A woman in a gas mask does not stroll
her baby down a cracked London sidewalk.
The pram is a metal coffin is not light,
but the woman in the gas mask does not know
how to lift the baby out of these modern conditions
into the future where breath weighs less.
Weight is one way of measuring love.
Now the metal we are is melted down
it doesn't have a self calling from the other room,
this is music, soft like someone angry but timid
at the piano's black keys sad, but isn't everyone
at war? Modern identity has a rubbery taste
like how we imagine shine weighing
on the tongue. Only the radio sings now:
Verse 1: We played Risk and then the bayonet
Verse 1: We played Monopoly it was the bomb
Chorus: fragments are my weapons, you can trust them.
We are weak forces drawn out of our throats
towards the sky wearing its Inquisition mask.
First world shame: no one has the attention to
look, a radio just when I wanted to say
you were beautiful in your sequined costume mask,
it was illegal to have a self one frees oneself, affixing
another's gas mask. The mask more than absorbs
the face, codes it. The music playing now says
This recording will self destruct. Selves dance
and discord at 35 RPMs. War is hell, my friends.
We must not say no. What do you mean,
How do you mute my voice, haven't I been restrained,
muffled out of breath this whole time?
Julie Farstad's The Saints seems both surreal and real at the same time—as if someone has painted inside of an orange crate an ecstatic scene. It's this interior with sudden unicorn that strikes me as both ironic and earnest: an irony that points to the iconography of ecstasy and its limitations (inward as it is) even as it insists on its intense earnestness (all that red and bleeding pink). My poem, "Modern Conditions," attempts that exact emotional resonance; it's inspired by that iconic photograph of a woman walking her iron-clad pram down a London sidewalk, wearing a gas mask. There's something comic about the scene: as if one might be poisoned by the outside world, and yet that's not funny, or it's not merely funny. I wanted to write an arch elegy for our zeitgeist; I only wish I had included more unicorns, more plastic puppies and transfixed saints.