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Goodbye, Poetry

By Bhanu Kapil

A theory of horizontal evolution holds that you are incubated by what lies next to you, in the rusted out pond, as much as you are by a copulative encounter.

To incubate: to transfuse.

To become something else.  In time.  As you lie there with the others, in the den.

A bacterium on your hem, a raw spot beneath the tongue.

In this way, I did not write about time but thought about it, for the race riot scene I have been trying to write all Spring.  In this way, I was radicalized, on the spot, by Barbara Jane Reyes, her invitation to write/write again as a woman of color.  To be darker than I really am. (Visibly so.) To find a substitute for ash.  Would I have done this in March, or even February?  Snap.

Inspired by Barbara, I then said yes when Claudia – Claudia Rankine, fifteen minutes into our first meeting, said: “Do you want to do something?”  Yes I want to do something.  The subject of our week-long collaboration: race and landscape: memories of extreme girlhood. Every other day I try to write about race; about a girl lying down and not getting up again.  A black or brown girl in the story I came here to tell.  Each time I open my e-mail — to Claudia’s “next” — my body spasms a bit.  Not  a lot.  A bit.  No, a lot.  She pushes it further each time.

On the outskirts of Los Angeles, I sat next to Claudia but opposite the writer Amina Cain.  Amina said: “In a narrative, to let something still be dead.  To let it die.”  At the end of the dinner that followed the reading, the sort of post-poetry dinner a person typically dreads but which in this case turned out to be magical and profoundly synchronistic, I gave Amina the Belladonna chaplet* from the prose event in DC.  It was my last copy.  It was **dirty, with some words (such as Colorado) underlined in red powder, from the performance in Denver, where I had intended to read from it, but did not.

Side-note 127: I think part of writing is not to be identified with writing. Is perhaps not to write.  At all. This is my last post, so there is no time to explain that.  I will just say that I believe in giving everything way, with the exception of my son, residual funds of various kinds, and my cat.

Amina is going to be in the next prose event, curated by the GLORIOUS Kate Zambreno in New York next month.  *Amina read my **race riot notes then wrote me this e-mail from L.A.: “The lying on the ground stays with me, and it made me think a little bit of something I wrote about being a giant mirror, that when you see a woman lying down in the road she is reflected in your eyes. This woman I wrote about was different–she was dying–but I think about that– whatever we see is reflected in our eyes.”

Reading these words, I thought of the smashed glass in the ivy, where the girl is lying down at night.  Lately, inexorably, I write about a body prone on the pavement of a city I do not live in now.  Because of this, I think that I am not, perhaps, a poet.  If novels diminish the imagery brought forward from a previous time, that have no place, or repository, in the culture or place the person is writing in now: then perhaps this is the form I should be working in instead. It is how I think of novels.  As: ethnicity.  A trait, rather than the world itself.  Should I prop a mirror, a tiny mirror, in the glossy, dark green leaves?  I want to diminish, or refract, the thing I cannot see, thus bear; bear, thus see.

Makes me sound like an animal.  See: comment stream.

I become so familiar with this scene that at one point, I lie down on the ground instead.  I exchange my body with the body of another girl.  I wait for something to happen, and it does.

The poetry dinner nears its end.  To my right is the beautiful, wild and completely tender – heartbreakingly so – Brent Armendiger, whose small, private, liberal-arts college, Pitzer, paid my airfare to L.A.  For some months, I had been under the delusion that the Pfizer Corporation wanted me to speak to its managers as some kind of eclectic creativity consultant.

As we part, Brent gives me Archipelago, his Noemi Press chapbook, and I take it from him, noting how light his touch is.  I love that poetry is passed so gently between people.  The books themselves are simple.  In giving our books to each other when we meet, or buying them, and removing them from the box, we exchange a light, repetitive touch with other poets over the course of a life-time.  This is healing.  Is it?  The ordinary quality of it is healing.  I look up from my sole, which is nourishing yet bland, to see, too, the faces of the poets Warren Liu, Aaron Kunin, and “H.”  Between us, we have a Sigmar Polke childhood in Minneapolis, twin boys, and a glass of chilled white wine.  I scare one of the poets by remembering the memoir/anti-memoir issue of Chain in which his work was published several years ago; I know it because I often teach it, if I am teaching a class about poetry and memory: the sentence as caked in fat, electricity and water, like a nerve.

Goodbye, poetry.  We hug goodbye, or shake hands, on the street outside the cafe, then walk in opposite directions.  A light rain is falling over Southern California.  The blossoms in the trees are green.  I wake at 4 a.m. to pray, then fly, over the desert, which is orange, to my home.

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Posted in Uncategorized on Tuesday, April 26th, 2011 by Bhanu Kapil.