The Tao Lin Trilogy

Justin Taylor

in 2047 i am sixty-five years old and for the last meeting of my literature seminar i make my students read and discuss tao lin's first poetry book, you are a little bit happier than i am

We all live in a colony in space. Bums
on opposite corners of the street, play space
guitars and beg for charity credits. The one
on the corner I am on says "this is a song was popular
when I was a boy" and plays "Smells Like Teen Spirit"
on his space guitar and I take out my special charity
credit stick and wave it across the EZPass implanted
in his bum forehead. Three waves of charity. He smells
like cheese, which isn't a food anymore. I cross the street.

The other bum says "this one here's one my great
grandmother used to sing to me and her grandmother
taught her." I give him nine waves of the charity stick
but don’t listen close to what he is singing. The Beatles?

I was young once, on the L train platform at 14th and 1st
at midnight in Manhattan, headed to Brooklyn, reading
you are a little bit happier than i am and a pretty girl
in white pants, red coat, brown hat, walked
in front of me and looked down the tunnel for the train
and I was on the bench and really drunk and I said “is
it coming?” and she said “no” and I said “oh good” but
sarcastically and she laughed but then a second later
she said “oh I lied here comes the train” and I said
“awesome” like reverse sarcastically or something then
I said “the only thing more awesome than this bench
is you lying” and she didn’t say anything back because
I didn’t really say that to her I just thought it while I kept
reading: “i am fucked existentially / i am fucked existentially.”

They aren’t really homeless space bums.
They were brought in by the landlord of the space colony.
They are part of the landscaping package.
They have salaries. They keep the charity money.
They drive space Saabs and vote space Republican.

In the classroom a boy student says Tao Lin’s poems are
navel-gazing, adolescent, and basically artless and
not “artless” in the good way, either, he says. I say
“Tao Lin has always had a way of dividing opinions.”

Now the boy student and a girl student
are having drinks at her apartment. I’m
out of the picture, and don’t know any of this. The girl
student’s roommate is away so it feels maybe sexual.
The boy student wants the girl student to agree
how Tao Lin is bullshit and so is cronyism. “Of course
Justin Taylor just says he likes Tao Lin so Tao Lin
will publish his poems in the Space New Yorker.”
The girl student looks at the bright green, fizzing space
drink in her clear glass. She kind of looks
like Ellen Kennedy used to, back in the old earth days:
mousy, sort of gorgeous, a plain dress, short red hair.
“Is this a sexual atmosphere?” the girl student thinks
to herself. She thinks: “grapefruit, hamster, squid.” She
sends the boy student away, back to his space dorm.

the reasoning of ethical power
(a cut-up/erasure of Tao Lin’s “the power of ethical reasoning”)

we eat or rather we eat
               callous things,                      stupid
regulations required because regulations change one thought
the special abandoned parents               sometimes unloved

as a hamster can be conditioned a human being can be conditioned       
press a lever for               professional rewards                                           ignore
suffering               the intellectual contradictions of professional prestige

maintain a vague sense of opportunity and the
cash money progress of all the (tasty) stars, factors, travels

foods precede our society:       morals are mildly respected
                                    write down obese excuses
tiny difference they make for spending $10,000 on things
and voting for opposite things

the out-of-control meat of human beings is actually admirable, it's
comforting: articulating intellectual convictions, isolating poems,
a few of the humble tasks suffering from control of my life,

the computer i turned away from
my strange melodramatical face
hit on the crippling loneliness,

the bed made a noise very quickly and smoothly like
a calm, mildly facial expression,                     ‘if you really wanted control
now you would have it’               i said                             i said
i said                      i knew how       it felt to not be feeling pensive

this poem is only facts

You know you are fun to talk about. You know
“a bear in a fish suit” is a fun thing to say even
though sometimes I think you hate fun. This
is fun too. Can I be on your blog? I will blurb
your blog. “Blog.” Blueberry hamster. Manatee.
This poem is only facts. Interview
me on your blog. Make up all my parts of it. Say
I said “dinosaur.” Oh shit I said my own lines.
“Dinosaur” is seriously something I would say.
I disavow this poem. In conclusion thank you.
Oh wait. “Tao Lin has a blog, a haircut, a blender
and a bear suit. We read together the first time
in Brooklyn, summer ’06, with Julia Cohen,
and the host thought he was really interesting
and wanted to talk about his poems especially
the one about the MFA In Hamsters but he didn’t
want to talk about them to her and that was also
when I first met Ellen Kennedy. I thought that
afterwards we’d all hang out at a bar but then Tao
and Ellen left right away and I was confused and
hurt a little but then the guy who edits Typo
said ‘I don’t think Tao “hangs out” like that’
and this turned out to be pretty much the truth.
Tao listens to punk music. ‘Punk.’ ‘Emotional.’
One time he asked me for Ann Beattie’s email
for a blurb and I had it but I didn’t give it to him.
I think he didn’t care or else was confused or
hurt a little. This blurb is only facts. One time
after a magazine launch party at The New School
we went out for pizza but he didn’t have any;
he just watched me eat and I met his roommate,
who everyone said was famous
on Gawker.” —Justin Taylor. That’s your blurb.
PS- I no longer disavow anything. “Dinosaur."

Tao Lin can not be defeated. He birthed two books last year at the same time like Ann Beattie or like a woman bearing belligerent twins. In the call for submissions parodying authors, Tao was the only one who had so many in his manner. I think like 6 or 10 in total. Tao Lin makes a refreshing smoothie.

Justin Taylor is the editor of The Apocalypse Reader, a collection of new and selected short stories about the end of the world (Thunder's Mouth, 2007) and Come Back, Donald Barthelme, a celebration of the author's life and work (McSweeney's #24, Fall 2007). His essay "Fort Smith, Arkansas--A Monologue," was cited as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2007. His poetry, fiction, and criticism has been published by The Believer, NPR, Forklift Ohio, and numerous other journals, magazines and websites. He is an editor at large of The Agriculture Reader, a literary annual, and lives in Brooklyn.