Conversed is an ongoing multimedia project between John Steven Cummins and Aron Fischer, a game played by two men in love: part affirmation, part confession, and part archaeology of a dyad.
We started this project approximately a year and a half ago, as an escape: for John, so he could find some way to keep writing through medical school; for Aron, as a way he could make work outside the schema imposed by his MFA program. Aron would make a piece, and sometimes leave it for John to respond to in writing. No time limit was imposed, no piece was rejected, and no response was deemed too irrelevant nor too direct. The goal was to play, and that’s what we did; we made scherzi, not dirges, despite the darkness that evolved from some of the work we’ve made here.
It’s strange to exhibit these works: the process was built from and further built intimacy between the two of us, and it became clear early on that these were explicitly ours, that the work at least partly spoke our mutual language. Moreover, the work rose to meet each other, with John’s post-confessional fractured narration matched by Aron’s physical exploration of the line between utility and inutility. And that motion fueled us to attempt answering questions that interest us both: If you de-purpose a tool, is it still a tool? And if you devein and debone a story, is it still narrative? What defines something as broken, valueless, useless – and is that appraisal final, or even plausibly accurate?
All week spent in a cold metal room.
I’ve been learning how to solder
And seal shattered bones. I’m told to
“Answer the question.” I’m told to
“Put it together again.”
Dubious instructions. I take glue and caulk.
I seal your arm up, put it in a clamp.
Leave you there for much of the winter.
But like a slashed trunk it withers, breaks!
You come back.
The arm is flayed and jagged.
The arm looks like a lamprey’s mouth.
We’re all tense. Nobody believes
In knitting bone back together anymore, do they?
I swaddle it and pray quiet waves of prayer.
The praying floods the room. The cast
Doesn’t hold, of course, and
Everyone starts laughing.
You are laughing, too. We are drowning in prayer.
So what else could I do? Your broken arm is a hammer.
I swing it. I break!
Your other limbs until they’re weapons, too.
Back of the throat.
Right front tooth, top
right corner by the
gums. Right tricep.
Tendons in the left
the scapulae. Behind
the right ear. The
triangle of my eyes:
corner, nook, right
front tooth. The scar
line around my neck.
Point on the forehead
of my right eye.
My arches. The right
ankle, when I flex
my foot. My tailbone.
The top half of my
abdomen. The fore-
arms. My left fourth
toe. Top of my right
hand. Both wrists.
My thumb with the
splinter, and the other
thumb (in sympathy).
My ear in its popping;
my stomach in its
starkness. My right
hand in its curvature:
all these aches
I place between me
and the local darkness.
Why shouldn’t I be lukewarm? How dare you spit me out.
You get the best of water when it’s tepid.
Too hot, and it escapes, a ghost story, a final girl.
Leaves the forest to wither, then, and what good’s an empty forest?
A revenge summer left it burnt, sere and no survivors.
I bet you’d say, “Throw some ice water on it, then.”
But too cold, and it obstructs, a stonewall, a stalemate.
And then, just watch as it shrinks into a singularity. Smooth move.
Out there, water has to fight to stay wet.
Always struggling over temperature. But here?
Here it just slowly invades. Stays in place when it wants;
Leaves to creep skyward, tinting with reckless color.
Follow the trails of this, our unique ocean. Nobody engineered it.
You go this way, I’ll go thataway. I will call you
When I find it.
My teeth, our teeth!
Juts and interrupts.
But eleven pulled between us.
They still tear, they can
Pierce meat. We are still
My body, bodied and
Too solid, not nearly seethrough
Like the gauzy gown I wanted. Ruddy
And radiating constant heat. O my body!
O shatterless, ol’ faithless,
Ain’t no gnostic, but I want to separate
My self from my meat.
Our fat. Our thickness. Our girth.
Our heavy. Our padding.
Our armor. Our gravity.
We are gravid
With the future, too fat
For futurism, too fat
For flight risks.
O night. O reassortment.
My nightmares, our
Nightmares! I shake a lot
Nightly and am chased
Oft. I set fires. He’s over there
And when I crouch, tensed and hidden.
You know to not jar me awake.
But you can wake sleepwalkers, ignore
The stories. They’re just
Wandering, not knives-out,
Mouths not full of tart iron.
Lust, my wanderlust. Your
Restless legs, your claustro
Phobia, which is the fear
Of being mudbound and being
Swallowed by mud and
Becoming mud. This is
Why you work with clay.
This is admirable.
This is how you step steady
Toward your terror.
O the city, the city!
Until you pried me out
I had never seen a cliff,
I had never tasted
All the dust I inhaled, never
Saw an untinged sky.
“The clouds get enough attention!”
I said. They do. I need less,
Drink less and want less, now,
But the apices of my lungs
Still miss soot, my occiput
Misses the nervy tightness, my eyes
Miss casing the joint, my joints
Miss tensing to run.
O, doubt. I store you here.
O, our home. Our redoubt.
My keep, your oubliette.
My bastion, your county jail.
Our future daughter.
I wish you could build her
Out of bronze and walnut, hard
And riveted. Engineered.
A small wonder.
John Steven Cummins received a BA in Sociology and Gender and Women’s Studies from Grinnell College, and an MFA in Creative Writing of Poetry from Columbia College Chicago. He has been published in the Indiana Review, Black Clock, Buffalo Carp, and Columbia Poetry Review (among others), and has presented and published research on stigma in mental illness in multiple venues. He is currently a fourth year medical student at the University of Missouri, and begins his residency in Psychiatry this summer.
Aron Fischer received his BFA in Studio Art from the University of Missouri – St. Louis and will complete his MFA from the University of Missouri – Columbia in December 2014. In between his BFA and MFA, he was a Senior Display Coordinator for Anthropologie. He and his Husband, John Steven Cummins, opened the second run of their project “Conversed” at Fort Gondo Compound for the Arts in St. Louis, Missouri in January, 2014. Aron has been awarded residencies in Columbia, MO and Deer Isle, ME at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. He has shown in New York State, Boston, Chicago and LA.