How Do You Say Burrito Supreme?

Remarkable is the only way I can describe
this book by Heidegger, despite his Nazism

(yikes). His thought brings me unwilling
to a pure element, enacts the very thing it describes:

In setting up a world, the work sets forth
the earth. The work moves the earth itself

into the open of a world and keeps it there.
The work lets the earth be an earth.

This reminds me of something I said about
literature many years ago in an editorial

I wrote on Bachelard, how it takes you both
out of the world and more deeply into it

at the same time, takes you into an elsewhere
here. This was the effect, the experience,

I argued, of real literature, rather than all them
other books. But how much more precise

are Heidegger’s terms, the smart differentiation
between world and earth. A sharpening

of consciousness is what great thought
gives you, the mind taken into one of those

old-school pencil sharpeners and shaved
down to a piercing point, all the excess

curled away in wooden rinds. So much fun,
though, to empty and sort through those rinds!

The philosopher may not have much use
for them, but the poet does. Amazing

that I can follow Heidegger’s thought at all
because in college I had no idea what

he was saying. I thought Dasein sounded
like a cold medicine and he was the cold.

Years and years and years and years
it takes for your mind to be ready (barely)

for another. Even this book, I first tried
reading it in Missouri about ten years ago

after reading and loving—though not,
now, remembering—What Is Called Thinking?

but I couldn’t get into it. Probably because
I’d been shaven down to a point and wanted

to write, build up excess again, i.e. life.
I wonder if he would—if he will—differentiate

between the world and a world, which I think
are both different from the earth (also different

from an earth). Because after being shaven
down to a point you want to go back into

the world as a poet so you can make out of that
a world. Which shows the earth as an earth.

Or maybe there are too many terms here,
maybe now we can’t even differentiate between

the world and the earth in a way that Heidegger
could, maybe what I experience mostly is

the world—when is the last time I felt the earth?
Palms cold against the glass of my windows

as I look out into the day: the faint red brick
of the building across the street, the scuffed

street and sidewalk below: all that is the world
and not the earth, though the temperature,

I suppose, is the earth—though only felt
through my protective glass—and the light

making visible the sidewalk and the street,
glancing off the white of the truck parked

opposite my windows. Where is the earth?
It is made into these materials of the world

that I see. All around me I sit in this
translation. But we don’t see it as translation

until a world shows us the world as made
out of the earth—and then we see an earth.

Or something like that. The concerns of the world,
are they the concerns of the earth? Hardly.

Last night I saw that guy on TV again, the one
with the impossible hair who looks like

he’s taking a big fat crap on the earth
any chance he gets. And all those people

smiling and clapping behind him, news
personalities taking him seriously. Meanwhile

I was inserting a Taco Bell Burrito Supreme
into my mouth and chewing, a nicely wrapped

package of crap, who knows where they get
this “meat.” And I go on eating it because I’m used

to it, at almost 11 PM this was the only place
relatively cheap open next to my dance studio,

I needed something to eat quickly, even those
eating cycles are the world that I’m used to.

Even these couplets, regulated, justified
left, reading to the right, why should they

be this way? What tradition or traditions
decided this that I adhere to, how is this

the best way that I can think? The world,
moving out there, I can actually feel the cars

shooshing by on the BQE as sound coming
through my windows, into my floorboards,

into my kitchen stool on which I sit writing.
I hear sirens every ten minutes or so, there

is a lot of world happening where they are
going. I think of the people bundled up

in the cold, so miserable that feeling
of having to go out in the day in the freezing

cold, the early labored morning, just a coat
what you are shuffling down the street.

The privilege that has gotten me here,
much of which I have worked for or at least

earned, by now, through my work, though
by work I don’t really mean the work

I do that holds, or attempts to hold, open
the Open of the world. Partially I do

but mostly it is the work, the labor of teaching
that other work that has gotten me here,

and that is kind of incredible. A chair scrapes
in the living room across the hall from mine.

I can hear almost everything my neighbor does,
from singing—which he does a lot—

to talking on the phone, both activities which
I almost never do. This means he hears me

when I fly into a rage at my technology,
something not printing or loading properly,

which for some reason is the only time
I get really mad, other than when I’m watching

Cleveland sports, when I tend go insane.
Or maybe he hears me when I talk to myself,

which I do at times, saying out loud a thought
I’ve just had. I’ll think, There’s more bacon

in this Boar’s Head package than that other one,
and a few seconds later I’ll say that out loud,

as if to confirm it, as if my speech were literally
an echo of my thought. Perhaps to my neighbor

this sounds like a weird conversation I am
having with a taciturn friend. What he doesn’t

hear, unless he is listening very closely, is me
dancing with an imaginary partner, which I’m

doing most of the time when I’m not reading
or writing or eating or sitting at my computer

or watching television. Just this morning
I grunted and puffed my way through swing

patterns I learned last night before Taco Bell,
just now I came up with some cool variations

on a pattern, counting out the rhythm—
that he may hear. Putting phrases together—

I’ve just started to understand that this is
what dance is, putting phrases together

to the music, in a sense translating that music
into the language of your body. So the teacher

gives you patterns, or little phrases you can
use, and then you have to put them together

into sentences, though most of the time
you just keep repeating the same phrases, like

The restaurant is over there, the restaurant
is over there, the restaurant is over there

and pretty soon your partner has no appetite
anymore. So then you throw in I heard

the margaritas are really good! And she’s like
Yeah? And you’re like Yeah! The restaurant

is over there. And she gets kind of excited
and you say again, The margaritas are really

good! The restaurant is over there. And she
nods, Okayyy, and then you say, out of nowhere,

And pocket calculators are really awesome!
I think dance teachers approach the teaching

of dance much the same way I approach
poetry, they’re just trying to give you certain

threshold requirements of the dance so you can
have a dance, you know, make that sound

that says dance to someone else that recognizes
dance, but really the dance, the teachers

know, is something more, that something else
of putting all the phrases together with line

and drama into a work, a physical language
that opens up a world within the music, shows

us the music as a music, makes us hear it
for the first time. And that music itself is

opening up a world within the world, though
changed now from when it was simply

listened to by itself, the dance a translation
of a translation of the earth as an earth.

Jason Koo is the author of the poetry collections More Than Mere Light, America’s Favorite Poem and Man on Extremely Small Island and coeditor of the Brooklyn Poets Anthology. He has published his poetry and prose in the American Scholar, Missouri Review, Village Voice and Yale Review, among other places, and won fellowships for his work from the National Endowment for the Arts, Vermont Studio Center and New York State Writers Institute. An associate teaching professor of English at Quinnipiac University, Koo is the founder and executive director of Brooklyn Poets and creator of the Bridge. He lives in Brooklyn.