The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2018

All Issues
MAR 2018 Issue




Sigma Sound

Face of the pop star

I look at trying

to discern in

his drug-drawn

androgyne mask

a map out

of my marriage.

“Never no turning back”

he sings unambiguously

from a Philadelphia studio

in nineteen-seventy-something,

my thin, white oracle.





It’s true: I don’t

even know what

you taste like,

knowledge my tongue

-- alternately swimming

in the bubbling condensation

of desire and

dry with fear of

what temple-collapsing

chaos would ensue

if it did touch you

-- doesn’t have.

Yet there’s so much

I already know:

the list of traumas

physical conditions

and terrible failings

you have handed to me

and to which I have

so poorly replied with

any catalogue of my own

unscrubbable blemishes.

But your point was

how little any of

that matters

next to the

other kind of fact

that would be

added to our mutual list

only at the moment

delayed daily

with ever-increasing


of contact.






telling you what I think about the Joselit essays

telling you if I’ve heard Yo La Tengo’s album Painful

and which track is my favorite

and whether we can make another poem-painting

and why I like ‘60s figurative painting

but not the Leipzig School.


I’ve never heard Painful

but I have a feeling that space

will soon open up for a listening session,

songs ferrying the meaning of its title

directly into me,

songs I haven’t yet heard,

songs or what they represent,

the seizing emotions they’re tagged with,

that I haven’t listened to for a very long time.


Songs I haven’t listened to for a very long time.

not because I didn’t have the time

but because I didn’t want

to listen to an album titled Painful.


Now I have the time to tell you

what I think about that,

except that I can’t tell you.





And so I have known

perfect union

and so I always will have known

perfect union

and so you and I will always have known it,

this miracle rescued

from our hundred years’ wait.





Several months after Bowie’s death,

driving through the city

I now think of as your city,

everything I see fills me with tenderness:

a backed-up intersection,

a chain pharmacy, a skyline

clogged with the leftover trophies

of forgotten oil booms.

This must be what it’s like to inhabit a symbolist imagination.

Dipped in love, and surmounted by a tear-shaped flame.

I cue up Station to Station on my iPod.

On Studemont heading toward Washington

the opening riffs of “Stay” leap out of my Corolla’s speakers

and I start to cry.

Carlos Alomar is spelling out your name with his guitar.

Carlos Alomar is spelling out our names with his guitar.

An overflow of joy in my eyes

for our twined “I”s.





Some old poem

in me wanting

to be written


too many years

waiting for you

while not knowing

who I was waiting for


missing piece

of a puzzle

fitting snugly

in the space

waiting for it

space empty

for so many years



a sentence too

enormous to finish

as I try to understand

why I could

sustain myself with

lies and silence

with the unsaid

and the untouched

and what it is about

you that makes

that space of

separation no

longer necessary


Some old poem

in me wanting

to be written,

a poem of

lyrical gestures


brimming with magical thought

suitable for engraving

into the fine wood of a guitar

held in the hands

of the one I love





No time for poetry

Time for more poetry

Nightmare election

Thugs and thieves given the keys

Nightmare election

Of myriad trumperies

Word that comes from Middle French

Tromper, which means to deceive

As in trompe l’oeil

Fooling the eye

Thus trompe le peuple

Fooling the people

Or at least an angry

Minority of them

No time for poetry

Time for more poetry

That says this will not stand

The rollback of every inch toward

Justice traveled

Since I was born

From Birmingham to Stonewall Inn

Nightmare election

What did we do wrong?

What did I do wrong?

What lessons of history

Did we misread


American greed?

How to explain

This debacle to

Daughters and sons?

Or make it right?

No time for poetry

Someone said,

Maybe me, maybe you

Mourning someone dead

In Charlottesville

After all, how many Nazis

Can a poem kill?

Time for poetry

Another said

Because the page is

The poet’s field

Where he or she

Can take a knee.

Time for more poetry

If only to say

This will not stand

And won’t be

Our legacy



Raphael Rubinstein

Raphael Rubinstein is the New York-based author of The Miraculous (Paper Monument, 2014) and A Geniza (Granary Books, 2015). Excerpts from his recently completed book Libraries of Sand about the Jewish-Egyptian writer Edmond Jabès have appeared in BombThe Fortnightly Review and 3:AM Magazine. In January 2023, Bloomsbury Academic will publish a collection of his writing titled Negative Work: The Turn to Provisionality in Contemporary Art. Since 2008 he has been Professor of Critical Studies at the University of Houston School of Art.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2018

All Issues