CONJUNCTIONS: A Web Exclusive
Brief, Image, and Etymology: On Reading
Ryan Flaherty


To read is to be, for a time, text, but how? Say a text is allowed to enter the self and establish its distillment and pattern, why does this cause things to happen?

                                                          Five geese rest slack
                                                              as plastic in the text.

Discomfiting, perhaps, perhaps illuminating or predatory, but nevertheless the text shakes out its tent in the skull. Between self and text, energy is indisputably born. Out of nothing, a genesis, a will that is more the text’s than the author’s will, more the text’s than the self’s.

                                                   Their webbed feet dangle in the current,
                                        their bills tuck up under feathers
                                                   in an autumn dusk that’s like a wire
                                                               electric to the geese’s heads.

Soon, the text is a minor kingdom, and upon the self’s approach, these new lands rise animal green and cacophonous, a now hulking verge.

                                                   At its surface, the moving text
                                                               is darkest, a barren muck
                                                                   of no-light drifting downstream,
                                                          and on the far bank, above the geese,
                                                    the day’s final light is spun up
                                                                       like sugar in the trees.

Note, this brief is not using reader (abstract), but self (particular), as only within singular globes of bone will this happen; there is no exterior.

                                                   Follow the text downstream from
                                                          birds to marina where boats
                                                       are shrink-wrapped in white
                                                                plastic, and all winter
                                                             the spaces around the empty
                                                                masts crinkle and are hollow.

As if stepping on land creates land, the self enters the text (the same way text enters the eye, snakes in, and projects). Being sequential makes it experience (timed), a singular route through an animating thicket. Image, statement, parameters, logics, plots, patterns, all to build the text’s empire.

                                                   Migration, like a second animal,
                                                          pulls in the slumbering
                                                       birds, exhaustion is a second
                                                               body in their bodies.

Text conveys its language by conducting the sensorial flecks of memory the self has spent a lifetime (so far) collecting (this one remembered goose for all geese). As long as the self is text, its sum interior, every weathered fleck, is in orchestrated play.

                                                   Like hives in dusk, they crinkle,
                                                           hives from the Old Norse hufr
                                                         for hull, where honey
                                                             was hoarded for the voyage,
                                                   and on the far bank, an abacas
                                                        of decay ticks lopsided
                                                           from one side to the next.

Words pile in like a long-distance derailment behind the self’s attention, which is in a dead run, sorting its armfuls, building its replica. When the text clicks off for a time, it is sorted and sifted, but mostly lost, the words melted back to raw chemical. Then, a flicker and a lurch, and the conveyor belt starts up again.

                                                   In the now-dark forebank, the glaucous
                                                          purple of raspberry brambles burn,
                                                       the color of green frozen
                                                           and thawed, frozen and thawed,
                                                     and the equations are ongoing,
                                                           like a second text in the text.

Eventually, there is no new text to incorporate, and the conveyance is disassembled. The now gestated and orphaned replica is cinched off and set adrift into the self, where it flickers and is hollow.

                                                                A feather loosens
                                                           downstream, the boats
                                                                rock peril, fault,
                                                          peril, fault in the tide.

And mostly it hangs, invisible, a faint node in the self. Periodically it is reanimated and staged, it is imprinted onto flecks and strewn, but mostly it settles back into its shape.

                                                          Complexity and stasis caught up
                                                                in the trees and set against
                                                             the hard vein of sky, reflecting
                                                                     in the text, an impenetrable
                                                                vein that takes and takes.

Any moment of survival—as memory or self or text—is an unethical choice of awful logic (and really just a brief commutation). We have little understanding of any of this, and still it happens.

                                                          The geese wake, drink, slough
                                                                  their wings into the air
                                                                            and are gone.




Ryan Flaherty’s poems and essays have appeared in journals such as Boston Review, Columbia, Denver Quarterly, BOMBlog, and The Winter Anthology. In 2013, his piece in Conjunctions:58, Riveted: The Obsession Issue was named a notable essay in Best American Essays. His first book of poems, What’s This, Bombardier? (Pleiades and LSU Press), won the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Poetry Series and he has two chapbooks from Bateau Press and Small Fires Press.