Jack Spicer’s Vocabulary Did This To Me


4/2 - Richard Siken Tells Me We'll Never Get Used To It, by Po, EIC
4/3 - William Carlos Williams: This Is Just To Say, by Layah, CD
4/4 - We Are All Writers On the Same Dreadful Typewriter 
as Allen Ginsberg, by Jenny, EE
4/5 - Pablo Neruda and the Quest for Surrender, by Elie, ME
4/6 - Let's Shake the Dust, Anis Mojgani, by Layah, CD
4/11 - Terrence Hayes, Kanye West, and How to Get Through Winter, 
by Elie, ME
4/12 - Sylvia Plath Died Before I Had Time, by Po, EIC 
4/16 - Billy Corgan Blinks With Fists, by Jenny, EE 
4/17 - Andrea Gibson Just Takes Me, by Po, EIC 
4/18 - Famous Like Naomi Shihab Nye, by Po, EIC
4/19 - Tell Me What Is, Tadeusz Rozewicz, by Layah, CD
4/23 - Crossing the Bridge with Yehuda Amichai, by Elie, ME
4/24 - The Whole World Rhymes With Shel Silverstein, by Layah, CD
4/25 - E.E. Cummings Twists On His Way To Nowhere, by Po, EIC
4/27 - Sharon Olds and the Human Stain, by Elie, ME
4/30 - Jack Spicer's Vocabulary Did This to Me, by Po, EIC

So the heart breaks
Into small shadows
Almost so random
They are meaningless
Like a diamond
Has at the center of it a diamond
Or a rock
Being afraid
Love asks its bare question-
I can no more remember
What brought me here
Than bone answers bone in the arm
Or shadow sees shadow-
Deathward we ride in the boat
Like someone canoeing
In a small lake
Where at either end
There are nothing but pine-branches-
Deathward we ride in the boat
Broken-hearted or broken-bodied
The choice is real. The diamond. I
Ask it.

-Jack Spicer, Billy the Kid, part IX

I want to tell you this story without having to confess anything but then what story would I tell you? I could make something up: picture me happy. Picture me laughing in a roomful of people, there could be music or drinks or a pretty girl and/or boy if you want. Picture me getting out of bed in the sunlight, picture me falling asleep in the dark. But last night in that coffee shop we were talking about validation (we sat in class together all semester and never spoke but people still surprise you sometimes, people stop you when you’re just taking a two-minute smoke break and you end up sitting across from them for an hour) and he asked me what’s yours and I didn’t even have to think about it: honesty. So how can i tell you this story without saying I ran out into the street to prove something.


Yesterday [name redacted] sent me a song she’s writing. The first line: tiny cracks lead to rusty shards. I wanted to say:

almost so dangerous
they are delicate.

I know too many poems by heart.

She wanted me to help her. We have different styles, I said. You’re so literal, and I’m not a songwriter.

You’re a poet, she said. Make it a poem.

I wanted to say: I’ve written you so many poems already.

I wanted to say: these are your feelings, not mine.

I wanted to say a lot of things.

[All those times I said yes when you asked if I wanted to go smoke – those were love poems. I didn’t really smoke when I met you, not like you did. Not like I do now. I decided you were worth the cancer.]

[All those months I didn’t say anything, not just to you but to anyone – those were love poems, too.]


In Chicago last September [name redacted] was talking about music. (It was the first time I’d talked to her in three years and I wouldn’t talk to her for another year and a half but like I said before people still surprise you, sometimes.)

It’s not the notes themselves but the spaces in between them that move us, she said. The way they break. 

I told that to [name redacted] in New York a month ago, the same night I said give up defining yourself, to yourself or to others. Maybe it wasn’t the same night but it was the same night if you know what I mean. The nights we blow through line after line and stay up talking about rooftops and suicide, trying to name everything about us that’s irrepressible. Ours isn’t a generation that will give you just one adjective to describe our hurt.

Language is patriarchal, Jeffrey Eugenides once wrote. It oversimplifies feeling.


The thing about language is that I can talk about things all the time, even when I’m not.

Like when I told [name redacted] I’m not a fighter I was talking about her – she kept asking me to fight for her, that spring – but I was also talking about vodka in water bottles.

Like when I told [name redacted] I have things to tell you, I don’t know if you want to hear them I was talking about drugs but I was also talking about my heart.

Like when I told Layah it’s so hard to be here I was talking about New York but I was also talking about everywhere.


They can’t teach you about language. I mean they can try, they can teach you about grammar and syntax and that pivotal word, climax, and they can try to explain to you expression/abstraction, withholding/disclosure, but like everything true you can recognize it but you can’t predict it. They can teach you about Baldwin and say ‘differences within the self can be enabling’ but they’re only talking about sex and I want to talk about sanity, a box of puzzle pieces but too many have edges. People are too various to be treated so lightly. They can teach you about Judith Butler and say ‘the language we use to map our bodies is already constructed’ but they’re still only talking about sex and and I want to talk about scars, a gift with wrapping paper I can’t help but tear off. One does not always stay intact.

