Joshua Poteat


There is nothing more normal than the Swiss. There is no reason for them to die, so they are more terrifying in a way. They are us.

— Christian Boltanski

This much we understand: the desire of
           not wanting to die, of avoiding death
as much as possible. Which is the same.

Which is: how it rises, how it widens.

How, if the winds drag another shutter open
          then it is only air that holds us above the billow
of clotheslines: chimney-slant, open-winged.

And if this is the end, hand us a blanket
          and sing about the city, its smoke of brick
and knife fights on the wharves.

This we understand: each thing is of itself.

Each thing is its end.

In the cupped palm of a cup: at the corner
          of corners: in the light of light: we stand
on roofs in the rain and watch the clouds move
          through the city because it is this that lets us move on.

The delicate map of breath on a window
          is no longer ours when it leaves us.

The skin of a plum, the inside of a mouth.

We hang on so tight to them our fingers
          mold into their shapes and we become them:

a violin's case open and empty,
          a cloth to wipe the sweat, the rosin.
Penciled marks to remember
          where to pause, where to end...

You and I, we want the same thing, the same ending.

          And in this wanting lies a failure
to see clearly, straight to the thing,

          to the light that illuminates us
on the street, crouching low
          against the walls of a pub in a strange country.

Maybe Switzerland, maybe not.

Either way, we are drunk in the rain.
          The knives in our pockets begin to sing
and we know the cobblestones are not ours,
          the doors to the barrel-maker's warehouse
are open but they are not ours

and the want bursts in our pockets
          like a plum as we sit and mumble
about the weather, about our lives.

And we hate each other for not dying.
          And for dying.



This assortment of words is loosely (and perhaps poorly) based on Christian Boltanski's installation Reserve: La Suisse mort, an amazing assemblage of hundreds of rusting tin boxes, each attached with an anonymous photo found in the obituary section of Swiss newspapers. Boltanski is one of my few heroes. Feel free to make him one of yours, too.

Boltanski on Boltanski:

" A large part of my activity has to do with the idea of biography, but biography that is totally false, and that is presented as false, with all kinds of false evidence. You find this throughout my life: the nonexistence of the person in question. The more people speak of Christian Boltanski, the less he exists. The more biographies and texts there are, the more the man becomes mythical. There is, for example, a little book from 1972, which shows Christian Boltanski at various ages, but it's never the same person—each time it's actually a different child. Photography is used to furnish a proof, and the proofs are always false."