In Their Own Words
Mathias Svalina on WASTOID
The first time I met my lover he was a praying mantis. He extended one long green leg toward me & offered me his ipod. The headphones were two tiny preying mantises affixed to black wires. I inserted them into my ears & heard a sound I could not identify. It sounded like two wet bones rubbing against each other, but also like lakewater lapping off of a handful of wet hair. Then I understood the sound. I was inside my lover's heart & the sound was his blood, how a glass of cold water on a hot day undoes itself. When I opened my eyes the recognizable world was gone & my lover was there: preying mantis body, preying mantis eyes, preying mantis mandibles biting through my preying mantis skin, eating my preying mantis eyes, understanding in the manner of a joystick.
I first saw my lover in Sunken Gardens as the sun rose over downtown & we opened a warm bottle of champagne. Out of the bottle flew jewel-like flies, each carrying a tiny chandelier, each chandelier more beautiful than the last, beautiful in complexity & artistry & made more beautiful by diminution. I grew up in a house of doors. Mythic creatures like Jimmy Superfly Snukka & Lionel Richie could open any door, but I had to wait until a door was opened for me. Now I carry dozens of doors on my back wherever I go. My lover is walking down the street, his cellphone visible in the back pocket of his jeans, but with these doors on my back I'm behind too many doors. It's like I am my lover's imaginary friend, except I'm real.
My lover is an obstacle. Many think I must overcome him but I do not want to overcome him. I don't remember my dreams, but once I was in the ocean & it was blue like what a bomb feels & above me two whales swam lazily & I could see how each muscle worked in their bigness & their singing was the biggest door creaking on the biggest rusty hinges & also the biggest & most beautiful boy sighing the biggest sighs of receipt. I think this is why I like the universe & books & roots & computers & mountains & riots & love & the-river-after-it-rains: I don't go much for beauty without condition—everything impossible is part of me. My obstacles are true commas.
My lover has grown another lover out of himself & now he has no need for me. When he looks at me it is as if he is looking at a curtain. Throughout the day I see many men—men walking dogs, men lying on the grass, men with hardhats—but I have never seen a man so unimpressed with a curtain. When my lover used to have a halo I ate only a tiny bit each night, though I wanted to eat it all at once. Over the years the halo grew smaller & smaller until I was biting the skin from my lover's head, trying to get the last bits of the halo, trying to find a chord. The new lover who grew out of my lover has a fresh halo, which my lover has begun to nibble—I can see the tooth marks. I see many things—chalk, bulldozers, guitar strings—& all of them are horrible.
I thought love had failed me. Probably I had failed love. I was, as they say, going through a hard time. In attempt to restore myself, recreate myself, I looked to the poetry of the Elizabethans. I reread my Sidney & Spenser, my Donne & Marvell. Because isn't art supposed to assuage the crushing pain of existence? to save us? It did not help.
As I reread Shakespeare's sonnets, one of the greatest accumulations of sounds & sentences in the English language, I found them this time to be packed with bad advice. It was my job, I realized, to correct the advice, poem by poem, in Shakespeare's sonnets. I wrote new sonnets in prose. I don't recall any choice that comprised an individual poem. I can't remember which "Wastoid" corresponds to which sonnet. I can't remember why they are titled "Wastoid," except that they were always titled "Wastoid." I know it is because of the band Wasteoid from Lincoln, Nebraska but I am not certain why.
I worked on these poems every day. My pills were taken. The motions went through. I tried to make love clear. Was it difficult to give myself wholly to whatever it is in art that awards salvation? I can't remember if I did this or if it was. After I read the first twenty-three "Wastoids" at the Sarah Lawrence Poetry Festival Josh took my shoulders in his hands & said to me You can't die. And I responded Did I read too long?
And these poems, they might not have good advice to them either, but they gave to me. Wastoid gave me something to accomplish when I felt like I had nothing. And when I was done with the book I wasn't saved but at least I did not die.
Poems reprinted from Wastoid (Big Luck Books, 2014. Reprinted with permission of the author.