Postcards to the Future: HORRIFIC / Duriel E. Harris

In this long poem, Duriel E. Harris uses the list as a formal device to show an accumulation of the concepts of danger, horror, memory, within/through the body and the outside forces that surround the body.



He Who Fights with Monsters by Duriel E. Harris


How many does it take to metamorphose wickedness into righteousness? One man must not kill. If he does, it is murder. Two, ten, one hundred men, acting on their own responsibility, must not kill. If they do, it is still murder. But a state or nation may kill as many as they please, and it is not murder. It is just, necessary, commendable, and right.—Adin Ballou (1803-1890) 

Wer mit Ungeheuern kämpft, mag zusehn, dass er nicht dabei zum Ungeheuer wird. Und wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst, blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein. Jenseits von Gut und Böse, “Sprüche und Zwischenspiele,” 146 (1886)• —Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900) 

Translation: He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you. Beyond Good and Evil , “Aphorisms and Interludes,” 146 (1886).


“How many acts of genocide does it take to make genocide?” 

How many birds to call it a flock? How many drops to make a sip swell into a spill?

How many does it take for a quorum? 

How many does it take to trend? 

How many does it take to be in a race? 

How many to seek and destroy? 

How many lanterns, ribbons, needles, balls, and bouncing bouncing betties? 

How many does it take to fix it? 

How many does it take to swing? 

Just how many licks does it take to get through the meat to the red and yellow marrow? 

How many does it take to decide? 

How much ammo, how many tanks, how many bombs, pits, and traps, how many 

swinging spiked logs? 

How much debris? 

How many fences and patrols? How many stockpiles? 

How many does it take to constitute a deluge?


How many for a good hunt? To haul the load? To pave the drive? 

How many does it take to persist? 

How many stones for a good throw? How much shot? How many dry cords? How much seed? 

How many charts does it take to fill the set? How many monitors for the mix? How much gear? 

How many cast iron pots? How many non-porous pouches? How many spades and shovels? How much tubing?

How many seconds to raise the plow? To go blank? To go under? To spontaneously combust? 


How many masses does it take to make a city? How many pipes and drains? 

How many of any to make a horde? 

How many to create a virus? To pass the pandemic two by four? 

To hack the lot? To hack up a lung? To hack the hackneyed phrase? 

How many does it take to pluck a turkey clean? 

You do the work: what materials, what tools are required? 


How many does it take to put the facts straight? 

How many does it take to invade? 

How many to make a conspiracy? 

How many to settle the score? To furnish the proper argument? 

Proceeding by stealth, how many does it take to slip off the yoke? 

How long and how many to get the greasy thing back in the bag? 


If we start counting now, how many episodes?

How many features? How many angry disruptions? How many chokeholds? How much tape reel to reel?

How many sackcloth dummies? How many planks and nails? How much thread and

glass? How many wicks? How much gasoline?

Given the necessary conditions, how many behaviors? How many reactive responses to

minor stimuli? How many frantic efforts? How many impulsive outbursts? How much dysphoria? How intense?

How much water? How much voltage? How many plastic liners?

How many does it take to manipulate the order and the nonautonomy of its field of action?

How many porters? How many pickets? How many wood dowels and ditches?

How many does it take?

How many, in the face of negative but transient public opinion?

How many sheets? How many muumuus? How many scouts? How many badges?

How many surveillance cameras? How many transcripts, interviews, and surveys? How many

laws of the land? How many well-laid mine fields?

How many false statements? False starts? False prophets? False teeth?

How many articles? How many volunteers? How many exercises? How many disclaimers?

How many people? How many times? Would you remember them all?

How many have you tried?

(A cedar box for you; one, two, three body rakes for me.)

How many does it take? When will they tell us? What is the sampling error?

How many and how much does it cost?

How many to form a committee? To make it stick?

How many limbs to earn the medal?

How much restless fury? How much saliva? How much froth?

How many does it take if they’re kicking in flimsy doors and rushing the cockpit?

How many if they hang like bats from trees?

How many twisted triangular signs?

How many smudged tactical maps?

How many unexplained casualties? How many aggregates? How many comprehensive

national accounts? How many derivations? How much fiscal and monetary

policy? How much uncertainty to crowd them out? How much inflation? Who

and how many will it take to gate and guard the growth? How many reindeer?

How many rejoinders? How many relapses? How many rejection slips? How

many rounds? How high the fever? How much relational grammar? How many to

get the maximum benefit? To flourish in the context of capital? In direct relation

to what is missing? How many by force and with intention?

I have 53 honorable kills, how many does it take?

The reason that something is an example, a fold (how many does it take to define a

problem? (a predicate)), an economy of virtual knowns, interrupts.

We’ve been suggesting for almost a month now—how many does it take? Also, we’ve run

out of steam. (How many does it take? They may not even be people.)

What the fuck’s in them and how many does it take to kill you?

How many undersigned and you know who’s? How many taxpayers? How many

conventions? How many leagues of concerned citizens? How many symbols?

How many sights?

How many warnings? How many wrenches? Beware! Beware! Beware! Beware!

How many from behind and beneath? How many pulling rope, stretching hemp? How many flags? How many knights?

How many sepulchers and bloody moons? How many stakeholders?

How many bound together?

How many mounting the air?

How much matter by volume, to scale?

The question is not how many links in the chain, the question is how many can be made

available and how quickly dispersed?

In a population of x, how many does it take before everyone has been infected?

How many repeated read-alouds?

How many does it take for Christ to be in the midst?

How many does it take to wrestle him, sit on him, pin him to the ground? How many does it take to hold him down?

How many until none becomes some?


How many does it take to form a STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT pattern?

Get another arm, another ear, “How many does it take til it’s enough?’’ “How much do you need?’’

How many does it take to make the road impassable when the rain brings the brew to the surface?

“Let us see the bodies,” they say.


Duriel E. Harris is a poet, performer and sound artist. She is author of three print volumes of poetry, including her most recent, No Dictionary of a Living Tongue (Nightboat, 2017), Drag (2003) and Amnesiac: Poems (2010). Multi-genre works include her one-woman theatrical performance Thingification, and Speleology (2011), a video collaboration with artist Scott Rankin. Appearances include performances at the Chicago Jazz Festival (with Douglas Ewart & Inventions), the Greenhouse Theater (Chicago), Naropa Capitalocene, The Votive Poetics Workshop (New Zealand), and Festival Internacional de Poes.a de La Habana (Cuba).

Cofounder of the avant garde trio The Black Took Collective, Harris has been a MacDowell and Millay Colony fellow and has received grants from the Illinois Arts Council Agency, the Cave Canem Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Her work has appeared in numerous venues, including BAX, The &Now Awards, Of Poetry & Protest, Ploughshares, Troubling the Line, and The Best of Fence; and her compositions have been translated into Polish, German, and Spanish. Harris earned degrees in Literature from Yale University and NYU, and a PhD from the University of Illinois at Chicago Program for Writers. The 2018 Offen Poet, Harris is an associate professor of English in the graduate creative writing program at Illinois State University and the editor of Obsidian: Literature & Arts in the African Diaspora.

Photograph by Gina Sandrzyk.


Navigate to the individual posts in the HORRIFIC series, below, or follow the Postcards tag at left.