Why The Purity Detector (Alex Leslie) is on Arc’s Shortlist

The Purity Detector

The Anti-Defamation League added a new symbol this week to its database of prominent white supremacist imagery. It’s called the “echo,” and it is used online to call attention to Jewish names in the news. [It places] three sets of parentheses around a Jewish name, like (((Cohen))) or (((Goldberg))). The parentheses later turned up in a Chrome browser extension called “Coincidence Detector,” which found Jewish names in text and automatically trapped them in the echo.

–The New York Times, June 10 2016

Three names:
the name others know you by
the name you call yourself
the name that came before you

Inside the names: asides, breaths, thousands of
miles between brackets, sloped hands and edges of continents
yawning away from each other, three backs turned
inward, three steps away from words

What is your secret name?
I will tell you. Come in close.
It is passed on in the letters like
a virus. The letters are
pictures. The name has lived before

If you interfere and wrap the name in three layers
of silence, it will last longer, pickled

If you place a name inside an echo, the name
will learn how to be an excellent listener

Three shells, three walls, three thin skins. Three tongues
nested one inside the other. Hebrew, Yiddish,
English. At the centre of the parentheses,
silence, only the name, its own hearing

Wrapped in three thick coats, the name
is warm. It travelled a long way, survived raids,
killings, a long ocean crossing, to live this new, warm
life, so lovingly wrapped, so perfectly disfigured,
humming waiting breathing for three

The name returned in three nightmares,
one inside the other. A cup, a leg, a name,
ranging. The name was not happy to be unmoored

Three rounded dishes to fill

Three mouths

Three stones

houses turned on their sides,
spilling breath hot as fire
Jew get out

Outlines of a practice target before the real name reveals
itself, detected by coincidence, winking pixels
from its eyes, ducking algorithm survivor writhing
from the math, amused by all of this
silly humans

Three alternate titles of one story. Three voices speaking
at once. Distraction. The name nestled in the waves

Multiplying, one springs outward,
metastasizes its bent code

Three generations, a genocide tucked in
among the folds

To receive you must ask
the question three times

The name said once is a human, said twice
is repetition, said three times is a story
Echo effect. The Jewish question

Pseudonym for birth, one for the water bill, one for the next

trick minor mirror sentence eclipse ingrown pulse fluttering

A name held apart from other names
is never just a name

Shadow lines around names that never faded,
rings on a playground

Three grooves around old eyes three parentheses around pupils
hazel irises I’ll tell you how
I named your dad

A flame, blinding in its pith, only the outer layers visible:

yellow white black

In the census one year, surprise new names
yet another way to name a wall of protection

The inner ear, crepuscular markings shell lies. Your grandmother
sits in a panic room in the middle of the alphabet

This is how I named the others, a code to decipher
yourself by. I erased my name so you would have more
echoes than you know what to do with

A bounty of echoes

Riches of silence

Wrapped in quiet, the name feels safe

Three attempts
exile, extermination, forgetting

Three secrets
praying, fleeing, returning

Written three times
at a border, in a prayer book, on a grave

A name inside walls of removal
only gets stronger

To receive an answer
you must ask
the question three times

(what is your name)
(what is your name)
(what is your name)



Alex Leslie has published a chapbook of microfictions, a collection of short stories and a collection of poems. Alex’s collection of short stories We All Need To Eat will be published by Book*hug this Fall, and Alex’s next collection of poems Vancouver for Beginners will be published by Book*hug in Fall 2019. Alex is working on a novel and is also a social worker in Vancouver, BC. Website: alexleslie.wordpress.com.

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