Slant

THE MOTHER OF ALL SEASONS

Design by Tom Haviv and Rachel “Bluth” Rosenbluth for Jews for Racial and Economic Justice whose Hebrew text reads “Justice, Justice You Shall Pursue.”

I’LL WRITE THE HYPOSTASIS OF BECKY AND KAREN, I thought, but then a stalker showed up at my house, and I was overworked, but I had to deal with that, and think on things I never think on, for example my own safety, for example my own protection. Zoom swelled like a buboe and popped. The stalker had driven from Michigan to deliver a mug to me, he said, to thank me for having written my last book, showed up on my back porch and wouldn’t leave. 

I can’t write about the fact that the partner of a new student of mine was shot by white supremacists four days ago. I thought I might manage to write about what James Baldwin says to a twenty-eight-year-old Nikki Giovanni in this video, which has been mother father lover brother and best friend to me these last ten days, because there are about seventy things that pass between these two writers here that will tell you just about everything you need to know about art, time, race in America, and what’s really wrong with whites. 

Except that no one source can do that, and the main thing I can say, if there is a main thing, is defund the police, abolition now, and how magnificent it is that everything can change. Is changing.

But I’m sick over Rayshard Brooks, how each new act of state terror or state-sanctioned lynching puts a new name in our mouths, and we grow familiar with the contours of that sound, what can be retrieved of their lives, this sickening, nauseating familiarity on whose surface no one wants to allow a film to form. It’s terrorism. It harms everyone. The long unbroken onslaught of it eroded our whole soul and I’m using a we that disgusts me with how much I still long for it—was that longing built into me?—an American we. The state murder and mass incarceration of Black and Brown people is mass terror. It accomplished a kind of generalized brain damage that—in the mother of all Gemini seasons—masses of people really did start to wake up and recover from.

My earlier metaphor, the one I proposed in March, as Covid set in, was birth. (I was talking a lot about death too.) We are witnessing the exhilarating and also fucking annoying process of people genuinely changing their hearts and minds. It is happening in the midst of metastasizing state violence and more and more murder, but the spiritual emotional physical intellectual process of a true change of heart and a true change in mind, on a mass level—this cannot and will not be canceled. The wave is moving. It is underway. And this week amid the density of death, obnoxiousness, rebirth, and ricochets, came protections DACA and workplace equity for LGBTQIA people, waves that felt like miracles, given the conservative makeup of the Supreme Court—but the fact is miracles are made by activists. All the old theologies are nothing compared to the real transformation, heart, soul, body, and policy, that people are making with our hands, with our feet, with our money, with our bodies.

In that video I mentioned, Baldwin tells Giovanni that the greatest danger for Black people in America isn’t that they won’t win the country they and their ancestors built. He says the greatest danger to Black people in America is that they will, like whites, forget how to love their children.

I tried writing about lynching and terrorism, being in the streets with elderly ladies, mutual aid, the absurdity of my current love life etc, but the fact is I’m a white Jewish woman whose parents forgot how to love me, and what Baldwin says to young Giovanni cut me deep in the heart. My parents went insane, they forgot how to be Jewish, they forgot how to love me, they forgot how to love. I’ve written about this for these pages before. I’m mentioning it now because this whole damn thing is about love. If America, where 53 percent of white women voted for 45 the last time around, where murder and dismemberment are more acceptable to show on screens than love, care, and affection—if we could ever learn to love, to care, on a structural level—now that would be something the world has never seen. The supreme court ruling this week gave me hope. A lot else gives me hope besides.

I thought I’d give you a few pages from my notebook, in honor of the solstice, which I haven’t been able to speak to, in place of all the of the things I haven’t been able to say. And one poem from A Sand Book that Emily Dickinson wrote for me. Emily Dickinson knew about guns. She knew about bullets and she knew about the human heart. You’ll see what I mean.

Ariana Reines is a poet. A Sand Book (2019) won the Kingsley Tufts Award and will be released next month in the UK.

