On Endings & Longing
You spend too much time watching detective television. You like procedurals because it feels like ideal work: there is movement and there is predictability. The formulas go as such: One, the detective is a smart, elusively attractive thirty-something year old with attachment issues. Two, the serial killer and/or one-off criminal becomes their fixation. Three, evidence is gathered, presented, refuted, and reorganized so that four, the criminal can be caught, incarcerated. You understand after some time that the only way the episode/program will conclude is if the criminal is captured. Thus, a narrative structure is set up, and with it, a desire.
You begin to tell people about your theory: there are too many television shows and movies where the criminal is chased, and incarceration remains the conclusion. You tell people about the anxiety we might feel when the chase becomes extended, and thus the relief the conclusion (incarceration) brings. You emphasize that abolition will remain out of reach if it remains out of narrative reach. How to de-link capture from the end? How to want things to remain, extended?
You slowly understand the purpose of the conclusion–incarceration couplet. It stems from the widespread belief that criminals should be sent away; not seen or heard from. It stems from an understanding that a forced conclusion is the ultimate punishment. Their lives become fictionally and otherwise foreclosed. There are many books and articles that have been written about the unjust logic of this rationale, the structural racism embedded into the sentencing system, racial capitalism, and the acceleration of the prison–industrial complex and they must be read. And you will cite from such books but this poem is not an evidentiary hearing, it is not attempting to convince those unconvinced neither is it speaking to those only convinced. Here, you want to ruminate on how to rupture a conclusion that has become so familial that it brings relief. How to rupture against relief.
You spend the month of November downloading and deleting apps invented to obscure loneliness. You are in search of a transitional object but feel this is the most inappropriate profile description. No one, not even you, can handle this much brutality. You want to try pretending to be a human but can’t bear being around anymore fascists so you list your interests as: prison abolition, baking, and coral reefs. You spend the next month referring your matches to articles on the carceral state. In your teens you flirted by pretending to know less. In your thirties you send links to long peer-reviewed articles from legal journals.
You go on two dates where you are told that your interest in politics is cute and you think, there’s a higher chance the serial killer is me. You wait an hour to tell them it’s patronizing, what they said an hour ago, is patronizing. They have already forgotten because who remembers the things they say and why do you bring things up so much after the fact. You are now exposed as the uncool subject who analyzes comments from an hour ago, who wants apologies from speakers who do not remember. If there was another way for you to be don’t they know you would try.
You think this poem will not age well. What will be the point of these poems when there are 50 harvests left. And then again, when there are 30 harvests left will they continue to teach the drove of white men with bad diets, bad hair, bad gender and racial politics, who nevertheless were able to supposedly write universally about love and life. You think it’s true not much here is relatable. Your condition, as constructed in this moment in this body in this corner is so specific you hope it fails reconstruction. If there are no more yous to be understood. When there are no more yous desiring to be understood.
You buy for a life you do not have. Silk blouses. Off the shoulder tops. Long floral dresses. It is cold where you are. You are without answers imploding into yourself and continue to search for the perfect white wrap dress. Pearl drop earrings. refresh. release. descend.
You think about Jean Rhys’ Good Morning, Midnight and about the main character’s obsession with gloves and lipstick while grieving her abortion. Spoiler alert you don’t find out about that till later. You think about the emails you’ve received from stranger men about how difficult it would be to end capitalism. Men always think you don’t know and they gotta explain. It’s their love language really. Explaining shit to you treating you like the metaphorical mother they abandoned.
You watch too many vlogs made by young women about their lives under late capitalism. They’re shot by their unthreatening boyfriends, who seem so loving and kind and helpful. There’s a dissertation in here you think, about the adaptive gaze. As in, we learn to see the way they see themselves and then the way their boyfriends do. Anyway their negotiations with consumer culture haunt you. There’s so much choice-based rhetoric and hackneyed self-help cutlets you feel hopeless. You think about We Charge Genocide about Tzara and Benjamin in Spain you think about all the women you love and have never seen. You think about all the calls made on behalf of nuance and free speech under fascism. Some people create death camps and others say let’s be kind to fascists we gotta understand their needs too it will take a while. Let’s convince fascists to step away from power. This way we can feel good about ourselves.
This is the thing about narratives. Even when you believe they have nothing to do with you, they become part of you. Even if you have no belief in choice, capitalism, incarceration even if you have no reason to trust the police—if you subsume the arc of the story and you submit to its affective structure, and when and especially when it becomes routine, it becomes part of you? How much has it become part of you.
