117.1: Wendy Xu and Leora Fridman:: Of Horse and Back & Part / Flails But & Or Beside Me & Toy Or/ Tricycle & Back to Back 117

Collaboration between poets is a refreshing and wonderful process. So un-American. So antithetical to the poetry-industrial-complex (yes, that word makes me laugh as I write it) of careerism, bitterness against “McPoems” from the MFA schools, and the shameless self-promotion that any writer in America must, sadly, succumb to in order to be mildly successful. Instead, collaboration is a wonderful and healthy antidote to all of that noxious brouhaha. These collaborations between Wendy Xu and Leora Fridman are rich in detail and personality, taking wonderful imaginative leaps line-by-line and sentence-by-sentence. In “Back to Back Because It Never Actually Happened” we get a piece that, if we take the title at face value, is a declaration of a lie. This is important because much of the poem seems to rely heavily on admission and testimony:

        her noses press toward
        a fine region in which I forgot
        to bring what you wanted
        for a souvenir. i know you
        told me but somewhere there
        was that low bench for
        sitting and i got entranced,
        you know how i get when the looking
        is bigger than the materials
        they hand out.

And it continues in this way, bringing up anecdotal particulars and moments that seem to disjoin or alter as the lines continue. At the heart of this poem is the indeterminacy of memory and interpersonal connection. How meaningful are our memories if we often import ourselves into them? What do we look for in other people but the vestiges that we either possess or lack in our own personalities? Throughout these collaborations, I am intrigued by who is who: Which lines belongs to Xu and which to Fridman? But, that is antithetical to the collaboration isn’t it? By collaborating, these fine poets show us the dynamic power of merging two unequivocally distinct poetic styles. The results are quirky, energetic, surprising, and beautiful. Cody Todd

Of Horse and Back


With all this space why don’t we
get bigger. Why don’t we say cracked
open like people like or say
failure went and left us. Now we have
these intricate mouths. Our lips grow
childish around children and grow pretty
pink shades. There are unthinkable
fish in the ocean. You say why can
you play when I can’t. You say you
think there was a time when people
were ponies. Where did they get
the field to run around in? I can’t
picture that color of land aching
toward sky. Evening is a dress you like
to wear. You take up all the space
you’re given in it. You are no baby
horse. You are no sweet ruff
of light in a garden. We decide
to split a pack of ruined cookies
when we get hungry on the last
train back. Someone else keeps
a spectacular life on the tracks.
Now we can’t not know what we know
but we let it not expand. We hold it close
and ruffle its hair. What do you think
about fences and longing? I think
of making noise once inside.



Part / Flails But


sagging on // brilliance is leafing toward
a bluff of white / a bluff of when we

sorted out // bright flapping
from a massive tree you / thought better

than tracking // you went over
giant diagrams / rational as a coat

billowing arms // snowing apart but
where are / you when you amass

those swells // go all schema beneath
light / you less figure than line



Or Beside Me


tapeworms belong elsewhere when I’m tired.
what do you think about it all on
the line? About putting it
where your mama won’t think
to go or call home. She shrugged
the piece off rather less
than brilliantly. Which brilliance
is the kind you think of first?
I think of seven movements
of wind. I take the one
a family won’t follow
because it has little left speaking
to a prairie. To an animal
speaking in a book. You mean
to catalog tiny nuances
of moral intention but instead sleep
inside where nothing
gets finished. Is this how
we fizzle out? Is this another
wriggling belt? Forgive me
a vacant smile – I’m
not always the smart arthropod.
When does everything become
neuroscience? Later on
a worm came back to me
and spoke: in pieces. And
then I could rest. It was
the moving that patterned me
fuzzy. Do you have shape
outside of me? Do you find
your body nonchalant?



Toy Or / Tricycle


My teacher said I took to it like desks pulled
apart when I took to mathematics.
I took your face apart into mine. I saw
red vessels that weren’t blood.
I sat on something dangerously fit
for talking when I talked that quickly,
when I thought no one would be
in this room. This room said things
back. My hand was like a flattening
disquiet. My teeth were like a terrible
flat classroom where they want
to talk but can’t, mostly because
a tricycle. Your bent shape was out
of a tricycle. In the tricycle you had
everything you wanted. What did
you want when you counted how
many tricycles there were on
the block? I don’t think you wanted
one for you. I don’t think
you saw me there at all
among the wheeling things.
This is just to say tricycles make
awful gifts. I wanted my old teachers
to come to the present
and admire me for trying.
They wanted something less
cyclical, but they respected
my hope related to hoping.
What did you relate to
in school? As in you
and me and what else was
meaningful? What went
into preparing for the test.
I go into the blush of an eye as
it closes.



Back to Back Because It Never Actually Happened


her noses pressed toward
a fine region in which I forgot
to bring what you wanted
for a souvenir. i know you
told me but somewhere there
was that low bench for
sitting and i got entranced,
you know how i get when the looking
is bigger than the materials
they hand out. her orange softly
tuned. I want to know what
region makes you feel you’re
visiting. is this something
everyone wants, or am I
furrowed like trees? Like how
trees can have oranges on
them when you call me. Look,
you keep calling me back from
my trips when I am inside
the water. I like these bitter
look-outs where you are almost
a duck. Wait, is that water lapping
an invisible edge somewhere
I can’t sit down on? I hate it
when I can’t touch my knees or
your knees like they are on
their own visit with themselves.
When the sky opens up
I’m not on a visit to anywhere.
Not a matter for hands. Not
a fruit for smelling. Everything
bitter or just peeling away.
Please stop calling. I’m no
known beacon at all.