Dear Aaron Shurin

Citizen

Citizen

Aaron Shurin

City Lights 2011, 88 pages, $10.95, ISBN 9780872865204

April 16, 2013

Dear Aaron Shurin,

I started reading Citizen on a train from Grand Central Station to New Haven last Friday. I’d had a meeting in the city in the morning. Afterwards I met my friend Paul for lunch. I caught the 1:34 train. It was raining. On the way into the city, I finished reading C, a novel by Tom McCarthy. I had figured this would happen, so I brought your book for the ride home.

At first I worried that it would take a long time to read Citizen. The poems are so dense. I had to read the first few more than once before I felt comfortable moving on. I also had to shake off this weird feeling you were somebody else. I saw your photo and realized I had been confusing you with Aaron Kunin, who I saw read once. He looks nothing like you.

I love reading on trains. Hurtling forward while pushing through language reifies the experience of reading. I find myself chasing down the traces of my thought in much the same way my eye follows a passing object through the window. I get a glimpse, then it is gone. I try to record what I saw, but it’s always a distortion.

I started drifting in and out of sleep as I read. I underlined the phrase, “how you scratch the page to let in light.” I drew a line to the top of the page and wrote, “No.” I must have drifted off to sleep again, as I have no recollection of writing this.

Later I woke up and looked out the window and thought I saw a hillock beside the tracks covered in snow. I closed my eyes again and thought, “The snow should have melted by now.” I opened my eyes and looked again. No snow. I got as far as the poem “Helios Cream” before arriving in New Haven. 

That night my wife Lori and I watched Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry. Afterwards I sat on the couch reading Citizen while listening to the Blue Mars Cryosleep ambient Internet radio station. I read to the end of the first section of the book. I made a note to myself about making notes to myself.

It says: “I no longer trust myself to remember.”

I wrote something about David Lynch and something about Tom McCarthy riding his skateboard over the line demarcating the GMT in England. I wrote that I was too tired to continue reading. I wrote that I’d read a few of your poems aloud.

The next night I watched Fear by Roberto Rossellini, which stars his then-wife, Ingrid Bergman. The northern lights were rumored to make an appearance around midnight. I started reading the second section of your book after the film, on the couch next to Lori, listening to BBC Three. I got as far as “Station.”

Lori had found a website tracking the probability of seeing the aurora borealis on a given night and was checking periodically on her iPad and outside to see if they were visible. She stayed up late waiting for them. They never appeared. Just as she dozed off to sleep, our daughter woke crying and stayed up most of the night. 

I wrote that if I were ever to publish a poetry magazine, I would ask you to submit.

Sunday we ate brunch at our new neighbors’ house. I started reading again after we put my daughter down for a nap. I sat beside the picture window in the Ikea Poäng chair, my feet up on the footrest. I could hear the washing machine hum as it washed my work clothes for Monday morning. I read to the end of part 2.

I finished the book late that night, after putting my daughter to bed, eating dinner, watching six short films by David Lynch and the newest episode of Mad Men. It was late. I made a note about “dishes” and “lunch.”

I wrote down a question regarding the experience of reading Citizen. “Did the poems become more transparent as the book progressed, or did it just seem that way because I had learned better how to read them the deeper I got into the book?”

I did not answer the question. I drew a line next to this one by you, “... what do you read, how do you read it?” It made me think about the way I planned to write about your book.