Katie Naughton

debt ritual: vector

I bleed in the direction of something
(what would it mean to take this literally)
or: my blood moves in the direction of something
(what thing?)
my blood is a vector
(motion and direction)
my breath is a vector
(motion and direction)
a conveyance
of pathos meaning disease
a production of suffering
a path through the city
all night a practice
of listening: the foot step
the distant highway wet from snow
overlaid: the church bells
their own echoes and self-
simultaneity and what I
whistle I think I hear
also distant I will miss
church buildings when they are
gone a roof falls in
the wind they’re made of
money of course but also
something some people gathered
and remain a place
made of money you can
go into without money
some kind of light
you can wrap yourself in
and call it yours
this time of year every
one wraps themselves in lights
its easier and more difficult
to see whose house is whose
when someone lives upstairs
and someone else down
when they light their houses differently
my blood moves my breath
in which direction?


debt ritual: savings bank

the building on the corner of 96th and Amsterdam
a temple in the Greek idiom
pillars set down directly
on the sidewalk
with presidents (Jefferson):
Save and teach all you are
to save: thus pave
the way for moral and material
Teach economy. That is
one of the first and highest
virtues. It begins with saving
The 1920s took
down two tenements to
put it there. Now it’s
a CVS and a private
preschool. I could say
some obvious things
about tenements preschool
tuition and who might save
what. I could say something
about the instructional
ambitions of bank walls
American presidents
and the Grecian ideals
of political and economic
American architecture
like was this place doomed
to be an expensive preschool
by the tone of the inscriptions
over its doors.
I guess the advice is
basically sound to keep
carefully what you don’t
need today and let
it grow. I could add
the bank was the first
to welcome women,
immigrants, that it served
wealth then maybe
against wealth that it was
done in by high interest
rates by bad investments
by the 1970s. I could say
something obvious
about what the wall doesn’t know
about 21st century interest rates
or about need and excess
about precarity or that
my life-long poverty-line
grandmother’s advice was
if you have it use it
for what you are
interested in

and instantly feel
I need to defend her
nevertheless near-
complete and necessary
frugality. The insistence
on virtue not accidental
the poem’s already there
in the words on the corner
in the lobby now full
of light medical equipment
and snack food
a place we might have
walked to bought
some small un-
necessary thing.


debt ritual: originary objects

Running in the cold the ritual
of what remains essential:
the body and its care the
necessary conditions of making
sound my footfalls and hard
breath-vector cars of course
when it’s cold like this sound
travels differently and scent
it’s quiet and more pronounced
the sound the smell the city makes
meat searing and the particularly
upwardly mobile lower middle class
1990s scent of one kind of laundry
detergent an expensive version
at a regular supermarket. I’m thinking
about originary objects the already-
retro orange madras beach towel
I thought would always be what
a beach towel was the weave
of silence and echo the steep valley
made of the lake in June.


debt ritual: drift
(owing a debt to Roland Barthes The Pleasure of the Text and Lisa Robertson “Time in the Codex”)

an idea passes over the city
the lake wanting to be with us
the cloud shade of desire
the void blush accumulating
on time and its architecture
like other ideas I memorize
or which make themselves in me
and in which I choose of necessity
to live an idea makes good
neighbors a good storm a good
way out for someone I am way
in with someone hearing
their teeth and breathing
hearing the orthographic noises
of their thinking I am way in
with the city the way it isn’t going
I am not going with it
something layered on
the surface something stupid
and intractable about me
a text a building someone else
some other time was here
of this same hasty ritual
and its drift what gives
and what is given back



KATIE NAUGHTON is the author of the chapbook Study (Above/Ground Press, 2021). Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Bennington Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Jubilat, and elsewhere. She is at work on two collections of poems, “Debt Ritual” and “the real ethereal,” which was a finalist for the 2021 Nightboat Poetry Prize and the 2021 Autumn House Press Book Prize under the title “Hour Song.” She is the publicity editor for Essay Press, editor and project manager at the HOW(ever) and How2 Digital Archive Project (launching in 2022), and founder of Etcetera, a web journal of reading recommendations from poets. She lives in Buffalo, NY, where she is a doctoral candidate in the Poetics program at SUNY – Buffalo.