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.
Nina, Angela and the Red Balloon
Imagine the ceremony of their visit:
clangorous machines, the lights flash red
while Miss Simone saunters, no rule bending
allowed, as her whimsy sets the guards
in motion, to reject or confiscate what her hands
have brought for Angela. This is no ordinary visit:
this is a primary colors meeting
of blue Miss Simone and commie red
Miss Davis and yellow-bellied guards
cluelessly arguing about a balloon.
When the guards acquiesce, they perform mercy
while rough hands say otherwise. In the end, the loud buzz
and so Miss Simone crosses the threshold to visit
Angela, her hand tethered to the red
balloon, runic and divine evidence
that will live in infamy because two Black women meeting
is both invisible and terrifying, because the bending
of the moral arc of the universe is covered in red
and blue songs, littered with battered but not broken hands.
The ancestors flock and flap like birds
outside the cell walls. It’s over, bark the guards
while Miss Simone rises leisurely,
unencumbered by time or space, her words and breath
behind her, bending like gold wire into a ring for Angela
holding onto the floating helium jewel glowing red
in the dank grey cell between them. Later the red
shriveled skin will become Angela’s talisman guarding
her hope and her heart and her mind and her hands:
Imagine Angela’s hands, with the red, wrinkled amulet.
Imagine the arc forever bending.