Thursday, June 20, 2024

Alex Cuff, Common Amnesias


The road to becoming less disgusting is a long one but doable
Is what my Tinder profile says
I’m on the toilet swiping left and right
I schedule an event in my Google Calendar for October
Hello from March things aren’t so great
I try to write a poem and am like oh hi mom and dad
All my poems are about a shame so deep I didn’t shit for two weeks in
The field is dead or built over or really far away or too expensive or
    there’s not enough time
I give myself my first enema (“DESIRE”)

The full-length poetry debut by Brooklyn poet and No, Dear cofounding editor Alex Cuff, following Family, A Natural Wonder (Reality Beach, 2017) and I Try Out A Sentence to See Whether I Believe (Ghost Proposal, 2020), is Common Amnesias (Brooklyn NY: Ugly Duckling Presse, 2024). Set in four poem-sections—“Family, A Natural Wonder,” “How Are Your Bowels?,” “Even Robocop Dreams of His Assassins” and “I Try Out a Sentence to See Whether I Believe”—the quartered accumulations that make up Common Amnesias document a cluster of first-person statements, clarifications, declarations and explorations, composed as monologues against the potential for disappearing completely. “I write sentences while standing / Because I have sprayed dissolved magnesium / All over my lower body,” part of the second section writes. The poems are loose, fragmented, intimate, declarative and ragged, declaring themselves, however uncertain, as a point of being. “I dream the Guggenheim Museum drifts down the East River on a barge / Followed by the 6th Avenue Jefferson branch of the library,” she writes, as part of the opening sequence, “The subject of my anxiety shifts and lands on what is most socially palpable / I take the advice of several friends who say it is ok to not get out of bed // The contradiction of my own brain    take it easy girl    get the fuck off the floor [.]”

I have time
I eat a burrito at the Parade Grounds
Go to the dollar store
Find a glass bowl with a lid for school lunches
I spend the month abstaining
Abstain from alcohol in July
Abstain from alcohol for most of July
I purchase a blue translucent plastic spray bottle from Duane Reade
I make this purchase with great hope and promise
Spray my thighs in dissolved magnesium
I infuse herbs and drink tea
Tulsi & wood betony
Yellow dock & fennel
Burdock & prickly ash
I have time on my hands
I lose ground and wrestle
I mistake privilege for symptoms
I mistake the outside for the inside (“How Are Your Bowels?”)

I’m fascinated by Cuff’s curious accumulations and linguistic twirls and twists, curlicues of sound, texture and meaning in lovely, small phrase-gestures, offering intimate fractures and confession. There is something about Alex Cuff’s work that feels closer to work produced through Futurepoem, somehow, than with ugly duckling (although perhaps my perception, from this geographic distance, may be flawed); it is through the ongoing and fragmented lyric narrative fracture that distracts, I suppose, one that holds despite every suggestion that it probably shouldn’t. As the second poem-section ponders: “I meditate on the relationship between constipation and fear of a lover’s / fear of anal [.]” Or, as she includes in the final sequence:

I read a story about a man who struggles to support his consumptive wife
    and her long ropes of hair by digging graves and collecting scrap metal.
I thought it was a bad story but find myself wondering where I can get a
    wife with long ropes of hair.
Consumptive or not everyone I know is dying.
I cross dye things green from my to-do list.
I am in the produce aisle at Key Food.
I am hushed by a man who has his hands deep in the bananas.
I make synaptic space for future threats.
I see sap in the trees so I tap them.

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