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Alex Houen

Out of Order

A rewriting of Curzio Malaparte’s ‘Satira Triste, III’


So many years of barely managed ‘transparency’

have turned our youth to lockdown. 

When a day passes for striking what hits me 

is how we can fall a bit in love with each other – 

even if our arms are made not to meet, not 

quite to meet – as we share lyrics from Nirvana

and Amiri Baraka on the picket lines

of our faculties. These days it’s a labour 

just to breathe in the further particulars. 

Loads of lobby space and facings advert attention 

to thin altitude on the ground. 

Against that we strive to thicken 

the atmosphere with placards, graffiti, and poetry

so it might clot a kind of palm tree 

that will descend to the right level of suspension 

for casting us some sweet asylum. 

We need this annunciation to look up to 

so singing can come of thin air. 

Exile home, pitching each city its oasis,

foaming pink with Venus. 

We could call this palm tree a fresh Faculty 

of Imagination. The tree must be judged to be

a way of acting on the present. 

Any valuation of how far it can be taken

literally as future history is absurd. 

This is an 1871 voice from our future speaking

with barricadences for breathing space. 

Baraka was right: possibility is what moves us. 

But they keep burying our capabilities in ‘capital ability’. 

Belts of steel trees, fake eagles, 

high horses, mime shafts, amortized iron

rivers, and businesses turning their surplus

hands to blatant towers of wanky blank light. 

Our dearly saved final years already being spent

by our ‘leaders’ on branding and ‘Information Commons’

stuffed with flame-retarding sofas that declare: 


They are feeding on us. 

But read yr palms! says 1871 to us: your capacity

to work for all that also holds your capacity

not to work – and it all rests on you as a body. 

You must keep putting yourselves out of order

in suspension, so when you gather

your limbs and voices will rise freshly animated 

for victory. Then, one day, you can rejoin, No!

we have eaten the high horses and fake eagles,

we have eaten the steel trees and mime shafts,

we have eaten the blatant towers and iron rivers,

we have eaten the Information fucking Commons

and all their sofas. 

We have gnawed patiently on fat business hands

and the beards and receding balls of management

that tasted like veal and bedbugs. 

We have eaten all the thin air. 

Now they can have it back.

By our own palms we will build our ascendancy.  

The rest is history.

                    [April 2018]

 Alex Houen is author of Ring Cycle (Eyewear, 2018), a poetry 
chapbook Rouge States (Oystercatcher, 2014), and co-author (with Geoff 
Gilbert) of another chapbook, Hold! West (Eyewear, 2016). He is 
co-editor of the online poetry magazine Blackbox Manifold and teaches 
modern literature in the Faculty of English, and Pembroke College, 
University of Cambridge.

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