smokedark vacuum



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smokedark vacuum
in the void
a whole lot of floating
old old light
shimmering and shifting
hot gas and the ice tails
not a sound out [t]here
our little rock
on some sort of mission
or something [maybe?]
and our nearest non-sun lightballs are
a triple-star system
with videogameish names
in a neighborhood
on the far, far side of town

*   *   *

yaxkin says:

01111010 01110101 01101100 00100000 01101111
00100000 01110011 01100101 01100111 01110101
01101110 01100100 01100001 00100000 01110101
01110100 01101001 01101100 01101001 01100100
01100001 01100100 00100000 01100100 01100101
00100000 01110101 01101110 00100000 01101100
01101001 01100010 01110010 01101111

or

zul o segunda utilidad de un libro

or

thgil or second use for a book

01110100 01101000 01100111 01101001 01101100
00100000 01101111 01110010 00100000 01110011
01100101 01100011 01101111 01101110 01100100
00100000 01110101 01110011 01100101 00100000
01100110 01101111 01110010 00100000 01100001
00100000 01100010 01101111 01101111 01101011

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and so we make books
to reflect back light
to mirrorize and constellate
[web]pages
with words and images
to situate ourselves
in the populated emptiness
scales
on a fish
in a snarled mesh
of gravitational
nets
hooked through the mouth by a trawl line
that’s mutually attractive
far reaching
universal
and the weakest known force in nature

but mostly
on the day-to-day
we’re earthlings
and there’s junk mail
and bar chords
and corner bars
and clinic wait times
and non-profit politics
and 6-foot-long worm-shaped birthday cards
hanging in the mesquite tree
and white chocolate [yuk]
and the white right [yuk yuk]
and glitter [in the ocean]
and soft serve ice cream
and comedy specials
and grandmas and cousins and schoolmates
who die
every day
and

we’re here on earth

and the baby-faced assassin
on juan wauters’ DF t-shirt
steals s. beckett’s words right from his mouth
to tell us
eye bloody
pupils flinty

there’s no cure for that

so
hi there
neighbor
we’re alive
now
and I don’t know
why
we’re alive
now
and some days
I look at my mother
and I pull up my shirt
and I point to my innie
and say
“mom, this is how we used to talk”
and she looks at me
and wonders if the nurses
on the delivery floor
at 12th and mcdowell
played a prank on her
and left her
all those years ago
with the only belly-buttoned alien on this earth

but
enough chitchat
the point is
[alien or not]
we’re here

here

on one of many possible planets
together

now

at one of many possible times
and it can feel so existential
and it can feel so junior-high profound
and it can also feel so “who cares”
and I already struggle to sleep
and the whole space thing is sometimes too cerebral
so instead I think of nikky finney
who talks about poetry as working with her hands
and I’ve felt that when I read her
when I watch her


I’ve felt that from jocelyn at the tj zine fest and
from mary hope at the cartonera collective and
from vida and chawa and lita and jeff and raji and
miriam and marlyn and claudia and felix and
claudina and maggie and giancarlo and yaxkin and
janice and elena and sean and lizzie and omar and
emmett and jen and jd and naima and maricela and
david and mick and clottee and noa/h and etc and

and what i feel is
alive
we’re talking

alive

i.e. toward the source
pulsing with something that feels central
slime-mold primordial
not the scenecreds or the coolpoints
something binding
interdependable
breathe-in-able

alive

so when I say I don’t’ believe in god[s]
I don’t feel empty for it
I feel full of whatever this is
something to do with friendship
and writing
and sharing
and reaching
and finding
ourselves

alive together

spinning and rotating and breathing
each most recent breath
one moment closer to
a time when we won’t breathe
but still will be together
still
spinning and rotating
with everyone’s
dead, living, and soon-to-live
bits
floating

on a rock

this rock

in space

right now

forever [?]

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Ryan Greene

What is the significance of this work to you?

In the early months of 2020, I began working on a digitally-mediated, poetic project called SPACE ROCK. One of the first pieces that took shape was “smokedark vacuum.” Broadly speaking, SPACE ROCK is an exploration of faithstuff prompted by conversations with my partner, who is deeply rooted in a defined, god-based faith. I, on the other hand, am not. Being in this multi-year, inter-belief relationship has, for the first time in my life, made me think about myself as an “unbeliever,” which is a word that doesn’t taste right in my mouth. There’s an implied vacancy or void that doesn’t square with what I feel inside. SPACE ROCK, in many ways, has emerged from my attempts to sketch the contours of this “non-void.” It has also become a collaborative project with contributions from nearly thirty friends and loved ones. 

