Damned fruitflies (PoemTalk #156)

Steve Dalachinsky, 'with shelter gone'

Photo credit: Robert Yarra


Al Filreis, with help from Zach Carduner in our virtual Kelly Writers House control room, convened Bonny Finberg, Julien Poirier, and Jake Marmer to talk about a poem by Steve Dalachinsky. The poem is titled “with shelter gone,” and our recording of Dalachinsky performing it is clipped from a video documenting a reading that took place at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York City in 2008. The reading was hosted by Jake Marmer.

The text is available below. It is a poem about what one feels and ponders in the midsummer heat in a Brooklyn apartment where the fruitflies are not merely irritating but serve as harbingers of bodily fragility and decay. So the poem is also, in a sense, a pre-elegy — which is perhaps especially why all three PoemTalkers, who knew this poet well, were so affected by its lines as themselves forms of “winding back,” to use one of the poem’s key phrases. Time, here, is that which can be wound back, such that as readers or witnesses to its performance we are no longer suffocating from the city heat. Rather, we begin to feel the breezy thrills and spills of old Coney Island, overhearing the music of youth (“you’re my coney island baby”), and moving eastward to the edges of the borough — out to cafés of Russian immigrants (for example “titiana cafe,” which is actually Tatiana Restaurant & Night Club on the Brighton Beach boardwalk), and, in a sense, running the whole complex, intertwined story of Beat despondency and ecstasy, and similarly of jazz, of Jewish Brooklyn, of Russian Jewish immigration — a story run backwards to the eastern limit of that moment just prior to the invention of the cultural convergences one hears here and in most if not all of Dalachinsky’s performances. This history dwells on the narratively memoiristic (“7th & K / where I grew up”), the Biblical (“bugs  &   boils”), the personally reflective (“after years of indecisive behavior”), the scatalogical (“thru the blood & the piss & the shit”), and the ecstatic and even kabbalistic (“alphabet without knowledge / of itself / numbers without sequence / mind too scattered to / give meaning”). The combinations resulting from synthesized immigration histories and cultural rhetorics and art idioms produce a comic vision that is, our PoemTalkers affirm, at the heart of the best improvisatory poetry:

in my kishkas
out my chakras

Steve Dalachinsky is up “to my eyes” in the all-wound-up phrases of mortality. “Winding up,” on the other end from “winding back,” is not just a way of describing fate, the end of the story. It is also an expression of this poet’s intensity, energy, and hyperaffective mode of being. (Pictured above, from left: Bonny Finberg, Jake Marmer, Julien Poirier.)

This episode of PoemTalk was recording using Zoom by Zach Carduner and was edited for audio by the same Zach Carduner. Nathan and Elizabeth Leight enable PoemTalk with a generous grant, and we are also as always grateful to the Poetry Foundation for their partnership and for cohosting the podcast series on their site. PoemTalk is brought to you by the Kelly Writers House, PennSound, and the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing. Many thanks to Jake Marmer for cocurating this episode.

with shelter gone

seem to be coming out of
my body
out of my very skin
ripening banana
squeezed orange

damned fruitflies

leaving my chest thru my nipples
into every room i enter
around the kitchen sink

i give them purpose
create a purpose
they acquire purpose

alphabet without knowledge
of itself
numbers without sequence
mind too scattered to
give meaning

7th & K
where i grew up
larva to adult
among jews among italians among
among letters
on my road thru the decades

past ave.X onto Stillwell
the hot cyclonic streets
theatre of spills thrills
bugs  &  boils

a movie
you are what you are  watching
& always moving

“....you’re my coney island baby
     you mean so much to me
     you’re my pretty little lady...”

brooding on the boardwalk
a sideshow
after years of indecisive behavior
hot dogs  &  fries

......these damned fruitflies
      gnawing at my 6pointed innards
      my jewish chakras

over-ripened beads of light
seeping thru the skin
from deep down in the soul
winding towards the shorefront of my
      past the volna cafe
           the tatiana cafe
         & the moscow cafe

winding thru the winter of my birth
the every summer of my life
& back
winding back
winding back
thru the blood & the piss & the shit

winding back winding
back winding back
& winding up once again
& again & again
(damned fruitflies)
in my kishkas
out my chakras
to my eyes

damned kishkas
damned fruitflies
sweet eyes