You tell another friend about your thesis. You state, in detective melodrama, incarceration is the conclusion. There is no end to the episode, no conclusion to the season without it. Everyone agrees and continues to download the latest crime drama anyway. You begin to understand your anxieties are yours and never yours. What did Raymond Williams call it—the “structure of feeling.” The affective tenor being negotiated, all that is fought for in the gutter zone, in the subtext called our lives.
You become interrupted by falling in love. In it they tell you some of their secrets and so want to break up with you but become afraid to do so. They think you will sell them out the way they do in spy films. You don’t know how to convince them that you’re not a spy you have no one to tell no one who cares all you want is to never hear from them again. All you want is to forget this episode. They insist you want revenge. What a nail this instance. This interpretation. You are without specificity or cruelties this is the revenge. You have never held specificity or cruelties this is the revenge.
You realize the louder you become about abolition and the end of capitalism the more people become interested in what you’re wearing, who you’re dating, what you look like. You look like the unsuspecting secretary of somebody’s someone and this is the profession you provide in public to strangers in lingerie stores and cafes. Your lover tells you this is the moralizing discourse many are trapped by. It’s the church model we are comfortable with and know. Example: the pastor has a critique of the world and understands salvation. The path to salvation includes no alcohol and not a lot of gay sex but maybe some lesbian sex and the pastor confesses he indulged in both before knowing god. But he doesn’t anymore. Because he doesn’t anymore he is the example. From his body comes the life model which is what one needs to be in order to have a critique. So critics of capitalism have to be like this confessional, moralizing pastor: supposedly removed from capitalism and into shaming others. Fuck that shit.
You know you’re infected and that’s your motivation for critique. You scream into your pillow that you don’t want this body and this life that’s your motivation for critique. You understand how some people understand this so much and so deeply they abandon this world altogether that’s your motivation for critique. You love and hate everything about yourself that’s your motivation for critique. You want to be a different person every day and you know you are not that’s your motivation for critique. Fuck liberal activism and their small compact business models for revolution that’s your motivation for critique.
You worry that everything you like about yourself is just what has been colonized so deeply that’s your motivation for critique. It’s inside every day and floods out the way poems do sometimes you would never pretend to know the better you would never pretend to be above it you would never prescribe anything to anyone who feels it too that’s your motivation for critique.
You are repressed and unrepressed which means you are living in late capitalism. You diagnose your insides according to the blog posts, podcasts, quizzes available online and they all confirm that you are like the rest of them which is a relief. No more special or difficult. And what you have can be cured: procedures, walks to go on, smoothies to make. They have thoughts on how to cure you and this is both liberating and crushing. People have spent lives studying compressions of you so you don’t have to and they have a plan. You are not alone this is not unique your repressed unrepression they have new compositions of you for you.
You watch one last cop comedy while making dinner. You cut sweet yams, sauté leafy greens and eat carrots from the counter. The film exists as broadcast radio. By the time the cooking is complete you return to the drama. You thought it was slapstick throughout but suddenly something shifts. The daughter of the head detective appears. You think, what dadaism is this when did she have a child. The daughter holds a sack lunch in her hands and tells her mother that in her next life she hopes to return as criminal. So that she could be remembered. Chased. Packed and unpacked, agonized and antagonized, by her. Complicated and central to her. You turn everything off. You don’t go back. This is the end, you tell yourself.
You research the demise of debtors’ prisons because this is your life’s work: gathering evidence until the proof becomes accepted. You can already hear the criticism of skeptics. In their narrative discomfort they will argue debtors’ prisons are both unlike and like current prisons. It’s true, one could argue that debtors’ prisons never went away as the poor remain incarcerated but on the other hand, you repeat a version of them did go away and that feels like a sliver of something to be repeated. The emphasis, you capitulate, is that we invented something and then decided it did not need to exist. Is this not of interest to you? It’s made mortal and immortal. It can be made to decompose and vanish. Is this not of interest to you.
You want to be held by someone who is ashamed to be with you. It’s been a long day and solace must be found so you go to the only place you know for instantaneous kindness and softness: the subreddit forum on shoplifting. A place full of girls letting you know if the cameras record, if they’re monitored, how advanced their zoom functions might be and the ratings for difficulty should you proceed. It’s so caring and full of warmth it’s what everyone thought the internet would be. A space for kindness amongst strangers working to slowly burn it all down
Copyright © 2020 by Eunsong Kim. This poem originally appeared in Fabric Journal, Spring 2020. Used with the permission of the author.