Sunday, October 11, 2020

32: A Birthday Poem


I turned 32 at the beginning of this month, and like every year I used that as an opportunity to make a gift for the internet. Since it's the tenth time I've done this, and my age is now the age I started doing it in reverse, I decided to respond to the poem I wrote in 2011 to get this tradition kicked off. Enjoy, if you wanna.

Bonus Thoughts:

The roughest part of this was revisiting the previous poem repeatedly, and how clear it seems to me that that poem was about desperately attempting to have a libidinal investment in masculinity (all while being the witchiest thing I've ever put together, or ever will, in all likelihood, weirdly enough) cloaked in a sort of preemptive mourning. It was anticipating 2012 (the end of the Mayan Calendar!) and testament to how much Shea & Anton Wilson's The Illuminatus! Trilogy affected me some three or four years before.

The central conceit actually comes from (my memory of) an appendix in that book. I have no particular interest in reading it again, so my memory will have to do. The Law of Fives comes up repeatedly throughout the novel, and is explained in the appendix (again, according to my memory at least) in a particularly material way: a human hand, more often than not (and culturally, certainly) has five fingers. Numerology finds fives in the world because we interact with the world through a thing that has five digits. In my memory, the book has a line about how if we were all born with six fingers, we would find sixes. It's a clever trick, and a false one, of course, but it stuck with me (and my understandings of it have certainly changed as my understandings of ableism and body normativity have).

Otherwise: thank you to Fergy for leading the life you did; to many friends for being there for me when I feel like I deserve it least; to my own fucked brain for putting in the work even when you're in total freefall; and to all of you out there on this cursed internet for accepting my gifts, sometimes.

Full text:


I turn 32 today.

An unimportant year.

Hope it kills me.

But who knows,

the revolution might work slow.

(This is ten years of birthday gifts, and a response

to whoever the fuck wrote a poem when they turned 23

that inverted into me.)

Do you remember the law of fives?

It's a fucking lens, but

the world does not want to be seen.

It's entirely too much, and it hurts to stare straight in the face...

But from 5 you can touch anything.


I lost a friend this year.

The one whose name I was called, once, while giving head.

We hadn't spoken in a few years. I never came out to him

I don't think. All the grief I've managed

is: a short eulogy, a compilation of his music,

and the occasional Denogginizer. Every time

I drink one it's in his honor, and every time

I drink one it's suspecting

that he probably didn't share my memory

of sharing one with him, many years ago,

on his recommendation. It was a small moment,

nothing special, but it serves now.

And I will never be able to confirm my suspicion.

[[[I wanted to quote Fergy here,

but in all our archives

it's just him sharing things

and me


to respond

to them.

No quotes.]]]


When I say "I" in a poem, does it mean five things?

It means, one, the body that typed this, that speaks it,

that exists in the world with a history and a projection toward

the (no) future.

It means you, too, the listener hearing me say it,

the reader being interpolated, the I in your head.

It means, three, the unholy, perhaps unwanted

trinity; the you and the I made one,

the apotheosis of us through language.

Does it mean four? If it means four, it means it

aspirationally. Striving. The I who has inverted.

The I that the first I cannot,

but has to, believe in. The I that the first I

is pleading the second I to believe in, to recognize.

The I that might return out of that trinity, that

third I.

But can it touch the world? Can it make five?

Can I touch anything?

[[[That other pronoun - the "they" - helps.]]]


If that 23 year old got anything right, it was

loving communities, and being unable

to conceptualize property.

I own more things today than I ever have.

Two handfuls of kitchen equipment,

a bed frame. No

assets, no car or home or

stock or career or stable drive

toward life, but still more. I wonder:

if I ever do own, will I learn to miss?

Or is that just the commodity fetish?

Do you remember the commodity fetish?

It's a consequence of the mode of production -

capitalism -

where relationships between people

are obfuscated into relationships between things.

A fun game:

take a look around, and guess how many people are hiding.

Take this handmade Hello Kitty. Oli is hiding in it

they made it and gave it to me. To make it

they needed fabric, lace, buttons, stitches, stuffing.

That's at least a couple factories. They needed to know

how to stitch, where to get these things.

At a rough estimate, I'd say this handmade Hello Kitty

hides at least a dozen people. Except.

That's only counting the people who immediately touched it in some way.

Because each of those people was shaped

by people who took care of them when they were sick

laughed with them when they were sad

fed them;

each was shaped by people who exploited them,

turned their bodies into laboring abstractions

profited off of stolen time

preyed on moments of weakness.

It's not quite true that

everything is everyone



In tabletop roleplaying saying is doing,

doing is being, and being

is agreeing to a story, together.

A story, of course, is a collection of people

alchemizing the raw material of rules, lines,

randomness, and interpersonal histories

into models of relationships,

imaginary social structures,

expressions of joy or regret

and tests of the limits of plausibility.

[[[If this poem is testament

to a decade of doing,

it might run the risk of erasing

the fact that this has been a decade of personal failure.]]]

So I seized on one of the stories that tabletop roleplaying games tell.

"To do it, do it."

If you're in a fight, don't say

"I roll to attack."


"Backed into a corner I:

Swing my battle axe (or)

Release poisonous spores (or)

Fall in love (or)."

To do it, do it.

Tell the story together, with trust.

It's the only phrase that's ever managed

to orient me toward something resembling

a future. Because a told story

becomes a story remembered;

a clean kitchen one to cook in.

And because, like every other bit of this poem,

it is a way of being against atomization.

[[[A decade of personal failures can only be stomached

if you can abandon the personal.]]]


Five lies at the center of the mystical hub

not because it has any special properties of its own,

but because

of its relationships.

Any time you find the need to do some arcane pattern-finding

you convert everything according to numerological norms.

At first, the fives will be scarce.

But if you break it down just right

you'll always end up with a five.


This decade of hello kitty horror games

and albums and podcasts

and other gifts is a decade

of crises of capital producing

austerity and death, generalized precarity,

proletarianizing. It's a decade of

militancy repeatedly crushed by agents of the state

and their militias. It's a decade that

cuts off at the beginning of covid.

But we're avoiding the question.

Can I touch anything?

Is there a fifth I after

the author, the reader,

the apotheosis, and the aspiration?


"I" can't touch anything.

"You" can, though.

And we must.

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