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J.J. Mull




we had three tasks:
start, keep starting,
never end

the plan was to stop
speaking altogether
— this was the law
we labored under

X grows restless
in their chair —
the room leans on us,
adjusts its weight
as if subjected to
a set of rules
never made explicit

like a string, the room tugs

one leg rubs against the other,
everything tingles
— your face flush
with a specific sadness
of something you don’t know

someone makes use of my resistance;
it shows them their content

none of this was pleasant

we had been advised
to stay present,
although what this means
remains contestable

we envied a capacity for anger
witnessed in others
(our own passions often
prematurely coil
into quiet resentment,
waiting for an opportune
time to make itself known)

one of us wanted only to repeat certain words:
fuck you becomes fuck this becomes fuck me
becomes we’re fucking in dreams

when asked to be specific,
i could only clench my jaw

in any case, there’s more
to rooms than words


against my better judgment
i want to be held by you,
curled up in the curved hull of a boat
here enters the superb puberty of the group


little j cites a strong desire
to burrow inside bruce’s chest —
make a home in his hollow,
take shelter in his ribs

bruce, unsurprisingly,
doesn’t know how to
take this proposition

the image recurs in dreams for weeks,
gradually becoming more erotic in nature

the imagined interior of bruce’s chest
oscillates between feeling cozy, domestic,
claustrophobic, and eventually blatantly sexualized

bruce opens his mouth,
i find a pearl —
no tooth … no pearl,
nestled under the tongue …
I reach in, take it from
his mouth, put it in mine
and swallow

i flip my hair,
pretending to be casual

try to picture the conversation
that never began
but was always particular

just doing my job,
an expert at
crying on vacation

bruce used to dream
this much we know

/ the morning of bruce

coffee warm, bread crumbs
just below the lower lip,
caught in the stubble

daddy’s had a hard night’s sleep
his head is killing him

this is incorrect
because it sounds like a story
but isn’t

i can’t tell you what it’s like
to be in rooms with bruce

whatever we said about him
we said about ourselves —
we love groups because they
pose impossible questions:

how can you be what i need?

how can this not be so awkward?

how can i of all people
take control of this situation?

the object isn’t fixed
we are nervous and bored


stucco, glass, cement, dust,
fluorescent bulb,
wilting bougainvillea

under the chair, more chair

under the room, more room

our research is horizontal
— we scan bruce for clues,
yet he performs nothing
but rage and boredom

the apparent antagonism of our speech,
lacking an object of attachment,
enters the room as chair, as wall, as floor,
and so on until it again reaches bruce
and self combusts

we pool our
gestures together —
idle communication
just beyond reach

here’s what we already know:

bruce has been elected
“all that which we hate
most in this world”

a poster hangs in my room that reads:

“you are (freed from) myself”

this is literal


something about
the erotic promise
of spatial discomfort

something about
the inevitability
of failure

suppose i use my
attraction as a kind
of telescope?

suppose our grammars
of restraint become

a means to bury the claim
of uselessness under
its own impossibility

dreamt rather than seen,
mis-seen due to
pressures producing
the dream

go home bruce

leave me alone,
i don’t want to
play games anymore

we want to be
fully received

to establish no rules
of procedure

to arrive with carefully
prepared statements

to speak only
when spoken to

to start with
a personal difficulty

to unravel affliction

to keep the goodness
of the group isolated
from its badness

to attend to what
hasn’t happened

what won’t ever
not happen

when i say i could
use some lunch
i mean i want to
abolish this room
and all rooms like it

when i say i want
to move this chair
i mean i want to
destroy the powerful

or at least that which
makes the powerful


here i am
in a room
in los angeles

in the shadow
of my own devices

sunset boulevard
keeps going

it’s still going

some kind of art thing
some kind of art experience

i’m having an
art experience

all hail the high priestess
of professional repression,
the room explains itself

call it a hunch
call it mother
call it the loss
of what we
came here for

have your hands
ever spoken to you?

let me ask you this:
have you ever had the thought
that your precious sweater
won’t protect you here?

i can feel the last
drops of good will
draining from my
boy scout pouch,
my timidity pooling
at your ankles

if i learned anything
from proust it’s that
life is a series of rooms
occupied with others

maladaptive sleuth in the cracks

late bloomer in the crevices

i thought i could
stop stuttering but
i stopped starting

i can’t go on
i can’t go on
and on and on

i don’t mean
to sound bitter
because i’m not

i just feel bruce


our consultant claims
the head is only
stuck to the

i watch the proceedings
from within my own chest,
peering out between
horizontal bars of rib

the transition from intra-chest
to extra-chest experience
becomes prototype for all chronology

it was an addition problem

we could grasp that
one joins another when
both are the same,

but how are they added
up when different?

partial inhibitions
of this faculty produced
interest in geography,

one starts to smile,
but finds they are
smiling at a stranger…

embarrassing …
to be legible to a room
not in it

as in let’s
send an ambassador

as in stop
thinking my thoughts


group assumes nothing
and desires everything

i want to think
you in reverse

i can’t tell you what it’s like
to be in rooms with groups



J.J. MULL is a poet currently studying clinical social work in western Massachusetts. Previous work has been published in New Life Quarterly and his first chapbook, Safe Conduct (2019), is available from Dogpark Collective.

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