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.
The night never ended when one of us died.
The dice and smoke kept rolling. The town we lived in already felt like the end.
When the phone rung, I was the one to answer: someone asking for directions,
but they couldn’t hear my small voice over everyone sighing resolutely together
about where we’d ended up. From the porch all you could smell was the waste
plant, but when they sent the boy to the store for more beer, I ran to it
the way we ran to base, followed him there with my eyes, which saw
what the grown folks didn’t want to see, which kept inside the self
what they could not. My auntie had on gold boots. Lumens. She stood
beneath the wind chime, inside a lightless vacuum, connecting Newport’s
like constellations, the burning fresh to the burning out. The boots being
the only reason I noticed her there. When she sat down at the card table, her belly
was still a perfect globe, just like the poof on her head, the puff exiting her lips
like a life expiring. When uncle’s backhand met her cheek for asking—not thinking
—where he was headed, on his way out the door, she fell from grace like that angel
who knew too much, leaving one boot upright on the linoleum, ownerless,
but luminous, nonetheless. Hadn’t she learned, by her age, you only escape
into yet another paradise to fall from? The party continued under the lights
that washed the poor country of my parents’ kitchen in red. So when the blood
ran down auntie’s legs, we all thought it was her water that had broken.
It is best not to confide, in anyone, your own victimhood.
When a family’s pain falls into a girl, only she can bring it out
of her body, alone—by death or instrument, embryonic
little lyric squeezed out onto the screen or canvas or page.