Solitaire, by Sam Riviere

I think I always liked the game
because it sounded like my name
combined with the concept of alone.
(My name really does mean “alone”
in Slovenian!) We don’t actually care
if it’s true, but we want to know
the person telling us is telling us
the truth. Say his name is “Hank,”
as in, “of hair.” (It’s not.) My upbringing
was classically smooth/chaotic, apart
from traumatic events I’ve never detailed,
even to myself. Traumatic but methodical.
But why say what happened even.
In the tech block the blinds were down
and I cleared my way to the final marble
under the indistinct gaze of an indistinct
master. My success had allowed me
to become the bastard I always knew
I could be. What did it mean, to clean
the board like this, counting down to one?
By these gradual and orderly subtractions
my persona was configured. The goal
was to remain single. Sometimes telling you
the truth wouldn’t be telling you anything
much. For a while I’ve felt torpid and detuned,
as if I want to share a view with you,
so we can both be absent in one place.
Look, the sky is beautiful and sour.
I’m not here, too. I’m staring out of this cloud
like an anagram whose solution
is probably itself. I am only the method
that this stupid game was invented to explain.


In Praise Of The Passivity Of Paper, by Sam Riviere

I felt suddenly convinced that I had feelings for the wallpaper.
I was especially captivated by its blonde hair and bad dreams.
I had the impression the wallpaper needed longer to properly respond.
By the time I left, my affections had produced this abrasion on my cheek.
People looked on the abrasion as unquestionable proof of my sincerity.
The abrasion was produced by rubbing my face on the paper’s smooth surface.
It only occurred to me later that it might have found this sensation disagreeable.
But by then I had become known for my abrasion, and I seldom thought of,
discussed, or in any way depended upon the wallpaper for anything.
My affections, though, had produced upon the paper their own mark.
To my irritation and gradual dismay, interest in the paper’s abrasion
began to outweigh interest in my own; indeed, mine was starting to fade
while the mark upon the paper had deepened with the passing of time.
People liked to visit the paper in its room and probe their fingers
into the widening tear, by now a gruesome black-edged wound.
The silence of the paper during these incursions suggested to some
condemnation of their curiosity, but to others implied approval.
Some even speculated that the paper “enjoyed” the infringement
of its surfaces, while most agreed it was a question of the paper
enduring this indignity, having little or no opportunity to protest.
Some visitors could not contain their enthusiasm, and over time
other recesses were opened in the paper without its consent.
The earliest admirers of the paper’s abrasion were heard lamenting
the gulf between the paper’s current state and its previous appearance.
They opined that to experience the abrasion now was to encounter
a kind of mockery of the gentle and informal gesture it had once been.
Others contended that while the paper’s condition was certainly different,
it couldn’t be in any way “better” or “worse” than it had been originally;
on the contrary, the paper, exhibiting as it did the marks of the affections
spent upon it, was in every way a true record of the destruction this attention
had wrought, and had become if anything a more moving testament,
charting as it did the changing and accelerated passions of the times.
In later phases of the paper’s deterioration some expressed admiration
for the stoical indifference with which the paper withstood its abusers
and wondered if such an attitude might not improve the willing
and reciprocal style with which they and their contemporaries
were accustomed to receiving each other’s gazes and caresses.
Against the odds, this view seemed timely and took root in the populace,
and to this day in all the estimations of historians and critics of culture
it is widely held accountable for the period of dormancy and inertia
among the youngest of our people, whose silence and repose
has replaced the humors and rages of those whose desires had flown
unchecked, who had coupled for so long with such energy and frequency.