Photo by Jeff Sirkin








Papers please, the man said, as we exited the plane.

Folds make a map or an equation, my daughter asks me to help her make a star with triangles that never close, and learns to print a name

misspelled on or after the 1920 census

what we hoarded or carried or wrinkled on the way to



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As a young woman alone in a strange city, in an economically depressed part of the country, as a journalist for a newspaper that would close two years after I started there, making $13,000 a year, I would drive the outskirts of town

in the evenings: a frontage road, cassette tapes, a 93-cent gallon of gas and packs of American Spirit cigarettes

reading bricks from another economy, archive of our crumbling, of our hush and erasure, at the margins of my employment

I would drive until the highway or the back road took me to a sign with an unrecognizable name. Right is east, left is west. Turn back (What cloud, what particles and conflicts accumulated behind me?)

to arrive at the school board meeting, in the wake of a teacher’s strike, to consult the microfiche at the public library.

I used to believe the document tethered the poem to the earth, to soil that one could taste that could be nutrient to more than one.

The body is a condition, the nation another.

The document can pull the land out from under our feet.

Do you remember how the light tilted or held as you lay on the floor in your bedroom on the night that President Bush bombed Kuwait?

            In a recurring dream I drive on an unfamiliar road often on the outskirts of a city, and when I try to turn the steering wheel, the car flies off a bridge. Sometimes I am alone, sometimes family or friends ride with me. Sometimes I can feel the weightless glee of the car suspended just before impact,

when I hang in the air like a query



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I practice leaving my phone in another room, I imagine walking into a crowd or boarding a train with no connection to where I am/are going

no way to call you, to tell you I am delayed or okay or lonely

in a place named for its function, aspiration, for what might be seen or done there, for those we killed to get there.

The documents cross us.

Once I carried index cards in my pockets on which I scribbled to-do lists and phone numbers.

Now we do not know what documents to carry, how the files behind us change our view to the desert around us.

My mother became a secretary at an insurance company because no funds were allotted for a girl to go to college in the rations of her working class family.

In college I worked as an assistant paralegal, learned to log the minutes I summarized, organized, transcribed or copied in order to bill a client.

We worked on legal pads and in manila folders, with calculations of fist and forget-it

while information, incident, injustice was segregated, sequestered, whispered in thick books, in a desert of hush, unattached to hyperlink or videofeed.

My mother stopped working when she had her first child at 21 and remained outside the workforce until she became a teacher’s aide in her 40s earning $11/hour from the public school system. In a special needs preschool classroom, she constructed records of when a child slept or ate, urinated or defecated. She hated the teacher she worked with/ would not quit her job/ because it was a job: archives of sleep and shit.

Data blots

a page

which can be used to wipe or dust, to kindle or absorb footprints and idling cars.

Please do not mistake this for nostalgia.



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At home we consult articles with titles like “A 70 Day Web Security Action Plan for Artists and Activists Under Siege.” My husband has left all social media accounts. He uses a secure email server, new text messaging app, a service that scours the internet for the trafficking of personal information.

I send a scan of my driver’s license with my photo and signature blocked out to the Intelius group.

I call customer service at

I wait to receive a text message code from to confirm the removal of my record.

I follow the instructions on the “Control Your Information” option via the drop down menu at Radaris.

I am clear in my fear, in the privilege of my Plexiglas terror:

            a dream in which a Homeland Security Agent stuffs a paperback I ordered in
2011 from into my mouth.



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The statistician brings toilet paper rolls to his presentation, stacking them to help students visualize one billion

to know the numbers in their hands. (As disposable?)

The mind harbors folds into which pour announcement/information/advertisement/propaganda/ altfact which will (not) be classified as truth /not truth structures of possibility and reaffirmation obscuring what we owe each other, what blanks we are asked to fill.

Do not shrink away.

Sometimes it helps to sit inside a building and feverishly recreate what’s beyond its walls in order to make sense of any notion of orientation.

Left is east, right is west.

The desert is document, is a crisis found in footprints and idling cars.

The contents of my mouth appear in no file (digital or otherwise): blood archive.

Situate your documents in deep history. Learn to find yourself under the wrong name.

Once I read a story about a twenty-something girl who hauled all the garbage she made around with her for 3 months. What tracks behind me? What hangs in plastic bags tied to my belt and backpack?

The memory of a woman yelling murder, murder, murder to all of us on the A-train one evening in December 2003: an anthem, a reckoning.

Print this on the lightest paper, on the newsprint we used for practicing our letters in elementary school, paper dissolving under our spit and erasures.

Build a wall of file cabinets

then burn them.



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Susan Briante
is the author of three books of poetry: Pioneers in the Study of Motion (Ahsahta Press 2007), Utopia Minus (Ahsahta Press 2011), and The Market Wonders (Ahsahta Press 2016). She is an associate professor of Creative Writing at the University of Arizona.


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A dozen poets. One a month. Nothing more.