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The Elephants

Five Poems

Gillian Olivia Blythe Hamel


That I can feel whole in an organism I’d call family, whosever it is, feel accepted and understood and want for nothing, but still fall asleep to the same dumb desire. More and more aggressively I start to lead a bifurcated life. Awake, I feel comfortable, enjoy films, eat food. Asleep or even slightly drunk I fuck my way toward embodiment, progression, regaining happiness or trust I haven’t necessarily lost on the other side. That I could keep living on the other side, and what would I have to give up to do so: clawing through work to get back to something resembling myself I let the night in. How many façades can I pull up to distract myself from myself. I put on avatars of bisected men while I try to get children to interrupt gender binaries, or at least masculinity. I don’t want children so I don’t really know what I’m doing. The easiest thing is to back away. The easiest thing is I’m no longer capable of living easily, maybe never was. When I’m in a family I become no one, or that’s my most authentic self, one that can get out of its own way. It starts to sound like pop science: people who stand in their own way and here’s a list of what to do about it. Lest it’s the intellectual equivalent of banging my head against a wall or admitting I have a problem I don’t know how to specify. Depression isn’t that simple or I wouldn’t care about a specific kind of lyricism so much, if I could get it together to create something equivalent. What am I doing? To my ‘family’ I describe a life I don’t even live. That I’m directionless without a soundtrack. I can’t see anyone’s faces in dreams now and I cover my own just to keep the light out, just to stay in the night another hour and feel against myself. Or at least imagine my desire was alive, since I couldn’t imagine otherwise without outside help. His the only I could internalize. One day I’ll really tell myself all about it.


As an experiment, see if the bodies get out of the way. At some imperceptible point I perfected my murder gaze. It was when I decided that strangers should no longer desire me. And when I found my girl’s rage underneath a lot of smoke and precious introspection I recalled that all of us had our rage eclipsed by some dogmatic body. Mine sings through its vessel, but I don’t get to be him either, so I continue to not have a mouth. In the embarrassment of discovering my other I was only struck by her innocence. As if that’s what’s prized, while my proclivity trends upward into worn-out scumbags—not to compare. This its opposite, where lovers backslide into being brothers, as the kind of sentimentality I misread in its nakedness, and only because my feckless shape shuts down. When another’s muscles swell I become barely aware of myself, a further ecliptic. It’s only when the sound only fills me that I embody the maximal, the exceeding force that breaches other bodies and parts of the street: wear good shoes, square your shoulders, and walk like you’ve been sent to kill Captain America. Which was another woman wearing a man. So it’s that she was fully female, as I’ve been made to understand. And I’ve been made to understand that’s what is wanted, so wearing a costume, zipping up the body in its lingerie. What’s the analogue for explaining I’m an amalgamation that won’t stop becoming—a process being seen? A contemplation in formation? I write void in my blood to signify my deference to the absence, in a reality where gender isn’t really that big of a deal. Again, I stop trying to do what matters and go for the easy solutions. At the moment of my easement, others awaken. And so vanished by the accomplishments of others I get to realize my fullness, winding down to the best disappearances where I get to be as amateurish as I please, splitting my life down the binary, walking day to night where both awake and neither self gets to take over. It’s all outside the continuum. In pursuit of money as an honest hopelessness the honor comes in at refusing to be valued, disregarded to the mouth. For the value, your justification, comes in at the mouth, swinging its rhetoric at the face’s indetermination, what’s the ethic lost by the aesthetic. It’s what has the most to lose. Lord, and what of my wrath?


'No one gets the best of me; I keep that part to myself.’ Adversarial self-reckoning. Drunk and yelling in streets I’m not afraid of, I come down upon the fact of my rottenness. It’s an armor vest not just for my vulnerabilities, but whatever generosity or benevolence abides, thinking that those who deserve it are the only ones who deserve it. A rhetoric of exclusive extremes my behavior doesn’t actually endorse, but I must purge my goodness through binge-drinking and the aggressive dismissal of those I don’t care for. I’ll only love those who love me for it. That this would leave me to a revelation of aesthetics, I’m not sure it’s the time or place, but I can’t help thinking that at the end of the day I might have been born with a purpose. Rejecting purpose had come to be rejecting limbs or valves of the heart. My reflexive iteration breaks on the slightest disagreement with dailiness. I wanted to not grow up or I wanted to be already dead, but either way I wanted to pursue myself without authority—that is to say, with the freedom to revise myself whenever necessary. This, too, is a layer of it. When I drink or get fucked up it’s not to leave my body but to remember that I’m in it. Not to be responsible for my social conventions but merely a talking mouth, a moving ass. Santa Rosa boys broke my erudition but my ego rose out of the brickwork. This time, not the affirmation of desire. It looks like my worst qualities lit up in the southern night made me complete and admirable. Screaming on the wrong end of the 101—disarticulate in the north, but at least I was going north—I shut the book on all those stupid men. ‘I’ve finally a taste—words fall from my ellipses’—his erudition endures, as does my swelling internal. I know we both have to put our rage to something like language—not exactly, but askance of the articulate and without brevity. I’m sure I forgot how to dream of putting my mouth on a mouth. I don’t need it, but I like it. On the cusp of the exit I know I crave but don’t know closure, and I’ll probably need to keep helping, but I shouldn’t stop being so grounded in the wash of substance abuse. It lets me know I’ve still got somewhere to be. Which is to say, I’m surrounded by my brothers and not quite dead, but I know where the ending goes, probably. Not to any of them but to the endless reflection. I feel like I’d finally know about repetition, its amorous organ. Mine on my back when the room’s empty, I’m not here to replace anyone but to radiate in all directions from my linear trajectory, which is to say, my time. Both old and ageless, I finally arrived, which is to say, I became visible, which is to say, no one took particular notice of me.


