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"How often the fiercest, the most autonomous American critics have been poets; from Emerson to Blackmur, from Burke to Hartman, many a discursion could be illustrated, even illuminated by reading the ulterior verse. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick is such another, and it will enrich certain enigmas she has proposed, as well as appeal to certain appetites she has awakened, to immerse in this element—fragmentary at its widest reach (a deconstructed Victorian 3-decker), healing at its most abrupt (‘the yard, the mud, the morning / in their new, punished clothes’), and ever searching for the makings of the dilemma. Such is the true poetics of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and of course it is the poetry as well."—Richard Howard
"Reading Fat Art, Thin Art is a thrilling experience. The publication of these poems will help to complete our picture of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick who, already recognized as one of the most extraordinary critics of her generation, now proves herself one of its truly innovative poets."—Maud Ellmann
"This is poetry of a great soul which presents to mind shapely and unmistakable presences brought very close to the eye. Fat Art, Thin Art is a work of poetic distinction and indispensable human use."—Allen Grossman
Who fed this muse?
not easy to supply, nor fun to love:
who powdered her behind and gave her food
the years when ("still a child herself almost")
her mother was too blue?
"Almost"—I was a child.
Blue, I was blue; even more I was green.
They mystified me too,
the red protuberant
organs hypertrophied with self-abuse
from which we thought back then
a muse like this emerged.
Her grandmother was willing, so I kept her,
lucky I could so choose.
My family fed this muse.
And it was in a suburb she was schooled,
like me, among assimilated Jews
in the American creed
that nothing could be very different from this
or much better. It could be much worse.
On TV she would watch the Museketeers.
At a parent-teacher conference, Mrs. Tarrant,
her fourth grade teacher, told me I didn't
"know what a treasure I had there" in her
which wounded me; who'd say such things for me?
And I minded that she went
so ardently to Mrs. Grove and Mrs. Wittman
and her friends Julie, Nancy, Don, Meganne, and Susy
and their moms, who she thought were wonder-moms.
For two years, I swear, she wouldn't let me
cook for her. I'd beg. She would refuse.
She acted like she thought I'd poison her—
that was the start of her terrifying revulsions.
(It's true, cooking was hard for me.)
And I, I always had to thank
the teachers and the friends who fed my muse.
I have to still; I want to.
Is there another story, a better story,
than the young muse in search of nurture, and finding it?
Today they'd call it an eating disorder
but I never heard of such another.
Greedier than a dog,
big-boned, rangy she grew up; was sometimes gaunt,
then fat—and those fat times
it was like somebody who hated her had tied
clumps of upholstery stuffing all around her frame.
The flesh fell off her just that easily, too. As if
she never quite digested
the things she ate—
not in the sense of storing them as muscle or as fat,
in some shape that would be her own shape;
say, she had no reserve.
It frightened me (I had my own "weight problem").
Her belly like a wineskin:
round, sometimes, as a kittenful of milk,
then the same day
slack like in a dustbowl photograph.
It meant that every person, all her life, who ever
stinted this muse one crumb
threatened (they didn't know it) her survival.
And every single hand that ever fed her, saved her life.
(Iciest of questions for a muse:
Is there any more where that came from?)
Of course, I was in love with her, a lot,
we were so close in age; but in the way of love
maybe it wasn't something she could use:
my eyes that dwelt then in her face;
the rhythm of my day
molded to her furies, her despondencies,
the gaiety of her, her way of switching
always ahead of me in her ragged right margin—
so I could never pay attention to my work.
Even today I've got nothing you'd call
"work habits," though I've worked so hard.
By the time she was 12
I was cemented to my muse's moods.
Maybe you'd say she didn't have a self?
But she would court me too!
There was this gruff, butch thing she'd do
like she was taking care of me in a scary world
that I ate up—who wouldn't?
Did I know
how all this grim sublimity
in the tight-budded, clumsy ingenue
could have been called as easily
depression as (what she would call it) speaking true?