Of course without sex who are we, though.

More in common with oceans than sharks.

Maybe I’m tired of biting.


Tonight in Los Angeles [name redacted] told me I could’ve been a soldier, it would’ve made things a lot simpler. In boston I said, there are more interesting ways to kill yourself.

Love, for instance. Not that many people have ever died of love. How long would it take you to love me to death. For us to love each other to death. Factor in blood. Factor in teeth. Factor in damp sheets and no toothpaste.

Of course when I say you I mean everyone.

Of course when i say everyone I mean anyone, another into again.

Picture me in a dorm room, I’m doing lines off a finance textbook and we’re fucking, I’m saying harder and I’m talking about her hands but I’m also talking about everything. Anything. I’m saying isn’t this the point of being young, I’m saying I have the whole future to be boring, I’m saying shouldn’t this be more fun? Of course I’ve never really been young and you don’t have the whole future to make it if you die before you get there. Of course it should be more fun but fun was never the point, we just said it was because certain weaknesses aren’t allowed to be talked about.

I stopped writing anything the last half of last year, except for that one poem. They say our brains are like sponges, but our hearts are like landfills. That was my favorite line. That and bruises don’t mean anything.

I couldn’t write about what was happening, then. You know what it’s like. When you can’t find the words. Or when you can find one or two but the more you repeat them the less true they sound.


Poetry, almost blind like a camera
Is alive in sight only for a second. Click,
Snap goes the eyelid of the eye before movement
Almost as the word happens.
One would not choose to blink and go blind
After the instant.

-Jack Spicer, Imaginary Elegies, part I


A conversation with my mother on the phone; it’s fall 2009, or spring 2010. I’m seventeen, or eighteen. I distinctly remember this: she tells me she’s worried I’m living older than I should be. She tells me I’m going to burn out in a few years.

I didn’t burn out, I blew up.

I mean the heart breaks into small shadows.

I mean like Riese said, people are animals, and animals are magnets with hearts sometimes.

Last year i didn’t wake up for three months.


People like reminding me what I’ve missed out on. I’m leaving and they’re surprised I still haven’t learned the ropes. Schedules. Names of buildings. You’ve never been to the mods? someone asked, and I knew those were where they throw all the parties so I said by way of explanation I do a lot of drugs alone in my room. I mean I laughed when I said it. I mean I meant it as a joke. And it is, I’ve always had a good sense of humor, but like I said certain weaknesses aren’t allowed to be talked about.

I do a lot of drugs alone in my room and I write about losing my mind/heart, but then once it’s on paper you can’t take it back and I want to tell you this story without having to confess anything, remember?


This ocean, humiliating in its disguises
Tougher than anything.
No one listens to poetry. The ocean
Does not mean to be listened to. A drop
Or crash of water. It means
Is bread and butter
Pepper and salt. The death
That young men hope for. Aimlessly
It pounds the shore. White and aimless signals. No
One listens to poetry.

-Jack Spicer, Thing Language


Make it a poem, she said.

I wanted to say: it’s not the same. If you just have words on paper there’s no way to disguise it. Nobody wants to listen to ugly songs so even the sad songs are lying. If you don’t have the music to tell you what to feel you might have to face the truth: that no one wants to hear what you’re singing.

Of course when I say you I mean me. Because the truth is no one listens to poetry. Even I didn’t.

I mean I didn’t realize this was going to happen.

I mean I thought this was going to be what I needed but like me, my mind/heart has always had a good sense of humor. I always fall for its tricks.

The death that young men hope for.

You know what I mean?


This is a post about language.

I know too many poems by heart.

Jack Spicer drank himself to death and when they dragged him to the hospital, sweating and vomiting and weaving in and out of consciousness, you know what he said before he died? My vocabulary did this to me.

I know what he means. I want to have the words but I don’t. I mean when he said that the heart breaks into small shadows, it was suddenly the only way to say it. How else could I explain this to you? Almost so random they are meaningless. Why me. Why you.

Or sometimes I think I could have the words but if I put it on paper I can’t take it back. if I put it on paper/screen then other people will read it and I’ll have to make it a joke when they want to talk about it. I mean picture me in front of you. Picture me saying all of this. Picture me saying I am an animal, and animals are magnets with hearts. You can’t.

I know too many poems by heart, too many words imprinted on my mind. We were talking tattoos when [name redacted] said you are not allowed to make your body a book but I think it might be too late.

Language has power.

i mean my vocabulary did this to me. Or his.

i mean poetry ends like a rope.


[This post has been adapted & republished from Po Zimmerman’s personal blog, December 2011]


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LANDFILLS is a grassroots literary, arts and culture online collective based in Chicago. All work is original, except the featured images that accompany text posts (which are blatantly stolen from tumblr.com). Complaints should be directed to Po via Twitter.
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