Art is an embedding. When we create, inspired or troubled by the world, we testify to the truth of being a part of a much longer, deeper vibrant narrative. The complexity inherent in the story of living is great, and more than one medium is needed in its telling. The story must be sung, danced, painted, and carved. The story must be spun with words.
The experiences into which Black Southern artists dipped their brushes and plucked their strings were never still, never static. Cultural practitioners and inventors both then and now know that Blackness is constantly on the move, fugitive and fuguing. “No Such Thing as A Still Life”—A Southern Collection of Black Ekphrasis features poems with origins deeply embedded in the materiality and sonic aesthetics of Black visual artists and musicians creating in the South.
Like Blackness itself, these poems were not created ex-nihilo. A rich materiality is our mother. The fabric of Blackness, its grammars, traumas, its poverty and joy and collective resonances so often deemed nothing by the white gaze, are and have never been no-thing. The poets and writers included in this series practice conjure, repurposement, and re-creation to discover the yet-embedded meanings vibrating the deep.
If you squint hard enough, place
the finger’s pressure on the temple or
sink an awl into the leather
of your skin you can stop
tears from slipping
onto the hide, due to be hung
above someone’s mantle —
someone who owns
a house with a fireplace paid for by God
knows what means —
paid for by something vile and varnished,
some unsavory seed coming to fruit.
I try not to think about what they are
wont to see in the grooves of healing men:
a kind of souvenir, perhaps some comfort.
What if a chance at renewal —
the lyrics of apologies misremembered
along the way. A smiling white woman told me
my work hung in her bathroom, said
It’s about baptism so what
better place than my bathroom?
To compartmentalize is to control
the voices rising from the sweatbox,
temper them — make crying accompany
an economics of emotion.
That’s what you think
when you’re told a body’s worth
the depth of a ditch dug under Georgia sun,
that body chained to another in an embrace.
Under a cooled winter sky
one looks to the embrace for warmth.
One hums a tune so deep you can feel
his diaphragm spill into the cup of your back.
Stars had a way of trapping you
in a loop. If you stare too fixed on a star
you will lose sight of what’s come before-star —
the star is only the beginnings of bone
and sediment, making a nook for the root to come.
Work of the day gone with dusk,
work for tomorrow inevitable
(but not here now) smooth sounds of
serenading men ringing silent in your ear like
slow moving rivers. O sacred libations.
For the weekend just let the bubble in
and sway atop that smooth vanilla swim.
Just let it engulf my head in a rush
of colorless want - hands rub and squeak sings
silence ‘til the scream and scratching are one.
Let my body be not a dam tonight
blocking the tides of oblivious men.
I will not hold the water’s weight alone
in a vacuum, bass bumping the techno house
of my ancestors. I will close my eyes
and Essex will come to my rescue with
Assoto, Aurdre, Jimmy, Melvin, June —
when I need them. I will not float like some
waterfowl, but dance wildly and surf.