Enough to worry: that, yes, I did know.
Worry, the only gift we always gave each other freely.
After that suburb, everything was news:
there we'd been used to always being used
to everything we saw. Not pleasure, okay,
but pleasantness, and plenty, a cautious plenty
we thought we could assume
—lucky we: almost imagined the world could—
and heterosexuals out the wazoo.
(Except at scout camp; what that place had been
for generations of baby lesbians
it was for her. And I, as well, was happy there.)
Later, after she'd run away from me
all those times I would wonder
sometimes how much her grueling aptitude
for silence and aversion
owed, maybe, to the domestic politics
of postwar—when the thing you asked your courage
would be, How to refuse?
How to go limp when you're hailed by the Law
in the shape of a state trooper with a dog;
to leave, like the Unfriendly Ten,
the names unnamed, to test your eloquence
in untestifying to the Committee.
A song my muse would like to sing
was, We shall not, we shall not be moved.
Except—another thing—she couldn't sing.
And with her bad feet, never learned to dance
through years and years of the lessons she liked
for the sociability, for all the pain....
She thought—and later our friend Hal would say it to her—
it was in her nature as she was born
to be elastic, even graceful; she somewhere had
a voice to sing that was mobile
and affecting, and she wouldn't (of herself) have knocked
things over all the time or jerked so much
from the strange deadness to the strange
propulsions; somewhere could carry a tune.
Which she both liked, and found it painful, to believe.
Because, then, what had happened?
What was the spell that bound her throat and feet?
Tampered was a word she often used,
with (implied) a point of interrogation trailing after.
Questions I couldn't answer,
story I can't tell. Even probably I don't know it,
like the story of her leaving me;
of all the times she left, and stayed away; let her
tell, she's the muse. (If she will.) The plainest fact:
for years, while she was homeless, I was housed.
Was nourished, and gave nurture. Had my own
queer enough aesthetic, it turned out.
Had even my own loves, which weren't all hers.
Fat amazon, found courage, such as it was,
including if I had to
the courage to survive her. Learned more about the shape
my own refusals took:
never to claim. Never to disavow.
And did she, those years, toil, and did she spin?
Whose was the sanctuary that took her in?
Supply that kept her synapses synapping,
maybe it was the care she always had with her
from friends we'd shared, or hadn't,
the old loves—old attention—dear praises from of old—
dearest of all, severity, sobrieties—
the chaste, and sometimes the delirious, things.
Some friends to me unknown.
Many I know so well that even now
they are "our" dear ones.
Some dead; some are estranged.
Many, even, I now fear that I've forgotten.
This morning somehow she was at my side again—
it seemed so natural,
an "I" I guess I am when she is there.
(But maybe not the old one; maybe an "I" that fed
as much on the longing for her,
on the body of her long refusal
to be with me.) She beckoned, she
enfolded me; enfolded me with her.
She took the coffee cup out of my hands.
I fell into it all,
the vat of her unmakings, her returns,
bottomless eyes, her halting narrow tongue,
all the old saturnine
ways whose only hint
of the Utopian is how she reckons
that somewhere in the making there are souls
she'll teach the skills of hearing her
silent No to the last
loamy and bitter reverberation.
Her presence seemed a promise to me, and I was happy.
* * *
So (Proust says), telling the truth
in our book
we lie in the dedication; but this one is no lie.
Only she and not I
(but here she is) as best she can,
gracelessly even, if graceless be her way
can proffer both our gratitude to those
beloved, who fed this muse.
Joy. He's himself today! He knows me!
No good outcomes with this disease
but good days, yes—that's the unit
for now, the day: good day, bad day.
From under the shadow
you wield this power to
be (or some days not to be) yourself,
to recognize and treat me as
(or some days not to), as myself.
Thus, to make me myself
by being recognizable to me;
not to unmake us both,
joining your sullen new friends.
