Bhanu Kapil vs. The Dictionary (by Alex Leslie and Ray Hsu)

Experimental prose writer Bhanu Kapil has been contributing definitions to Urban Dictionary — the online archive of slang and personal speech — for a while now. In a post on her blog ( she writes about having her elliptical definitions accepted and rejected by Urban Dictionary.

Below, we respond to Kapil’s definitions with our own. We submitted our definitions to Urban Dictionary to test the line between acceptable and rejectable definition alongside Kapil. Our definitions link logically to hers using (and responding to) her language. By testing the Urban Dictionary, maybe we can find a critical language hidden up the sleeves of definition.

Bhanu Kapil’s Heart:

Millions of tiny white clocks stuffed into you. Often made of soft cloth. Nocturnal presence of a sibling’s body living in the bed next to yours for a decade. Pulmonary logic is not a ceremony or a choice but it will make you stronger than the sum of the air. Was that a question about the process of what moves my air? Words put together in spiky bundles and pushed down your throat, then rustling and they roll around, gathering dust, and on occasion an inexplicable sense of expansion, followed by pain. It is not possible to breathe the same air as another human, or only in complete darkness, and that is a story inside a story.

Usage: That time in elementary school when I was chased up a chainlink fence by a bully, felt like my lungs were collapsing. Have you read Julio Cortazar on disappearing people who are not murdered but disappear like mythical spiders? I wish you would just listen to me, it is so tiring to shout this way.

Keywords: Darkness, Breathing, Pinatas, Julio Cortazar, How To Tell Time In The Nighttime, Bullies

Bhanu Kapil’s Humanimal:

Definition: Anything but a monkey, an uncanny longing for a neighbour that brings the friendliest of fences. Something almost human, someone almost recognizable. Someone to bring home, something to bring you home. In the minutes leading up to your arrival, you consider briefly bringing flowers but, remembering someone who expected you home, could not decide on a proper gift. You bring back a favourite snack.

Usage: I heard that someone had written a definition so recognizable that I forgot who I was. I turned to the dictionary to remind me. Of the things I knew least, at least they could be approximated by knot. Of the things I knew most, the knot made them stranger. They became so strange that they drifted to the bottom of the sea.

Keywords: Contact, Address, Name Dropping, Relationship, Origin, Species

Bhanu Kapil’s Architecture 1:

Architecture 4
Definition: A partially or non-leaning set of relationships among things. Someone’s designs on me and you. Whenever I failed, I knew that I could still trust Architecture 4. Then one day it fails. The cold fisted birds far away are not alarmed. They had long since left all the clouds that now surround me. All my life I was fallible, liable to change. Difference is, now I don’t resist it.

Usage: “Leaving there and proceeding for three days toward the east, you reach Diomira, a city with sixty silver domes, bronze statues of all the gods, streets paved with lead, a crystal theater, a golden cock that crows each morning on a tower. All these beauties will already be familiar to the visitor, who has seen them also in other cities. But the special quality of this city for the man [sic] who arrives there on a September evening, when the days are growing shorter and the multicolored lamps are lighted all at once at the doors of the food stalls and from a terrace a woman’s voice cries ooh!, is that he feels envy toward those who now believe they have once before lived an evening identical to this and who think they were happy, that time.”

Keywords: material, stress, management, AutoCAD, Kublai Khan, Marco Polo

Bhanu Kapil’s Soft Day:

Hard Day
A day composed of edges.

Usage: Any day when the laptop is a neighbour with three dark eyes and a civility agenda and you cannot speak to your lover because there is a file always bottomless with responses and memories, all this eaten up and spat out as the hours, always the hours and the hours, the laptop still waiting for more dark informational snacks, and you call your lover instead to apologize, but the electrical wire that runs through your wrist is cold, it squirms and holds still only when you are silent, without the sentence to hold you up you are a chameleon wishing for fewer edges, only time rubs itself against all subjective things and you finally sit alone typing, remembering a sound behind your back, watching the body arc and splay and fight itself across the road as the spirit leaves this day.

Keywords: Computers, Lovers, Car accident, Surveillance systems, Cheetos

Bhanu Kapil’s Angel:

Concede the cold of a filament and the hotel bed in the childhood transitory city after the ashes are scattered. The ocean sways, such a cliche, and you dream about something, maybe a filament, shuttling back and forth, grinning. That intensity is the angel too? You write it down but it means nothing. The act of your body curling around the filament, which the internet tells you also has a meaning in Botany, “a chainlike series of cells,” unlike the definition of finely-spun wire you were raised to repeat. No dream visitation has made your muscles ache in sleep, before.

Usage: “I can’t make it to your party this weekend.” “Why not?” “I have to go over to the island, for a family thing.” “That sucks.” “Yeah I know.” “See you Monday.”