Within the context of SPACE ROCK, “smokedark vacuum” serves as a compass and a celebration. It has been a way for me to identify some of the tethers that keep me grounded and hopeful as we hurtle through the cosmic vacuum and contend with the horror(s) of our societal garbagefire(s). It has also allowed me to reflect on the power/potential of writing/translation to create/strengthen/expand community. This poem is about naming that power/potential and sharing my full-throated gratitude for the people in my life who have allowed me to experience it firsthand. 

What is the significance of the form you chose for this work?

“smokedark vacuum” is an audio/visual poem that incorporates text, music, and a constellation of hyperlinks which connect to photos, videos, digital downloads, and webpages. Given the poem’s thematic focus on interconnection, it felt important to me that the formal elements allowed for—and encouraged!—connection across media and genre. For instance, the very first line of the poem links to an audio file that accompanies the text, and a line further down links to an interactive “clickbait sonnet” that I wrote this spring. I wanted the poem to be an open invitation to swirl.  

In addition to exploring hybridity at a formal level, I was interested in using “smokedark vacuum” to disrupt the boundary between authorship and translation. Specifically, I included a sequence of binary code taken from a poem called “Blog” by the Mexican poet Yaxkin Melchy. I’ve been translating the book this sequence comes from (El nuevo mundo I [The new world I]), and it has been fun to plant “seeds” of Yaxkin’s work in my own, watching to see what grows. In this case, I started with his short binary sequence, decoded it into Spanish, translated that Spanish phrase into English, and then “retranslated” the English into binary code. Additionally, I treated the binary sequences as musical scores, and recorded two complementary versions to provide an auditory experience of reading—not just skimming over –but actually reading and listening to the binary code. Experimentation like this has been a nourishing way for me to engage more deeply with Yaxkin’s poetics while moving beyond the traditional binary of author/translator.

What was the process for creating this work?

This poem has been a slow burner. It started with a written draft of the text followed by subsequent modifications, massages, and re-imaginings over more than half a year. At the same time as I was writing the early versions of “smokedark vacuum,” I was translating the poem “Blog” by Yaxkin Melchy, which I mentioned above. What I love about the binary sequence in his poem is that it takes a phrase that could be read easily by us humans and “translates” it into a language that is easy for computers, but not for us. Thus, the (human) reader is forced to either skip over the section, treating it as simply a visual marker of “computer language,” or slow down entirely to decode it, thus revealing the book/mirror message within. In this way, our normal speed/pace of reading is fundamentally disrupted. 

As I was translating Yaxkin’s binary sequence into its “English” equivalent, I began to think about other ways to encourage the reader to slow down and “read” rather than skip over the sequence. This is when I decided to treat the binary code as a score and record two musical versions (with the English and Spanish in harmony). I thought that listening would create another “slow” way to “read” the binary code – an additional layer of translation. During this recording process, I decided to plant Yaxkin’s sequence into my own poem, since he is someone who embodies the community-rooted, access-prioritized poetics that I wanted to celebrate in “smokedark vacuum.”  

After all of this initial drafting and “transplanting,” I finally began to experiment with the full-length audio version of “smokedark vacuum.” Tinkering around on my partner’s laptop, I tried to create a sonic texture that was in conversation with the visual presentation of the poem. On screen, there is white text against a mostly dark background with some smears of light appearing several stanzas in. The photo itself is of light streaming in through a bedroom window. But at the scale it appears on screen, it mimics a cosmic backdrop for the letters/stars. This mixed sensation of insomnious, late-night light and telescopic star spattering was what I hoped to capture in the final audio recording. We’ll see if it translates ☺

Ryan Greene is a translator, poet, and bookmaker from Phoenix, Arizona. He’s the instigator behind F*%K IF I KNOW//BOOKS, and he’s translated work by Claudina Domingo, Elena Salamanca, Ana Belén López, Giancarlo Huapaya, and Yaxkin Melchy, among others. His translations have found a home in places like Asymptote, Tripwire, and The Revolution (Relaunch). His translations of selected poems by Ana Belén López appear in the bilingual chapbook rojo si pudiera ser rojo // red if it could be red (Anomalous Press, 2019). Since 2018, he has facilitated the Cardboard House Press Cartonera Collective bookmaking workshops at Palabras Bilingual Bookstore.