THREE PROSE POEMS by Michael Leong

1. Hydrogen

In English, hydrogen mixed with absence poses a number of hazards to writing, from potential detonations to being an asphyxant of tradition. When we speak, we form oxygen-free air.


8. Oxygen

We know, or think we know, the method surrounding spontaneous language, as if we were writing into a vessel with a plume of water (sometimes even inverting a critical candle over the vessel’s enormous “unconscious”); in fact, we ourselves are the burning water.


119. H2O

detonations of fact in the absence of air, when writing we speak, inverting ourselves from being to being, writing with a candle over the enormous “as if,” we number the hazards surrounding a vessel, a spontaneous form from writing potential language into water, sometimes we think, or even know a method, we plume an air of absence, we speak of water when we are burning.



These three pieces of prose come from a newly finished project entitled Cutting Time with a Knife, a mash up / cut-up / collage of T.S. Eliot’s classic essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent” and Wikipedia articles about the 118 known chemical elements; the 119th and final section (H2O) “remixes” hydrogen and oxygen to form water.  I completed this sequence just before the occurrence of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but I now read these sections as if they were uncannily marked by a catastrophe that hadn’t yet happened.  I had, in fact, framed the project as a prophetic one, choosing a title that alludes to William S. Burroughs’ sublime statement that “when you cut into the present, the future leaks out.”  I’m continuing to cut, hoping to find a different future.  For now, we are speaking of water.  We are burning.


Michael Leong is the author of two books of poetry: e.s.p. (Silenced Press, 2009) and Cutting Time with a Knife (Black Square Editions / The Brooklyn Rail, forthcoming).  His translation of the Chilean poet Estela Lamat, I, the Worst of All, was published by BlazeVOX [books] in 2009, and his chapbook of N + 7 poems, The Great Archivist’s Cloudy Quotient, is forthcoming from Beard of Bees Press.  He lives in New York City but can be found online at and

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