Conjunctions:53 Not Even Past

Modernist Poems
Madame Blavatsky to Robert McAlmon

I prefer you skeptics to the credulous ones. You 

have a more fulfilled sense of silence. Those who 

claim that my chamber was equipped with trap 

doors amuse, even excite 

me. That’s your mode of gift, is it 

not? Gossip? The aggregate of your disbelief 

mutes the generosity behind it. You’ve heard 

the term “clairaudience”? The ability to 

receive messages through the ear? The voices 

arrive with their own suggestions. They teach 

by the Socratic method, plying questions which, 

like you, I decline to answer. The lengthy pause 

is what they are after, their medium, so that 

long after you and I are banished inside that intermission 

we’ll still be geniuses together.


Pamela Colman Smith and Havelock Ellis

               She dreams that there is a blister of dried skin on her forearm, and 
               when she tries to rub it off, it opens as a flower, still soft and dry, layer 
               after layer opening up. 

Each layer she tries to scratch away and 

so forth. 

She hums: “I am speaking of course of myself.” 

He arranges her bare limbs, bending the knees and angling them away from 
her pelvis, then steps back to look. From the horizon, her legs form an M. 
So he tells her. 

“But I am not an M.” “At the crux of the M,” he explains, cupping her vulva, “this is your mandorla. 
Do you know this word?” 

“I’ll investigate it.” 

“Yes,” he says. 

“Temperance,” she comments. 

His gaze lowers. 

“Not abstinence,” she clarifies, “but what is poured between two vessels, all 
tempered by their conjoining.” 

                She has had a dream in which “biting one’s tongue” means to remove 
                it as a parcel from one’s mouth and to stuff it with its own content.


Romaine Brooks Evading Natalie Barney

Does a painting have a protagonist or only a subject? 

                                                             She knows too well about being subject. 

There’s a little, purpling deity being rubbed as sand
into the muscle of the breast. 

There’s a sibling rivalry sans sibling. 

                                                             She knows that haunted houses are banal. 

An auto-portrait, where the subject is the doctor of the protagonist. 

                                         A sibling rivalry where the sibling has been effaced. 

One is an only child and the other is not. 

                                    The painting suffers its own apparitions, but only just. 
                                    As with all runaways, they are forced back to the fold. 

The physician claims that death reversed is inertia, petrifaction, 

This was death footnoted, in which two sisters become lovers. 

Their intimacy is the measure of the protagonist, in whose beloved is begun an 

                         absence that exceeds conception, also known as the self-same. 

In other words, the ghost was bottom heavy, a sleepwalker after all.


The Baroness Elsa Haranguing W. B. Yeats

As for myself, I am a patriot of the body, but we each speak with an accent. 

Brevity has not been my strong suit, nor yours, 

but let our prolixity make us to fly as the crow 

flies, transceptual, over each our allegiance 

to impulse, vision, the carnal insight that makes a citizen. 

I restate citizenship as 

an ultimate penury, 

as you must know, and as 

the anatomy of 

the absurd: 

my skull lacquered and your male parts 

sewn together with monkey glands, 

though perhaps these are traitorous forms, 

these bodies who breed us in countries, who 

sign us to pacts, we, 

in our ludicrous uniforms.


Amy Lowell Drowsing while Antonin Artaud Picks Her Pocket

I love you perhaps enough 

not to caricature you, as I love 

your sodden pockets, planted, a mess, with the detritus of wealth, wriggling 

with blooms. Your American garden, I hear, 

is extraordinary enough that the posies cry from across the ocean 

when I take 

my leave of you. A magic cane that crooks into 

your possession to break my body and put it back together like stems who 

decapitate their blooms. 

Your fattened body is its own locket, and I rub my gaze across its interior 

leaving my death portrait enclosed for you to discover. 

It is not the image of me, but a “pattern”—all right, 

a joke at your expense. An asylum in which I am safe to 

offend your proprieties, as sleeping, you are the actress 

I covet most. A genteel lump made of knuckles.


Mina Loy and Oscar Wilde

I’m running quite late, harried by my own exile. 

I suspect 

you’ll expect me 

to say so prettily, or 

at least smartly, but the quip will no longer do. When 

the boat sailed round the bend, it was 

inevitable that onlookers 

would foresee it reaching 

its destination. And now we know 

that destination is the quip, the 

brilliant element, the horizon that 

can be folded handily, 

crowning the daylight like a lampshade— 


Lost jest on 

the rough 

wave we thought would return 

our wits to us.


Sigmund Freud Thinking about Bryher

I think of islands. 

Here is a place that is not a place, 

and a refugee adopts a name, a code, 

a symptom, just as an island 

is a symptom 

of the landmass that once attached to it. 

Far beneath the horizon, the water suggests, 

the island extends like a trauma 

through the sea. 

At its base: We do not know. 

It is not a science, this passage to neutrality. 

The island is not a surety, it is a symptom, a beneficent symptom.

Elizabeth Robinson is the author of the forthcoming poetry collection Being Modernists Together (Solid Objects) and Thirst & Surfeit (Threadsuns Press).