Alchemy Forever

Ariana Reines

Excerpt of a Ripley Scroll.


I had an experience of a country

Which is a place on planet Earth

Of wild beauty to which no word in the English language

Can accurately be appended. It was a romance

That I was taken into, which made me wild and humbled me beyond all speech

A legend that grew into facts, ravages of ravages

I doubt I ever will be able to speak to

I knelt in love, I crawled for love, I too had had dreams of revolution

But I would not pretend to powers

That lord and lady I lacked

There are histories of magic speech

That should not be written down




Look: I was a woman with a problem

I did not come all this way to deceive you

It was a problem I could not resolve

And because my problem was unsolvable

I was shown miracles. Impossible

Things were shown to my naked eye

As if to say: the resolution of your problem

Is not the purpose of your errand

Your problem produces heat in you

Intolerable heat you have converted to prayer

And I, girl, am the issue of your prayer

Woman, I am the issue of it

But it was not your prayer that made me




After my ex and I had talked and couldn’t communicate

Because a sugary form of narcissism had crisped all over

Everything we said like candy on a halo

Old candy you’d have to suck a long time or bite to get through

And I had lost my appetite for this adult candy of my condition

And your condition and my worth and your worth as the great telescope

Of obscurity peeped the immensity of garbage that is the product

Of the loneliness of the hungry adults of Earth, after my ex and I had failed

To get through to one another an online course

Led by a sexy hostage negotiator was advertised to me

And while I packed and went about my pre-holiday duties

I listened to three or four videos of him talking

He has a lazy eye I find troublingly alluring

The way he pronounces hostage is... unique?

Every time he says the word he says it like


(The way when someone is “hot” people sometimes lean very hard on the start of the word
so that its heat seems almost the arousing phenomenon singed by the H itself)

Sometimes I think the phoneme HA—but IS phoneme the word for this?

Has something to do with the heart of God


It’s the syllable that restored virility to the body of Abraham

Sometimes I think it’s the joke behind Harvard

Did you know hardly anything is known about John Harvard

Well he does look handsome as a statue

A bust of him loomed on a high mantelpiece

Under which I watched Bernadette Mayer and Fanny Howe discuss money 

How in their youth they and their friends never cared about it

And how in those days doing things “for the money” was unheard of

“I used to think you could live without money,” said Bernadette, 

“you can’t.”




“Since I can’t get away, I’ll change” or something

This won’t be my favorite poem in the whole world

TELEPHONE opened early in 2009

Just after the financial crisis, now makes a decade

Won Obies, a sold-out run, & that year

Was also my first time teaching poetry

My job was Holloway poet at UC Berkeley 

Therefore what’s ending is my first decade

Of full adulthood. When success type

Things were first being offered me

I found it hard to grasp.

My inclination was to run

And frankly it still is.

There’s a stack of electric

Feeling sitting on these ten

Years that is also sitting on your stack

Of years that makes it feel unlike any other ten

Years that I’ve lived that I’ve ever tried 

To take a good honest look at. It has to do

With a sensation of having fought lovingly

To behold, notice, apprehend, and adore what lived

Through me all this time while having also often found myself

More like a specimen under surveillance by me myself

In partnership with outside forces to which I had never

Given my consent even though I signed the Terms

And Conditions and all the Privacy

Policies, all only apparently benign

And never neutral. I was as a drop of pondwater

Pressed between rectangles of glass

It feels weird to try and say what mattered

Most to me, to me! During these years.

The facts we move through are the outcome, I guess, 

And we avert our eyes from most of them, of what we’ve felt.

But I want so desperately to be human. And the longing

In me to keep the best of the truth secret from you is also strong.

And yet I so dearly want to know you.

Continual surveillance is its own kind of feeling

Coupled with the catastrophes

In the lives of many of the people I’ve loved best

There’s a hellacious ethics 

To No Escape. I have liked to lose

Myself in labor. Apart from loving, 

The pleasure of disappearing 

Into people even more fucked up

And always more beautiful than me

What a relief

The idea of flight, or perpetual motion, is what I’m trying

To speak of, which in a novel would be the form

Called Picaresque. How to keep moving while abjuring

The notion of escape? I didn’t take refuge in some Berlin

I felt it my duty to be American. Because I don’t

Know how to be and because the very thought of it

Hurts me. But if I’m going to be here, enjoying

As I can my great complicity with you

And billions of us and what won’t let us

Live, my heart, I can at least sober up

This poem.

The eye of things is everywhere.

I had to run THROUGH the culture

To get beyond it.

There was no way to get around it.




The day after Xmas I was walking down Warren Street

Eating a pear. I was thinking about Dylan Thomas

And his despair and the despair that is a vitamin

To me, though I hate to admit it. Hi Ariana, 

Said an elegantly smiling person in a long black

Faux fur and slim black choker, you don’t know me 

But I love your work. Keep it up. The person smiled

At me and I smiled and said thank you and nice

To meet you and then we both kept walking and I finished

My pear. The irony was I had just started writing 

This poem and was that very second

Thinking, I have got to stop, this shit will fucking

Kill me. These heroics, living so desperately,

Letting my ex not let go of me, secretly never

Letting go of my lovers, caring so much in secret

For my poem, secretly adoring more than I can say,

Trusting only these lines, trusting almost nothing

“Real.” Now it is tomorrow and I am editing 

This. I just awoke from a dream. In it

I was a little boy. Laughing inside myself, I dove

To the ocean floor. When I got there I realized

I did not know how to swim. I vaguely heard

The adults far above me, through a density of water

As heavy as ten years. I awoke with a gasp. My chest

Hurt. It still hurts.

Some years ago I confided in Cecilia Vicuña 

When we read together at Princeton and I was a good

Five years into full on wrecking myself for Art

I think my career might be killing

Me I told her, which anyone could see

Just by looking at me. Then you are probably right, 

She said gently, for Cecilia Vicuña speaks gently, and she said, 

I have been there myself, and it’s a good thing 

You know it. Because now you can save yourself.




It’s not so much my career I have to save

Myself from now, but something bigger

Deeper, the internalized companion

Of algorithmic despair, which I am not

Alone with and which can kill while

Simultaneously, and I’m about to quote

Rilke, serenely disdaining to destroy us.

Nothing escapes judgment here below

If not of our fellows with their AR-15s

Or the police with their guns then a mass

Produced internal fascist of self-betterment

Which froths with unbeloved life force

I’m not in the mood to make good on

Even if there’s no running away from the stars

Or their and our velocity, or night itself

Which we’ve almost slain for endless day

I feel I have moved so fast, so slow

Only to make enough of a hash of things 

That now, on the threshold of the symmetrical

Year I only want to live. I don’t know as I can

Do that without poems, but I might.

Not prove, or prove you worthy of my love

Or render myself worthy of, as, and to God

Or transubstantiate our longing to be good

Or tender to you my heart in exchange for slender

And fattening money

Beating out the secret immensities

Of my own private religion in the wide-open

Borderless Zion of our collective toil…..

Ariana Reines is a poet and astrologer based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her newest book, A Sand Book, was longlisted for the National Book Award.