Malice & the Unknown by Elisa Gabbert

One night, drunk at a party, William Burroughs suggested a round of
William Tell.
His pretty young wife put a highball glass on her head. It may have
had gin in it.
He shot her in the face, from six feet away.
Burroughs was a good shot—but also very drunk. And witnesses
report he looked shocked by what he’d done.
But William and Joan had never played this game before.
We can never know if he meant to do it. We can never really know.
We can never, ever, ever, ever know.
This helps me think about infinity.
Increasingly, I do things to distract me from my thoughts.
The distraction helps my thinking.
It complicates my thoughts—it adds a mood, like background music.
It makes me interesting to myself.
I once heard someone say, That’s like drinking to remember, but I like
drinking to remember.
I like when bad things happen, but not the ones I was expecting.
I like when something feels like a placeholder that never got replaced.
I like how you remember your hotel room number for the length of
your stay, and then it’s gone from your mind forever.
I like to think about infinity, the curve that approaches the
I like to think about the difference between hearing someone lie and
watching someone lie.
A difference of point of view—their point of view, not mine.
There are orders of infinity, infinite sets that are not only larger
but infinitely larger than the first order of infinity—but you know all this.
I like thoughts before they coalesce into “thoughts.” Before-
I like when people lie a little bit and then admit it.
I like when there are buildings on the sides of mountains.
I like when there’s a hole in the roof to watch the clouds blow
Norman Mailer, also drunk at a party, stabbed his wife—twice—
almost in the heart—but did not kill, did not succeed in killing her.
You know this, you know this.
If there are infinite points between 0 and 1, there is infinite past,
infinite points that must stay in the past, where they can be protected.
The past. It’s so still.
Elisa Gabbert’s collections of poetry, essays, and criticism include The Unreality of Memory & Other Essays, which will be out in August 2020 from FSG Originals; The Word Pretty; L’Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems; The Self Unstable; and The French Exit. She writes a regular column on poetry for the New York Times, and her work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, the New York Review of Books, the Guardian Long Read, the London Review of Books, American Poetry Review, A Public Space, New England Review, the Paris Review Daily, Guernica, and many other venues.