Keywords: Hotel thirteen dollar buffet, death sending, series of cells,, Isaac Bashevis Singer

Bhanu Kapil’s Narrative:

Definition: In the event of being born, I figure, everything is improvised. All or in part, one moves as if in a painting, whether in the Renaissance, in the twentieth century, or not. The gallery goers (who might be schoolkids for all I know) realize that place and time are unimportant. This thought is so intimate everyone thinks they had it themselves. Ultimately, only circumstances we notice are the thing: the horoscope, the canonization, the flight into Egypt. The high marble reliefs. The whole darned tableau. Being first is a cure for so many things.

Usage: “How’d you just appear like that?” “Easy. Word of mouth.” “I’ve traveled all over the world and I’ve never seen someone do that before.” “You haven’t been around kids enough.”

Keywords: canvas, lyric, freezies, Friday April 16, texture, medicine, art therapy, white cubes

Bhanu Kapil’s Architecture 1:

Architecture 3
Definition: A structure depending on associations made of a bird’s nerves rather than the sequences of rooms; there is one smudged purple hallway that is also a throat. A vertical knowing of the dying fall; a way to conduct design by making mistakes. The only option is to go public in the grief of a story which is part of a structure that has no floorboards, only mutterings of cold fisted birds left over from last year’s old words. Or: a way of listening to the ramblings of possible light, crossing your arms around your sequence of events. Or: but this is a rumour on the radio, also a nightmare about a cat who kept you company during a pregnancy.

Usage: “Hey, that was like SO Architecture 3!” “I know. You know?” “Yeah. Like two years ago at that party? That wasn’t as Architecture 3 as this, tho.” “Totally. I felt much more incoherent and subconsciously tired this time.” “For sho. Remember that night we jumped off the bridge into the cold water?” “Yes and it tasted so good.” “That reminds me of drinking Sprite in my uncle’s truck in a clearcut.” “Architecture 3!” “Yeah!”

Keywords: Design, rambling, sequences, story, uncles, Sprite, remembrance

Bhanu Kapil’s Miss Libby:

Definition: The first dog loved by anyone who has read a dictionary. Half bear, half bird of prey, half fulfillment of the need for companionship/protection, and one quarter weather prediction service. Have you calmed a shaking creature during an electrical storm, her paws on your chest, her eyelids flirting with the internal firecrackers like REM cycles? The second dog to announce to anyone who has read a dictionary that she intends to kill a stranger/intruder, any male person who approaches you wearing a hood or a danger or holding a pen. The third dog escapes your control and you must walk by yourself, cement eating the ends of your toes as it did when you were a child. But where is Vancouver? The third dog drags you into the ocean, laughing.

Usage: “The wind is too loud.” “I have human ears.” “The wind is too loud. Borderless ocean.” “I would trade my ears with yours if I could.” “The wind is too loud.” “Tomorrow we will go for a walk to the dog park.” “Are you being nostalgic?” “I never had a dog as a child. Am I nostalgic for a TV show?” “A woman who wore a sweater with a soccer ball pattern saved me from the yard where I was left for seven years.” “Go to sleep.” “Are you my dog?”

Keywords: Humanimal, how to calm a dog during a lightning storm, sequence, wind, dictionary, fear, love, fur, what you weren’t given as a child

Bhanu Kapil’s Soft Day:

Calling It A Day
Definition: A day that resists definition, that ends only when you hand the phone over to the person beside you. It’s late and you realize you’re hungry. Then suddenly you know there was one more thing to say but you’ve already handed it over. For a moment you realize that unless you press it firmly closed your thoughts will flap in the warm wind. Until then, the person on the other end will follow you in the wrong direction. What you said will never be what you meant, an imperfect urban plan. Some day in the past, the entire conversation would have taken place in letters. You would have pressed firmly closed what you never said. The person beside you hangs up.

Usage: You’re always so busy I don’t want to interrupt you. I took it as encouragement that you even wanted to talk.

Keywords: one, more, each, other, esprit, escalier, true, right, cynicism, attachment

Update: The following entries were published by Urban Dictionary:

Architecture 3
Calling it a day
Hard day

The following weren’t:

Architecture 4

Ray Hsu is the author of two books: Cold Sleep Permanent Afternoon and Anthropy, which won the Gerald Lampert Award. He has published over a hundred poems in over thirty-five literary journals internationally. While teaching for two years in a US prison, he founded the award-winning Prison Writing Workshop. He now teaches creative writing at the University of British Columbia.

Alex Leslie’s fiction has been published in a number of journals, online at Joyland Vancouver, and in “09: Best Canadian Stories” (Oberon) and “Coming Attractions 09” (Oberon). During the recent Vancouver Olympics, she and poet Elizabeth Bachinsky collaborated on the public art project BLACKOUT AT THE CANDAHAR, which gathered hundreds of erasure poems made by the public with Olympics news coverage and the censor’s black marker.

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