Sean Bonney | Cancer: Poems after Katerina Gogou


Katerina Gogou at Patission Street, 1978 ((“Our life is jack knifings / in dirty dead-end streets / rotten teeth faded slogans /a basso backstage basement / smells of piss and antiseptic / and rotten sperm. Torn-up posters. / Upanddown. Upanddown Patission. / Our life is Patission Street / The detergent that won’t pollute the sea / and Mitropanos sang his way into our life / but he’s been swallowed by Dexameni / like all expensive dames. / We stay with it. / A craven life we travel / always the same route. / Humiliation-loneliness-despair. And back. / O.K. We’re not crying. We’ve grown up. / Only when it rains / we secretly suck our thumb. And we smoke. / Our life is / pointless panting / at pre-programmed strikes / stooges and patrol cars. / That’s why I’m telling you.”))




Dear Katerina,
Yes I know, things are bad for us all these days. I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve disappeared over the past few months. There’s an uneasy nausea settled into the basic awareness of, well, everything. Its not even the news or the weather. Even the raw evidence of our senses – sounds of machinery outside the window, smell of diesel and gas, the elevated railway, bird-song etc – has become sinister. The sunset is a warning. The ticking of the clock a threat. Everything has combined into a pitched malevolent force that has gathered up all of our slogans, our unfinished business, our favourite songs, our raised trembling fists and transformed them into a great choral shriek of THEY’VE WON, YOU HOPELESS BASTARD, THEY’VE WON. Dark times, everyone says, from the centre of a light so fierce it has scraped who knows what all over our retinas. For the lack of anything better to do I sit here and try to conjure up some kind of meaning from the scars that have been left there. I sit there in the dark and I read your poetry. Or rather, I reconstruct from memory what translations of it exist. I stare at the traces of an alphabet I don’t understand, and I think that in the gulf that separates your poetry from mine I might be able to find the beginnings of a counter-light to see by, or a way of pronouncing the language needed to help undermine the fascist tinnitus that all of our sensory networks have become. Do you know what I mean? All I know is that I’m telling you this because I sense something of this desperation – a desperation I’m determined not to normalise – in your work as well. Nearest I can get to it is a dream I had when I was very small, before I knew how to read, or maybe even speak, I’m not sure. I was in some kind of a quarry. There was a man in a dark suit standing nearby. In the quarry’s wall there was a face – human, but seemingly made from some kind of plastic. As I looked at it, it opened its mouth and began to make a low moan. Somehow I was aware of a kind of rotational movement, as the moan continued, building in gentle intensity until it became a siren’s shriek. That’s all I remember, and its haunted me ever since. Through these recent nights, as the light and the heat and the scars have grown too fierce to see by, I’ve been thinking about this dream, this distress call from the centre of a landscape I don’t recognise, this . . . Oh I don’t know. Its a weird game, to ask advice from the dead as they walk toward us, telling us our fortunes from their enclaves in the landscapes our poems try to describe.

New signals. Isolated. Inseparable
all colours are fascist
in the holding cell
the unmarked grave is ALL history

or abattoir.


one royal car one screaming mob





Three days awake I can’t find the door
already morning half the people here
totally on fire. The rest are made of stone

his thighs are my thighs
He’s behind me. Walks toward me
his head is shaved. There are no stars

Took pills. He’s on the stair is. Took pills.
Says he’s an anarchist. Knows nothing.
Chooses things. The men I fuck and
he’s a British cops he’s

been three days dreaming
scratches our faces this place too. Talk
of bones and fire in the suburbs

Yeh yeh I love Him tells me
things I have never owned

a mirror. Yeh. Kick it in.
No. I’m not coming out tonight. Never.
Don’t speak.           No.           It’s not going to be ok.





And then ghosts come at us, ask us for money for drinks etc. In return we cut off their water, poison the sound-waves they live inside. They wait for us at key points of the city – the sites of blockades we talked about endlessly but never put into action. This is a note about the circulation of the disease form, about what Marx had to say about the third day of withdrawal. This is the meaning of policing. Tiny choked syllables a blockade on whatever is left of our memories. Sirens everywhere.

