somewhere between the mysteriously gored rabbit
and its hind-leg remains, a port between hallowed and suburban
via commuter train. None of it provides complimentary service.
None so much as every minute deserves re-articulation, like candied
orange-rinds’ echoic taste, or the milliseconds spent privately
salivating over what’s past. Licked. A snow owl’s white wingspan
casting CGI shadows all over drug use. A serif font used unwittingly
to etch your personality into marble while you couldn’t
count to twelve. Your hell is experimental art, a whorl
of perpetual reoccurrence. Yours was not cellular
but a cell. We’re talking cyberspace and correctional facilities. His
was not an actor’s life but a refugee’s cliché. No shame in knocking
on mahogany doors. Go ahead and ask another angry question.
Manual labor begs to be recalled on vinyl, not satellite. His red rose
is a dead rose mottled in raindrops—another person’s
sad lyric, like your wept-over investment portfolio. Wandering
in your mind for a lost language isn’t a novel ambition.
Just try it again, with more heart this time.
There is a lot to say about sex. The assailant’s race and gender resembled yours when walking at night in a hooded sweatshirt. Stephanopoulos conducted the interview on the red and blue-blotched flatscreen, hedging with something like, “All steps fall lightly on ice.” And you remembered seeing your car on fire, thinking it only a hedge wrapped in blinking red and blue Christmas lights.
(A series of erasures of Zoe Leonard’s “I Want a President,” 1992)
I want a president with no place to start.
I want a lover for president.
I want for president a person with no place to lay down.
I want a vice that isn’t lost in therapy.
I want a fag with no health insurance and who respects mistakes as a boss.
I want everyone to read Thoureau’s “On Civil Disobedience.”
I didn’t want a president but I got one.
I grew saturated with choice and lost every committed line.
I want someone for president I met in a hospital.
I lay in air-conditioning and want someone who is a clown.
I lay in tombs and want someone who is a thief.
I want a dyke in place of a lover who sees love as obedience.
I want some place that has survived with no presidents.
I waste time dying to be president
I want insurance for this mistake.
I want I want I want I want I want I want I want I want I want I want I want I want I want I want I want I want.
I want rest from want.
I want a lesser evil.
I want less to burn.
I am always caught.
I want for president no one who knew.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jessica Baran is the author of two poetry collections: “Equivalents” (Lost Roads Press, 2012 — winner of the Besmilr Brigham Women Writers Award) and “Remains To Be Used” (Apostrophe Books, 2010), as well as the chapbook “Late and Soon, Getting and Spending” (All Along Press, 2012). She is the director of fort gondo compound for the arts, a nonprofit alternative art space in St. Louis, MO. Her poetry and art criticism have appeared in Art in America, Artforum.com, A Public Space, Aufgabe, the Awl, BOMB, the Boston Review, and Poor Claudia, among other publications. More about her writing and curatorial work may be found here: jessicabaran.com.
Common Sense is a collection of skew ekphrastic poems that frequently converses with select contemporary artworks without wholly aligning itself with them. Rather, the perceived world, both quotidian and crafted, is a platform for interior negotiations — professional, sexual, and political. While the speaker in this book is easily wooed by new knowledge and aesthetics, they ultimately seem to long for a kind of historical throwback to simpler forms and problematics.