Bathroom ritual. All photos: Eileen Myles

On Being a Perverse Reader

The East Village’s preeminent poet on the gifts of daily ritual and picking up books from the wayside.

The thing I will say about being young is I hated it. I wasn’t anybody, I was broke, my apartment was a mess, I shouldn’t drink so much, I only stopped criticizing my body when I was doing drugs and the thing I liked about the act of reading is that my body would get lost and I would go someplace else. The thing I didn’t think so much about was the pages. So many of them and turning turning all the time as the moments passed and I was free. If I liked a song I would play it again and again. It didn’t even strike me as peculiar. I remember one song that made me feel so elevated when I listened to it that I became this other person I called a Rococo Wanderer and she just roamed around in a bodiless way on the face of the earth and saw things. The turning of the record created that. The black disc turning making time and mind. I was dreaming. And the record was a chant though a petrochemical-electrical one. It required I pay my bill which I mostly did.

But I hated paying my bills and I hated doing dishes, I hate cleaning the cat litter again and again. I hated going down the stairs of my building and I hated going up. I hated the subway. I hated doing my laundry. Though I liked watching it going around and around once it was in and I could sit on the wooden bench dreaming.

long beheld street

long beheld street

I hated holidays. I hated them coming again, thinking of last year and my family wanting me back and the compulsiveness with which I went to them. I had liked going to confession when I was a practicing catholic. I liked the relief. Though I confessed the same poems [sins] again and again and when I said something different it got weird, suddenly it was about him rather than the previous no one by doing nothing getting wiped clean. I stopped going.

I started going to therapy about five years ago. I meant to go slightly before but instead I got in a relationship and mostly in therapy we talked about her but my therapist pronounced her name funny kind of misgendering her and I like that but he always forgot to use my correct pronoun which I didn’t like. When she was gone we talked about me and we arrived up on the great topic which is the return. I’ve concluded that the reason rock stars die young is they didn’t want to do it. I did I came in saying the reason I had come was this feeling I had that I was turning a corner and I wanted help with that. My therapist would remind me that turning a corner was my request when I came to him and instead we had spent three or four years talking about her. It made me dislike her though I certainly thought that was my definition of a relationship being obsessed and if I were a whiteboard it would be about wiping me out daily and writing in her.

Honey drinking

Honey drinking

The dog Honey walking

Honey walking

The dog Honey thinking

Honey thinking

The dog Honey home

Honey home

We got to it in the aftermath of her and it’s this. He said this point in my life and he meant late – I’m fairly late in the day. I think I’m like a rambunctious evening. In which you may or may not go out. But you’ve done everything before. Some things a lot and other things not enough. And he was like what is it you haven’t done enough of. And that’s a big open spot and though I like to confess all I want to say is that spot is and I can fill it and that’s that I’m doing right now. I remember watching Julian Beck cut vegetables in the kitchen with a good knife on a cutting board. That was a film and he was very important to the person who gave me the film but not so much to me but that scene has stayed with me all my life. I dream that someone has a camera and follows me in the morning. It’s like the Walter Mosley book I found on the sidewalk one night on the corner. It was bent, having just fallen out of someone else’s back pocket. I read it, joining the pleasure of the other absent reader, feeling in love with the randomness of the gift.

I hope the camera never comes but I like the sensation of being alone with the thought. It’s how I have a soul. And my dog has a soul too. Her soul wants to take the same walk again and again. We are lying in bed and the thing that makes the day start happens. I’m mostly happy if I fell asleep reading or if that was the last thing I did turning pages rather than foisting all that electronic light into my brain. I fell asleep dull and in the private world of my book. Okay I might as well get up and it could be six but it’s most likely eight. I stick my glasses on and my phone into the pockets of my pajamas. I go into the kitchen and look out the window and see the light and then I put the water on. There might be dishes in the sink. My ex used to be passionate about cleaning the kitchen at night and I brought that regime into my life for a while and indeed the emptiness of the clean kitchen felt great but I don’t have to do that and I’ll wipe a knife or a spoon while the water’s boiling.



About two years ago I stopped drinking coffee and moved to green tea. It’s a softer high and better for ritual. It’s full of ritual like a cigarette. The water boils and I cool it for two minutes and then I pour it into the kyusu. I wait two and a half and drink that tea and then I do it again. The second time it steeps for three minutes. There’s a third infusion but I generally wait and drink that later in the day. I’m doing that right now. I just want to say as I watch my numbers shrinking this piece is only so long that all the things that destroyed me in life the horror of dailiness I experience with this neglectful respect. Perverse reading, again and again what I find.

I think of the hot day in summer many years ago in New York. I was living upstate so I was in Manhattan in hot fucking august doing errands and it was hell. I’m walking down St. Mark’s Place in a pile of anxious dread and I had the thought. It will always be like this. And I thought it again. It will always be like this. And it was cool. It was like air conditioning. Everything everything was cooling. And with notable exception like I do fall into a pit but this is pretty much my life. This condemned dailiness, cutting, cleaning, jumping on the subway, going around and around, being watched and there’s no one there at all and the dog nods cause she wants her walk that walk and we do it every day. And every day is exactly the same but different. I’m on a plane. And I’ve done this before. Listen. Feel the lift.