143.3: j/j hastain:: from Letters to the Divergents: A Cryptozoologic for Xems 143

I imagine these paragraphs from j/j hastain's Letters to the Divergents as genetically modified organisms that have escaped a secret government lab. Here are your dinosaur chickens, your chupacabras, those darling and disturbing phosphorescent rabbits running amok. Yet, for the intense strangeness of these poems, hastain's speaker takes a measured, calculating approach. Readers will find a beloved informs each of these poems, as well as the urge to reorder the world after it has already fallen apart. Hastain has added to these epistolary experiments the additional heading of "A Cryptozoologic for Xems," a project of capturing and studying after an experiment has exploded its controls. This particular cryptozoologic is a field experiment exploring what hastain, in an introduction to the project, calls "[s]weet divergents: animals, mysteries or other aspects of existence that I feel have inspirational qualities (like xems do) even though they are reviled, disliked or simply not accepted by the status quo."

And what does this reader find in hastain's field experiment? Poems as fantastic as they are familiar. The smell of a beloved associates with pine and fog, tomatoes, rusted springs. Hastain is very comfortable with new sentence poetics, effortlessly using the period as a productive limit to meaning. Sometimes her sentences add segments to a particular situation. Sometimes her sentences veer in unexpected directions. Throughout, the poetry blossoms delicately and unexpectedly, an exotic orchid winding its way toward light. Ryan Winet

from Letters to the Divergents: A Cryptozoologic for Xems

I could smell you before I saw you. Fog and pine. Crusted garlands. Tomatoes growing over and through rusted mattress box springs. Your cologne always smells like that; the pineal bones of the dead stored in a freshly fallen egg.

Our second letter sent by mail, ended with the words: “Cleanse diatribes. Conjugate tribes. Uphold abject sites. Dissemble perimeters.” Not yet an invite for my lover to return to stay with me. Not yet a prompt from my lover in regard to returning. But an aggressor collaborates with their own desire, and I was therefore not surprised to see my lover standing there at the top of the fire escape.

The way that the light was slowing, moving across their face, made me recollect how when I was a child I would often open my eyes in the sea. As wide as I could I would, while pondering my eyes gulping the salt of the sea and leaving the water behind. To retain as a mage, the following must be unconditionally considered: it is possible to be hurt by where you’ve come from. It is also possible to turn the hurt induced by where you’ve come from into concentrations that liberate.


My lover saw me mid-muse and extended a hand to me. In it a slight, circular, efflorescent halo-like silhouette. Was this an altered anthropod exoskeleton? Cut into three then sewn? A gorgeous tri-form held together with one miniature red stitch between each threshold? My lover began to explain to me how when they walked out of the airport, it was as if exoskeletons were raining over them from the tree that they were under. Explained how when they were a child they used to pray to a picture (that they once saw by accidentally knocking down a random book in a library) of a cicada shedding its exoskeleton. “I remember it half way in and half way out. I was thinking how badly that must have hurt to be cut by the thing that you were before, while you are trying to become the thing you would soon be. I mean I was a kid, so the thought was not that developed, but that was what I was thinking.” My lover tells me that they rushed to pick a few of the exoskeletons up, then they used the plastic knife (which they stole from the airport café where they sat to eat their breakfast and drink their tea) to cut the exoskeletons into threes in their hand. My lover expounded that they understood the shells as exterior bones. Tonal, tall shards.


Apertures are persuasions of inter: borehole, dry hole, sinkhole, macular hole, gnamma hole, asshole, blind hole, threaded hole, swimming hole, black hole, rabbit hole, foxhole, hogback hole, lubber’s hole, plot hole, gunk hole, soft faced hole, water hole, blind hole, trigonal hole, chuckhole, f-hole, white hole, weep hole.

Harshness of light wholly affects my ability to retain, and then recollect memories. I will always prefer the almost light-absence of midnight over candlelight, candlelight over daylight and daylight over fluorescent light. My lover promised to buy and install different bulbs in my apartment (I had never once turned on the neons that came with the apartment) so that a dual-stimulus could occur. So that I could see while in my apartment at night, and also so that our time together was more likely to be something that I could later recall.

Adjusting shrine objects in the dark increases familiarity with them. Before meeting my lover I obsessively did this so that they would continue to triangulate with the particles that move in and out of a space, a room. Maybe a room is a dwelling that by changes in light masculinizes and feminizes forms? Tinges silhouettes?

My lover and I walked (from the steps where they handed me the darned crest of cicada-casing) into my apartment and without speaking, stripped and moved directly to the bath. Rested together there, in my indigo tinted, small, unplugged tub as the water radiated over us like ooze. Not until we were in the basin did my lover speak to me about how long the dye stayed on their hands after the first time they helped me dye my dreads.

Later, after we made love, my lover held their hand in an unflinching cup shape over my genitals “as a way to keep the thrusting inside of you longer.” This is how what is overhead is no longer solely traditional sky, but something internal. My lover is an aspect of my innards when I am being fucked by them. Nothing buffered or muffled. Inscrutable intimacy instituted not by caricature, but by strutting the nuances, those robust populates of the mood-sack.