Grave, never offering back the face of my dear,
abey: let me take some more pictures
from this dramatic low angle by the footstool,
pictures I won't be in,
his face homing toward mine.
Catch him mugging with his pretty sisters
(one cuts her eyes drolly away,
clearing a place to be sad)
—and wait, please,
for the i-Hr. Prints, then let me assemble
a big pseudo-David Hockney photo collage;
also hold on till I'm old enough to go instead,
even just tag along.
Guys who were 35 last year are 70 this year
with lank hair and enlarged livers,
and jaw hinges more legible than Braille.
A killing velocity—seen another way, though,
they've ambled into the eerily slow-mo
extermination camp the city sidewalks are.
In 1980, if someone had prophesied
this rack of temporalities could come to us,
their "knowledge" would have seemed pure hate;
it would have seemed so, and have been so.
It still is so.
Yet every morning
we have to gape the jaws of our unbelief
or belief, to knowing it.
The Navajo Rug
I wouldn't say that, delirious,
he's "not himself." Eye-dazzler
left to ruin on a loom
the weaver was forced to abandon,
he is here in the unfielded, blinding
patches of what's been himself,
and if you knew him, you can see it all.
The bolt of his graciousness
like lightning with no sky;
his fury, his very own fury—it is nonsense;
the dry, thrown storm of his ravishing sentence.
Rug that's still on the loom:
a writer, just turned 32.
Gary, have you ever heard of a deity,
maybe a Hindu one, who's an elephant?
I think he's blue. Who's a god of love
or trickster, turns up all over the place,
named, maybe, Ganesh?
Fever makes Gary formal.
"I believe that is correct." Then he resumes
exploring with his stuck-out tongue
the inside surfaces
of a bottle-green, hieratic snout
snapped on for oxygen
over his own, lovely snout,
ashen right now.
Because you know you look like that
(with the long large-bore, corrugated azure
transparent nozzle out
from the more than semitically noble green
muzzle of the thing
under the all-night ICU lights).
Also the new dances I see you
doing with your hands, so graceful,
so imperious, I'm never sure
whether you're inviting a hand to hold
(I hold one hand with him already) or
banishing some subject (me?) eternally
from your countenance.
(Or feinting at a gallantry
to distract me from
his unattenuable intent of plucking out
the insult of some tube—some needle.)
Gracious comes the response, but lethal.
"Must there be so much speech?"
Later I'm almost asleep in my chair
and Gary's fluid-swollen lids are dropping
over his green mask
and his magical blue trunk, and the dance
of the hands begins again
so elegant, and he specifies,
The dance is inimitable
because it is so refined
and it is going on at every level, all the time."
The Use of Being Fat
I used to have a superstition that
there was this use to being fat:
no one I loved could come to harm
enfolded in my touch—
that lot of me would blot it up,
the rattling chill, night sweat or terror.
I've learned that I was wrong.
Held, even held
they withdraw to the secret
scenes of their unmaking.
But then I think
it is true they turn away inside.
It feels so like refusal
maybe still there is something to my superstition.
For years it drove me crazy
your funny pudeur,
the way you would refer to "your condition"—
If he can't even say the words,
then how on earth's he ever going to....
What vengeful predicate
waited under my tongue?
"Your funny pudeur"—but today I cling
to my little phrase for you; think it
invokes the cheap and dear
indignity of the living
in "having traits."
"Does it feel to you like we're saying goodbye?"
"Are you crazy?"
But we were trying;
we hugged each other, and for a while we cried
because my car was waiting in the dark
morning, and Michael had decided now
was time for him to die.
The touching made us feel absurdly vital;
when we were done boo-hooing we just giggled.
"Is this what's called denial?"
"Oh, honey, denial's gotten us this far."
A honk in the snow outside.
—Oh, and he did say he liked my work,
he wanted me to keep on doing it.
Excerpted from Fat Art, Thin Art by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Copyright © 1994 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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