 

Marine wind

Roses looking at the ground

Mashed peonies

Sirens

Two wizening loquat leaves from J

Drying on the Mustang dashboard

Mustang in the rain

Pollen-dusted

Waris who wasn’t Waris entraining me into two hours of sexts

My therapist sent me a poem she wrote

A major breach of boundaries

“A” came in less than thirty seconds twice

I could not resist mocking him

Now I feel guilty

J and I aren’t speaking

K is about to enter the National Guard

The National Guard have been withdrawn from Boston

He was a Navy medic in Afghanistan

Massaging our conversation toward convincing him

To become a street medic in protests is that a form of activism

The president has scheduled his rally for the solstice

One day after Juneteenth

In Tulsa

I have been trying to get through to some Jews

I have been in a Tulsa of the mind with seventy-

Odd people and Joe Brainard for weeks

I feel a little sick

Went to the store for cereal

Which I never eat

Now I am eating it

In my peculiar prism

I almost typed prison

Prison is not a metaphor

I didn’t type prison

One throw of the dice shall never abolish

Chance

 

***

 

I’ve been thinking about the silence of Maya Angelou

When she was a little girl

After her rapist was found dead

The voice that splits the heart

It was the power of her own voice she said she feared

And what a voice it was

As for me I only got tired of talking

Tired of the sound of lies, not that I was telling any

What I mean is I was maybe even tired of the sound of the truth, slavered over

By a thousand minds, like a rock washed

& rewashed, drowned & undrowned

By polluted, mineral waves

Shining, perseverant, in its being-worn-away

Tired of my talent

And its wound, around which

I could not produce language

Only a vacuum, a kind of witness

A kind of wetness, a kind of whiteness

To where in me the iniquities of my culture

Had not only cut me, but extracted my complicity

And when a heart beats for and against itself

The voice is unlikely to rise

And if a voice does yet rise

Beyond that contradiction

Toward a continuity with things as smoke bluely

Makes itself like the tops of the trees. . . . .

 

***

 

If you ever had the misfortune to come upon

An old photograph of me you would have seen

A child and eventually a person generally in the act

Of trying to swallow her own soul, and, occasionally

A woman-shaped thing from whose body the soul

Had been entirely evacuated.  Depending on how

The picture was composed you might even be able to glimpse

It—that soul—hovering somewhere above and to the left

Of my bead.  It was not that I was not living

Sensitively.  It was not that I was not living consciously.

It was only that I was traveling so much, and carrying

Around a broken heart, buttressing it almost centripetally

With winds and arms, eyelashes and never overfamiliar

Voices moaning in my ear, I didn’t realize the motion

I was making would produce a wind with the power

To blow my essence out of me.  Not far out

Mind you.  Just a little ways.  Just far enough

That I missed it.  Just far enough that if you saw me

Even two or three years ago, and were discerning,

You might have noticed.

 

***

 

It wasn’t that I was ever cherished that way.

But I had been cherished enough I could study

The good love like that had done you.  I watched

How you shone, and I watched the generosity

And radiance you shook from yourself like particles of gold

Since when do I employ such similes?  Are these Ancient

Times?  Is this Ancient Times yet?  What I am trying to say is I studied

Love’s effects by parsing the light you gave.  And it was into

That light I was moving when others first took me

For one of the lucky ones

 

 

***

 

 

I’m too tired to read the book on how to be a woman like me

In any case I had to write that book

Now I want someone to come here and finish my work for me

I found out I have the same birthday as Maloney

Similar hair too, different body

I wasted my beauty and youth on ancient grief

And spent the last six months fucking men ten years younger than me

For no other purpose but to write about it

But that’s a lie

For no other purpose but the joy of it

But that’s a lie too

For no other purpose but my curiosity

Getting closer to the truth now

I’m thinking the hairless deodorized virtue of the purveyors of shame won’t work for me

I’m thinking beauty-wise, I’m aiming to peak at fifty

 

 

***

 

 

For two days Instagram was all beautifully designed

Defund the Police infographics

It really felt like progress

The beginning of social media being employed for an actual goodness

Fundraisers by artist friends

Then came ads featuring some kind of suctioning device that I guess makes white women’s lips bigger

I’m a white woman with lips they are advertising me this

Blacker lips for woke white women or just white women more generally

The rudiments and integuments of envy

Are like a woods in an old poem, Dante

Or Hawthorne, what you get lost in

Karen and Becky, a medium ok Jewish lady

The legislation of love using language primed on war and money

 

 

***

 

 

11/22

 

A bullet’s like a planet

Orbiting the brain

No heart will go unpunished

Tho it never enter in

 

For tho it didn’t enter

Tho it did & does & shall

For tho we only saw it

It is moving through us still

 

Design by Tom Haviv and Rachel “Bluth” Rosenbluth for Jews for Racial and Economic Justice whose Hebrew text reads “Justice, Justice You Shall Pursue.”

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