Amish Trivedi: 'A Thousand Years of Staring I – VIII,' with a note on permutational art

A NOTE ON PERMUTATIONAL ART.  I am bringing in permutation, a math term, as a way of thinking about the biographical relation between the author and the work. The term “permutation” refers to all the possible combinations of a set of numbers.  For example, if you had the numbers [1, 2, 3], then there are five other permutations of it: [1, 3, 2], [2, 1, 3], [2, 3, 1], [3, 1, 2], and [3, 2, 1]. What the mathematical permutation does not allow for is any change in the ultimate outcome. No matter how you arrange the set of numbers, they are still the same numbers. However, the part I am interested in is the process in which the numbers are rearranged. How the numbers are arranged, I believe, can change the perception of those numbers. A permutation in a creative sense is the reorganization of existing events in order for there to be a new outcome. Permutations exist not only in poetry, but in other artistic forms as well. I believe these other art forms can be looked at as a text. Film, for example, is in many ways the modern equivalent of the mass produced lyric voice because film attempts to address many of the same issues as the lyric has historically covered by giving us the sense of experience versus only being a list of events. Permutational art is an offshoot of the idea of an author's surrogate, which of course allows the creator to exist in a work as a character or narrator. I believe that taking this a step further is a permutation, the manipulation of that character to fit the ideal of the creator.



In the distance, there is nothing in particular,

depending on which direction you face. In my

next example, I’ll be using metaphor to show

how I’d rather lock myself in a room than be

surrounded by other people: a stationary wheel

won’t rust if you don’t spin it. As if first eyes

touching could be repeated, if you’re going to

be there, I’m not. Dear you, I lust you, but I’m

better when loathed. Feet make up only small

percentages of bodies but carry so much

pressure that mine have dissolved from a

desire to move, but with no target in mind,

they ache for compression.




Tell me a lie so I can rub it into my skin:

moving slowly is the only way to avoid picking

up direction. Your scopophobia gets better as

minutes wear on. I’m afraid to admit I haven’t

looked you near long enough to see a real face.

People appear one way to me immediately, but

then I see them: a look in the eyes to indicate

a passing feel, a curl in the lip that shows disgust

or mutation. Don’t fear your shamefacedness

as a peak in terror arises.




Admit you’re more willing to look down than

meet my eye. We’ll say this amounts to a fear

of crossing roads, of being or going anywhere.

I assume being washed is being stabbed, but

with no sensation that gives us an antecedent.

These are not sexual questions, but a desire to

know how twists of wind become disaster spaces.

In making up my mind, I ignored all advice to

stay and reimagine myself as a direct descendant

of people who lined mass graves. I don’t have

a hard time getting to sleep, but a hard time

waking up. Going unnoticed is no punishment:

to go seen and ignored is real hell, though. To

go is a verb that implies motion, but

directionality is ignored.



As we walked through hallways, our figures

were pressed into service as figments in a novel.

My greatest pleasure comes from failure and

my euphoria levels are topped off daily. You

were waiting in a lobby and tapping on glass to

signal me. If someone has their brights on, look

to the white stripe at the edge of any road for

a sense of boundaries and closure. This is my

emotional conclusion: I cannot be happy when

I am supposed to be, only when everything

around me is becoming dead cells. Nothing

matters in this measure, only notes which lead

us to the next space, even if there’s no ending

in sight.




We need only to know where we are at, not

where we’re going, to feel secure in absolution.

I’m not Catholic, but I play one on the cross.

The only difference between you and me is the

words that we use and in which order we place

our sighs and discontent-laden notions. We

could bring a sense of sultry admonishment to

our work if we only knew how to draw the letters

that make it. At times we look out and at times

we see, but most often, we hear edges of our

space before we can sense it.




I’ve been in denial about a great many things

and I know that your eyes upon me is just one:

across tables, behind backs we imagine there to

be someone who can complete our form of

language. In the first few seconds, contact is

made only by temperature and sensing heat, we

move closer but when our eyes meet, we move

back to our positions at the start and try to

conquer again. Send your queen and let me cut

her and admit to nothing at all. “Don’t doddle,”

you’ll say, “we’re heading nowhere and we’re

late!” but all street noises have ceased and all

lights are off and the people who were rushing

before have stopped to look at us.




Even in a somber moment, with my retinas

detaching, I can make out the outline of your

hair on your shoulder or a way to say my name.

Rods and cones are a form answer to why I can

no longer find edges in the room or on our faces.

The world for the blind must be the sensation

of a dream and flying through it but then finding

themselves at the funeral of a friend and reading

an ill-prepared eulogy to mourners gathered

because of their need.




We imagine death as God looking back at us

from an abyss we’ve reached into, but nerves

don’t stop firing right at the last signal: they

fire as they degrade into soil or immolation

clears us. These sensations are just body

fighting evolutionary return. As we begin

again, we see adoration and want it to be

every day, but you end up nostalgic for



[Extracted from Amish Trivedi’s Your Relationship to Motion Has Changed, a work in progress.  The first six sections of “A Thousand Years of Staring” are forthcoming in The Laurel Review's issue of prose poems & are posted here with permission.  Trivedi is also the principal contributing editor to Poems and Poetics.]