Russell Jaffe

The first lines of my manifesto are "stars, floods, red lights—alright / maps, bodies, bones—forbidden zones." In reality, the idea of lights that sit next to your bed and feet that bunch up against the walls, hunched like a fetus in suspended animation flooding space, unfilled lightlessness with garages, overturned Bedazzler kits, glue specks from Creepy Crawler kits (I knew instantly that it was just an EZ Bake Oven for boys)—that's romantic, that makes me want to cry. Examine when we parked our bikes on the street and the lights there were handouts to dead zones. The pharmacy is gone now but once there was the aching promise of apology in the apron and the man who strode behind that lackluster shield. Someday we'll work jobs, I'd think with my hands deep in the candy barrel. My brother had gotten beaten up again behind my back. My spine, my legs, the stinging sweats and the nowhere you know you have to get to: that's the anxiety I know. The day ran slow as the syrups they made when I had strep throat. I bought handheld Tiger Toys video games as retaliation against school when I got sick. I drooped with legs like tin boxes of X-Men cards to my house, to that swimming-hot childhood fever, to the TV. That's how we know each other in terms of shadow and stop-losses of time without having met. You read me and I'll find your remnants shredded and scattered, wear them around the suburbs when I'm home to see my parents or my grandma in her condo like necklaces of cassette tape. The next line in my manifesto is "never," followed by 100 pages of bullet points with nothing next to them. The night locked its bike to the rack as the earth was just falling away again and again—the pharmacy was long gone by this time and I was so, so high. The night ran yelping from its hiding flask in the bushes. Epistemologies of empty metal shelves left bullet cases in the tan shadowed tread mark depressions where education rode in a guarded precession for the wealthy. We come now to an epigram with nothing below it: Nothing stays paused forever. The apron man talked about killing a dog. The street with holes in it leads to my brother looking up, a smoked-out memory, a stumbling crux of unspoken forgiveness that wonders now what? alone in suburban parks at night. The flask was more romantic in my silver dreams enveloped by headphone cords in my single bed. Run, youth, and save the last of the dying shops. Run, leave this town, escape, launch. Dad took us to a movie once, but no movie could capture the terrible crater left between the church and the gas station where the pharmacy used to be. It's more terrible than any landscape of spines, dried animal bodies, useless food and the knowledge that you're tied to the track. What drove me out of cities brought my brother creeping to them bleeding from above his ear. An addendum to my left-purposefully-manifesto declares in a profoundly personal way that three times this week my parents' dog ate something he wasn't supposed to, and the third time he ate a bowl of chocolate raisins. My dad threw a spoon across the room which made my brother call me crying. When you recognize these pattern types in people, it hurts like hind legs thrashing, always a temporary thing. Not having the words, in conclusion, was beautiful but is now equally terrifying. You're waiting for noise in a vacuum, I'm a vegetarian and a historian of attics and basements because of this. In conclusion, put jewels on this, cover it in chocolate. Still the dead rubble of a face of what's missing stares back. Your neighborhood is now the machine. I really screwed up this time; You'll have to peel me from these rocks, from this new settlement. The lonesomeness is in the approach. Tattoo yourself with love like I did and you'll know. I dreamt about a facsimile of Lincoln being demolished by a toga clad gang with loaves of bread. I have pages for notes. The last line of my manifesto is this: Will you fear the face of your empire? If so, that's totally unfair. /







This piece went through a lot of revision. Many of the lines came blasting out, many were slow trickles and reconfigurations. I felt like the block of text was like the assaulting idea of a passionate manifesto but understatedly out of control. What's important is that this piece gets to act as a nexus for a whole bunch of things: My love of VCRs and (what is becoming more) retro technology; My relationships with my family members and the suburbs I grew up in; Landscapes, demolition, and rubble; the writing process itself, something I'm shocked more poets aren't fixated upon; Apocalyptic stuff. This feels like a pretty apocalyptic poem to me, but in poetry I feel like the apocalypse is always so quiet and understated, so relaxing, given so much time and space to soak up ennui. This poem is a part of a collection of similar "VCR poems." I love to walk in the woods or drive through the countryside as much as the next person who craves solitude, but around the point I started writing these poems I realized that I don't feel like I really know that stuff any more than any other artist or thinker. What I DO know are piles of VCRs, destroyed local businesses never to be rebuilt, playing Tiger Toys by yourself. That's stuff I really enjoy writing about that's also a part of me. These things are specific but also timeless, and the way those memories centered around objects change is a really palatable kind of apocalypse.