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“Diagnostics” and Other Poems


Gary J. Shipley

Art by Karolina Ursula Urbaniak



I’ve consumed my own body weight in weight-loss tablets. I tell myself a lifelong flirtation doesn’t constitute marriage, that I can let this shit go. I’ve seen how they send them home once the final diagnosis has been made. I know what an end-of-life package looks like. A man disowns what’s left for the sake of an armchair. His bowel sits inside the cancer it made. The cannibal in the mirror is off his food. Tell them I come from a long line of infecund suicides. Tell them to bury me in a salt mine, and come get me when I’m cured.


The Body of Elisa Lam

On her way to turning up naked in a tank, she had a map to follow in San Diego Zoo. Still, there’s every reason to believe she was lost inside. And an unknown number of people were watching a certain Japanese horror film the day she arrived in Los Angeles. And somebody else was complaining about the oddness of water. Incalculably many others were wasting their lives without ever being haunted. In the elevator video she presses all the floors at once, and when the doors won’t close she leaves. Her psychomotor agitation presupposes no interlocutor. In the Lost Forest there were hippos swimming. When I imagine them, they look scared and directionless. A hippo’s yawn is meant as a threat. Only something without a voice would ever need a mouth that big.



My grandmother starved herself to death. Apparently, eating the smoke of 60 cigarettes a day does not meet the nutritional requirements needed to do anything else. The outlook was more moments aggregating into longer moments and all the consumption that involved. Like Kafka’s fasting artist, who never found a food he liked, she made a talent of revulsion and played it out. But there’s no art in subjugation to oneself, in succumbing to who you are. There’s honesty, there’s truth, there’s bravery, perhaps; but nothing worth dying for, when you can make it up. After all, I’ve eaten all my life and look at me: a reed of smoke still imagining it might die.



There’s something almost homely about a giant virus in Siberia that’s waited till now to wake up. I think of it like the Capgras syndrome I’ve been trying to cultivate—as if I wouldn’t love the imposters just as much. You see, it’s all nerve agents out there, and my gas mask is fogging up. I was counting the dead bodies amassed in the Grand Canyon, and that had something to do with it. They were everyone that had ever lived. The sight of billions of dead anything is vernacular for the superficiality of giving anyone what they want. Poetry is impossible or it isn’t. Its possibility is a joke. It would be like actually laughing out loud. Like a vacuum with nothing in it.


The Otherness of Otherness

Nothingness is contaminated by all its different renderings. For instance, what happens to the number of road deaths the minute we stop counting? What happens to what doesn’t have words when it can’t be outsourced to God? And to his silence, no less. I eat insects by mistake but never megafauna. I outnumber myself by a factor of somewhere between zero and minus-one. If it doesn’t add up it’s because I can’t count. And yet, all this: it’s just so much pangolin quaffed in the dark. To get me through, no more, can you tell me something positive, apophatically speaking? Too much to ask, with nothing to say, I know, but still. Someday something will be what it seems. I’m advised not to, but I’m holding my breath.



How is it your horrors are not mine? And how is it that they are? Trying to exchange suffering for words is like marking your own homework, and still getting it wrong. It’s not true that genetically engineered mice will improve our nightmares. They can’t even sing in a straight line. Not that your expectations were high, but this illegal trade in miserablist anecdotes isn’t as lucrative as you might think. As soon as I’m destitute enough I plan on being happy with all the things I don’t have. Right now I have a terabyte of examples that show how examples are misleading. Right now this something on the edge of my experience is ten times the size of itself. It’s a kind of uncomfortably-dimensioned kind of thing. My incompleteness is about the size of its confusion. Encompassing this uncertainty, as a strain of precision, I repeat myself until the only meaning left is modulation. I get up from my chair. I go in no directions at once.