Chris Campanioni: "Privileged/Witness"

This work first appeared in Yemassee 23.2.

You’re watching an aerobics video. Really. Four women on one side of the screen, four men on the other. Red and blue one-piece jumpsuits. Purple headbands on each head. Really.

A man with a mustache and an actual suit (black, double-breasted) hops on stage and asks, “Do you like bass?”

As you debate whether you’re supposed to answer or whether you’re supposed to follow the directives (up, down, up, down, now turn it around), the bass kicks in and the stage becomes a suburban sidewalk that opens up into your living room, the plush leather couch on which you’re reclined, the fan above you and its silver-winged breeze.

You’re watching an aerobics video until you realize you are the aerobics video.

“You know I’m very very very bored,” you hear your wife say. You turn to look because you hadn’t heard her come down the stairs. Her breasts are up against your face, your nose and chin, and they seem much bigger than you remember them. Much bigger than how you remembered them just a few hours ago, except you were turned away from her then, knees bent below the blanket, pretending to sleep. She’s naked, she’s chewing bubble gum, she’s slurring in your ear, “You know

I’m very very very bored.”


The quantity, the size, the calm cool air, the rising tide, the constant and frenetic drive, the profit, the pleasure, the immense valve of feeling, buried in the bowels of the bowl, staring up at you when you stoop to take a look.

You’ve seen a movie like this before. Maybe. Everything feels familiar when you are the privileged witness to so many moving images. Especially this one.

The aerobics video is still playing, the suited announcer is still asking, “Do you like bass?” The four women and four men are still stepping onto a platform, one white sneaker at a time, their brown and blond locks are slapping one another’s cheeks despite or maybe because of the purple headbands, strands of hair are still flowing everywhere, thick and boisterous and menacing, sun-caked flesh is swaying, palm trees are swaying, the fake grass on the stage is swaying, confetti is shooting up from somewhere outside of the camera’s gaze, memories from the Internet are colliding into one another as a montage begins and ends in President Reagan’s acceptance speech, except you were negative five then, and the Internet didn’t exist. Not really.

Hidden beneath the blah blah blah blah was something beautiful.

You don’t know why the thought occurs but it does.

America, the beautiful. America, the beautiful. America, the beautiful. America—

If I only knew to shut my ears, you think, this time aloud.

Your wife’s gone. The TV’s off. The fan above your head’s still spinning.

And really listen.

Chris Campanioni’s new book is Death of Art (C&R Press). His recent work appears in RHINO, Ambit, The Brooklyn Rail, and 3:AM. His “Billboards” poem responding to Latino stereotypes and mutable—and often muted—identity in the fashion world was awarded the 2013 Academy of American Poets Prize and his novel Going Down was selected as Best First Book at the 2014 International Latino Book Awards. He edits PANK, Tupelo Quarterly, and At Large Magazine, and lives in Brooklyn.