“Here we burn the witches. Here we fuck the hoes.”





But oh my friends we have lost our lives
In the mouths of our enemies
The cracks in their windows
The quietest compromise. I don’t know
what it means
that its not that we don’t want to live
but the fuck of its always being stopped
It is sadder than it seems.
The dead know how to use hunger.


Katerina Gogou wrote a poem* in memory of her friend Pasolini and sometimes I wonder if the meaning of his death and of his name has changed since then. So much has. I could draw a sort of obscene angle connecting his broken index finger to the fascist cops of Genoa 2001, as when in Gogou’s poem the blows of his murderers become identical with different forms of art, with the Vatican and with the hired thugs who split his name apart one night in the 1970s. I don’t even know if that name is still known. Someone razored his fingerprints away, in the way refugees do to themselves, and they kept them in an office in City Hall. As for the secretive thugs, about all of which is known for certain is that they smashed his body to pieces, their faces have been transformed to a ricochet of sparks that spell out all that will ever be known about the unstable meanings of the death of Pasolini. His face was separated from his body. Sometimes we dream of a new landscape, of a city that is mostly uninhabitable desert, but its rich inhabitants never seem to notice this fact. We sketch it on the ground, and call it Ostia, Tottenham, Hamburg. Love is invisible. So is terror. And so is Gogou’s poem, in memory of Pasolini, and herself. Both of them on their hands and knees, in the pitched illegality of blackness, the ragged perfection of their banners.





ffs all of us bastards of capital. yeh we deserve everything we get.

ghosts or jack-knives or angels. whatever we call it. makes no difference.

landlines and blowjobs and public urinals. night sweats and centuries.

centuries. that’s a laugh. say it. say guillotine. say razor say fuck it.

our passports are all expired. we wait on the runway. we are saying nothing.

say leprosy say burn it all down say bloodflash. say petroleuses.

say jesus too, whatever. don’t believe a world. cosiness is the enemy.

running crying to the bosses with those fucking holes in your hands.





You go to a fairly good university. Are middle class.
You learn several languages
couple of dialects, at least one specialist jargon.
Shortly after this you walk across two mountain ranges
cross a handful of oceans and die twice
Each day between 7 and 3 time stops
You stand on the ubahn platform, sell white and brown
To trapped things. ‘People’.
They look ‘normal’. Not at all what you’d expect.
You take their place inside the countless police cameras
at the centre of their lives, the wreckage
Of your Unimagined city. If you don’t work you get eaten
All we’ve got
this ruptured past Buried under that much bone
The pedagogy of spiked rubble the Tension
that Police call music. We pass it between us
A substitute for language.
Sirens everywhere.





if and when the door is opened I’m terrified.
everything white. your face your name. all white.
force open my hands put coins there.
won’t move. never. they know where to find me.
a long time has passed my nails are filthy.
filthy long and sharp I terrify my friends.
this is not imaginary.
coins in my hand they frighten me.
my name their name they frighten me.
everyday it wants me to betray someone.
I will keep its voices close to my face.

every day they change the words.
they say they shot you in the legs.
I know they never shoot in the legs.
they shoot in the head.
the light expires. they extract the mind.
lets try and keep it together. let’s get moving.





one royal car one screaming mob

“freedom.” yeh. tell me about it.
I think you mean the holes in my shoes.
but, you know, I
get to do what I want all the time
whereas you, you get all these duties, yeh
that whatever-it-is you call fucking
your bonus your job
that fish sauce you tell yourself you’re eating
when really you know you’re eating shit
yeh, I walk around on your roofs
in my fucked up boots
whenever I want
no, not like Mary Poppins, no
demons of the cities either
you kind of don’t know what I’m talking about
certain frequencies you don’t get, no
I’m not jealous of you
freedom, yeh, these holes in my shoes
my kids shoes
no don’t worry
you see they’re special they’ll never wear out
as I boot your face in over and over, as
yes as I smash it. three nails in your forehead.
special receivers in your bougie head.

piercing, excruciating din





that there are houses
on grand roads, we know that
and in the silence we used to know
in the silence and dawn
of bottles, and pass codes
never would we live there
hating the roses, fearing them
we knew the address of each one
we had the blueprints, everything
we talked
minute to minute
we talked
wire to wire
of what we would say
at the pre-ordained moment
class vengeance, we understood
futuristic and ancient, as
all of history, as
one click, as
some kind of message
left on the table
like a pack of cigarettes
in an overheated kitchen
not even the ones I used to smoke
squealing, yeh, thanks a lot
you destroyed the wrong world
pack up your roses, asshole, get out !