I’m as easy as falling asleep, a version of me said. We’re never far from the ocean. I don’t know what any of it means, but I know I’m closer to myself. I like to say that I am but in all honesty I don’t know that’s a fact either—in solitary consciousness I take the facts at face value, having none to corroborate or counterpose, but I’ve never named my own reality. I’ve lacked the instrument. And what, was I supposed to find its anthem in the pettiness of the page, to realize that my own loud voice was just the permutations of those I’ve loved best, that all my imitations are cheap? I know what I sound like in a vacuum. It’s dead, yes. The warping of physical material as it moves and ages. I long for the woods, or for x person, or whatever—my impulses are purely comedic, my sincerity’s a trope. Thank whoever it is to blame. I’ve thought a lot about moving through the grounds of my education at night, stealing back my heritage in boxes, even as I purge them on daily trips to the recycling center. Now my home feels thousands of miles away, which is to say, 100, which is to say, I finally don’t have one. With the only satisfaction of my craft in setting type, I’m free to bang out the clumsiness of what I’d like to become once I find a moment to shirk my fealty to those who need me most. My watch never ends. I find reference after reference to burning letters, papers, which I did too, if not concurrently, at least in the fictiveness of relation which may have been for him real, but I only know the machinations of gesture. I forgot how to describe it. I’ll never go back to the woods, ‘but I don’t know when’—as I finally fell asleep, I was presented with the regression of my options and their worst competitor, turning and turning on the wrong streets for the confrontation. When I’ve no one to share myself with but myself, I know perfectly what I want, which is for the words to enter me. A name becomes an incantation, and I’m set aflame by the recollection. I do find my own speech going north, or at least its sonorous quality. Whether that means I belong, I’ll have to find my own way to the woods, my own idiot to make love to, with the shape of my own mouth or hair soliciting words to a name to say yes, half my life later, I’m still nowhere and I like it like that.


For all my lovers were flight lines, or at least aspirational. I can’t live an entire life in my sleep but I can repeat the beginning over and over again. And my dumb heart repeats and repeats. ‘Clambered past that sylvan edge’ and found no one on the other side. Symbolism and mothers arrived. The country is as empty as I remember it. I don’t know what I expected to find. Letting him out of my mouth brought me closer to the man, which is to say, I found the language to explain him in me. And I wondered who else would speak my language. And the language became much simpler and I forgot which direction to look in to find the sun, hanging towels over the mirrors. The polarities reversed. A bridge became the largest structure I’d see in days and it contains no more fantasy. What occurred to me was that each place is its opposite’s playground, circling its drain. No one belongs anywhere and no one lives in the woods. I thought I’d walk my own lefthand path, forgetting what was on my left hand even as I kept alluding to it, and what happened was I shut up for a while, not believing what I’d inked in skin. In what I realized was my native flora I relearned to breathe. Now anywhere the buildings are too close together I can’t. I keep pushing the woods out into the space between walls, against my own manifesto, or more likely what was manifesting since I learned I could go outside the fence. The bareness of new terrain laid me out, even as my brain was dumb and herbal, reminiscent sucking ash over the domesticated dead, and I think a lot about the objects of my twinning, try to keep dwelling in the place from which they both came. And realize I am loved by the most perfect animal, an animal goodness, undeservedly, whose clearer shape I can’t even identify. The furthest ring hovering and embracing. My potentiality isn’t biological, but limitless, wherever paradoxic matter abides: materials for an unlined if self-determined narrative. ‘If you can take my chaos, baby, I’ll map your terrain.’

Gillian Olivia Blythe Hamel’s work has appeared in VOLT, jubilat, The Volta, and The Offending Adam, and was recently featured in the Aesthetic Blitz exhibition from the Asian American Women Artists Association. Her first book, occident, is forthcoming from Called Back Books in 2017. She is managing editor at Omnidawn Publishing and editor of OmniVerse. Gillian also co-publishes speCt!, a chapbook series and book arts imprint, with Peter Burghardt and Robert Andrew Perez. She lives in Oakland, California

This originally appeared on May 7, 2017