Emily Skillings

I wrote much of this poem in my sleep after watching Jean Cocteau’s Orphée earlier that evening. I barely remember half-waking and slapping the first ten or so lines into a word document. I had been revisiting the film because I was trying to write an essay on hallucination and transmission as poetic tropes (Orpheus receiving cryptic poem-fragments over a mysterious radio frequency after a run-in with Death). I’d also been thinking a lot about reading as a kind of erasure or consumption (at least a certain kind of taught reading that favors understanding over experience). I gave myself some space to imagine and resist this violence. 

“I’d give all that I’ve written for even one of those little phrases. I’m on the trail of the unknown.”



Every word in this poem is a dead body.
Each word dies as you read it
and floats behind in wooden canoe
that covers itself with itself
to make a coffin. A white historical plane
knits above the dead word to shroud
and replace it. The poem before (this) point is streaming
and invisible. The rivulets on which the coffin boats float
move backwards forever. That last word, “word”
and then “last, “that,” “forever,” backwards,”
“move,”—you killed those words.
You actually wrote this poem in its own blood.
The poem was alive just a while ago
and then you came. You walked (here)
sluggishly against the wind of  the underworld
to push against each body.
I am trying to (protect) these (words) (from) you (with)
((special armor)). If you see this whole poem
in a mirror you will see death at work
as you see bees behind glass in a hive.
That last line was from Jean Cocteau’s Orphée
where poems are essentialized as direct transmissions
from the dead. When I transcribed it I reversed its screen death
and then you came and looked at it and sent it back
to this blank page, a banal trauma
a repeated rest on nothing.


Emily Skillings is a dancer poet poet dancer. Recent poetry can be found in No DearThe The PoetryBone BouquetLingerpostStonecutterLa Fovea, and Maggy. Skillings dances for the A.O. Movement Collective and The Commons Choir (Daria Faïn and Robert Kocik) and presents her own choreography in New York. She lives in Brooklyn, where she is a member of the Belladonna* Collaborative, a feminist poetry collective and event series. She recently co-curated the exhibit “John Ashbery Collects: Poet Among Things” with Adam Fitzgerald at Loretta Howard Gallery.

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