There are those who never appear in mirrors, but only in police cameras. There are those who are the opposite. I don’t know which I am. I’m told I was last seen on the border. I’m told I was wearing a pearl necklace, a red and black sweater. You ask me was I setting fire to cars. You ask me what is my name. I say if you add up life and death and schizophrenia and the judge and the informer and sexual desire and a small piece of paper from a foreign land, well, maybe you can take a guess. I say add all of that up, or multiply, or divide, or whatever, and you smile and you say that I am stupid. In return I say thank you, thank you very much. I am very polite. I tell you about the whiteness of the cells. About the coats of the doctors, the silence of the isolation tank. The entire Tory Cabinet a monument to the power of heroin. I tell you all of that, and then I show you how to become invisible.





this end of the world shit is making me sick

loneliness does not meet for lunch in Selfridges
or stroll abstract and satisfied thru the V & A
it doesn’t care about Beethoven
or the Beatles, for that matter
never gets nostalgic about memories of its mother
its ribbons its straw hats its oh-so-middle-class morphine
loneliness is not white
is up for sale. loneliness will clean your toilet with its fucking tongue.
oh god I’m swearing again
turns up on the front pages as refugee porn and is three years old
queues up politely for a boot in the face for black eggs and poisoned ham
crawls up from the desert its mouth filled with salt and grain
dies of junk-heat in Texan jails
loneliness is the Lucasville Amnesty
runs out of Karstadt with weapons etc
humiliation pain humiliation pain
is Syria is Tempelhof
is Yarls Wood is Midazolam
is the whiplash of the calendar is the quiet conversation of the commodity
crawls out from the ocean its mouth filled with sand and glass
knows your passwords
destroys private property. knows all your music is prison.
knows all of your language is prison. all of your seconds are prison.
knows western weapons
knows european oceans and blood-clots and fucking shit
is dancing barefoot
is screaming is smashing your windows with boots and chains
its ruined hands     loneliness     a sharpened axe
wants nothing
no demands





Because I know the law
I am permitted vision

They struck me blind


That I was the hanging tree
The stray kid hanging there

That they shot you in the mouth
This language frightens me

To speak with precision
Bullets ran through all things

Long time ago

At midnight I change my fingerprints
The cops wont find me

Their bullets
I find a way to look like them

“Strange things happening in the land”





Poetry, what’s it for
Comes from “doing”
Means “Do It”
I would like an answer
From the immobilized

Terror. I want to hear it
From those who can’t breathe

Not the rest of you dead things




Sean Bonney | Cancer: Poems after Katerina Gogou
Sean Bonney | Our Death
Commune Editions 2019



*Katerina Gogou | Autopsy Report 2.11.75

…the body lay face-down in a parallel
connecting to the Vatican.
One of his hands full of blood gestured in open palm as insult to CPI
and the other clutching his genitals
to the culture specialists.
Blood clotting on his hair as leeches
on the veiled homosexual syndromes
of all men of earth throughout the realm.
His face disfigured by the framework of the class he denied
a black and blue volunteer of the ragtag proletariat.
The fingers of the left hand
broken by social realism
thrown away to floodlit trash.
The jaw broken
by the uppercut of a union organizer
a hired thug.
The ears chewed by a sonofabitch who couldn’t get an erection.
The neck broken and severed from the body
on the basic principle of independent function.
The mother everywhere.

That was the death of the communist and homosexual PASOLINI,
who every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, riding a small 50cc
bike, ran to make sure the cinemas would play the movies in
Egaleo, in Liverpool and most importantly in Ostia, he ran holding
tightly against his body the cans of movie reels and of rundown
neighborhoods. Also the little striped flag of poetry.






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