Justin Clemens has published poetry, short stories and critical articles on art, philosophy, and psychoanalysis. He is currently editing a collection of essays by Alain Badiou, finishing a book of criticism, and finalizing a poetry manuscript.

Dead Wood

The meeting has continued past its deadline.

Dead wood is handing on dead wood to dead wood.
There are clocks in the wood, the clocks are ticking,
And the wood is the clock of all the voices.
The voices are droning; they are speaking of
languages they know they will never understand,
and the dead wood has come home, the dead wood
has uprooted itself from the dirt, the dirt unforgiving,
and scuttled into the world, already dead and dying
again and again, sad and not knowing
that it is dead, that it is dead, that the roots are ashen
as the ash of the seasons, the ash of the seasons.
The generations
are gone, have been over, are ashen
as the roots as the seasons as the generations
recoil supine, chance coiling the branches
and the roots and the ash and the seasons unbinding,
and the name of the holy one, older than nature,
older than the gods, the stars, the earth, the ash,
has gone forever though wood will not stop
will not though the infinite silence
crackles with the wood, its grey roots rustling
here in the silence, the dark, and the silence
broken now by dead woods dead woods sparing ash.


I am building a coffin for myself in which
my body will not be placed no matter how much
care I take over planks and nails for the future
is opening like an omnivorous hole and
there whatever I would will is already
defunct and will be so literally for ever
yet is something more than a columbarium
or perhaps less given the urns are shattered and
no shard is incised with recognisable name
and there are in any case no urns at all.

I would feel more like Faust if I knew who he was
and this enervated sensation is deepened
by the fact I never made a deal and surely
never succeeded in anything to think I
now have to live or decay up to my side of
this nonexistent bargain fills me with fear and
bemusement in roughly equal proportions
much like a protagonist whose name I forget
two twists of the knife and overpowering shame
or like Ishmael clinging to the empty coffin
of his friend-other there on a voracious sea.

The coffins I have built are not for me.


One day, the monkeys come across a dog-
Faced baboon. The baboon is scribbling something
Indecipherable in what looks a log-
Book of some kind. Despite the baboon being
Extraordinarily unprepossessing,
The monkeys are tempted to give it a kiss.
So they lunge forward, ten thousand tongues wiggling,
Only to be rebuffed. The baboon seems cross.
"Keep your dirty paws off, you fucking monkeys!"
Squeals the baboon, wiping its glistening snout;
"Iíve work to do." It sulks and cracks some fleas,
Then picks up its pen, and writes: "I will doubt
Anything that is not clear and distinct,
But will, by God, prove what can truly be thinked!"


Hey, "Woman is the chocolate of Being"
means: too much makes you sick or fat, but it
tastes OK if itís got a taste for you.
Fellatio wouldnít melt in your mouth,
but you loved cigarettes, even if they
threatened to take your life and legs. Donít get
all bung-eyed about this, either; beauty
is as nothing to coke-bottle lenses
through which the unresisting world will rub
its dirty hands to idiocy, and
celebrate your failure at the keyhole
which opens onto your unwashed fathers
tearing and snapping at each other with
their sharp little claws and residual teeth.