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“The original assumption”: excerpts from Richard Hell’s “What Just Happened” (Winter Editions)

Richard Hell’s What Just Happened is comprised of short, wryly philosophical poems written over the course of the pandemic from 2020-2021. Thought exercises, word play, language games, anecdotes, memories — these poems are occasional pieces written to celebrate mundane and quiet occasions. We’re thrilled to share excerpts from What Just Happened, just published by Winter Editions.

Richard Hell is the author of several books of fiction, poetry, essays, notebooks, autobiography, and collaborations including The Voidoid, Go Now, Godlike, Across the Years, Artifact, Hot and Cold, I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp, Massive Pissed Love, Wanna Go Out? by Theresa Stern (with Tom Verlaine), and Psychopts (with Christopher Wool). He lives in New York.

Winter Editions is a “a literary small press with a particular focus on poetry and its intersections with the essay, the novel, and the visual and performing arts, as well as books that investigate print culture and poetics.”

Photo Credit: Katherine Faw



The original assumption
was that we are the universe looking
at itself, but the more
we looked the less we could see
until it became clear
that we are infinites-
imal or, rather, deformed,
or rather, that as
observations chained we con-
fused with them until
nothing remained but the
original point of departure
or annunciation, which
I always thought meant
being raised to heaven
or being sucked upwards
as if by a vacuum,
I don’t know why—
not that it’s an announcement.
But I prefer my meaning which
I came to honestly and
I feel it
so there’s something
in the word or my history
with it that bent it that way.
I received annunciation. It’s
my favorite subject for old-
master paintings.
I like the various ways the painters
choose to paint the angel’s wings.
I like the presence of the book
that Mary’s reading
and the juxtaposition of
interior and ex-.
I knew
it took place in the context
of religion and that it had
to do with something that changed
everything. No, wait, the
original assumption
was that we are
chained in interlocking
causes and effects induced
by god knows what
but apparently both
beautiful and horrifying
in that it seemed self-consistent
somehow though
it encompassed everything
from how a thrown thing
behaves to why there was
a need for the word love,
but also inev-
itably included dying
which is beneficially
confusing as true.
Oh! That’s what—
it was “assumption”
I confused with


Familiarity incurs blindness (habit
is the enemy, as per Proust) which is part
of the reason age is dull. Tough people
put a good face on the various ways
one’s faculties decline
but the facts remain
stubborn like a skull, memento mori. No
amount of grumbling will alter them. So
can one learn to enjoy it? I’ve
thought so when I’m writing well.
In a way, it’s merciful, the decline
because it makes dying
more plainly the relief it is.
After all, it can be felt sweetly
as subsidence, as into sleep
or regressing infancy. The dead
and alive are not so dissimilar
so why not embrace that
like a previously worrisome idiosyncrasy?

The Editors of Air/Light.

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