Shame May Be Fatal
"The chrysalis breaks apart to form the wings." Samuel Delaney. I was asking him how to write a book. The future body of the book. I think of these notes as wings: as the wet parts that will re-combine or fold: a living structure. The essay is the chrysalis. In this weak attempt. It is okay to feel this weak, this listless. For example, I have not approached, in these notes, what it was I wanted to say. (To come to writing as to place. ) And there to wait or stand, on the sidewalk, in the rain, until the distant roar of the race riot reaches through time. And there to lie down, next to the ivy. Crystalline. Throbbing like a heart beneath a sheet of paper. Suddenly real. The frost on each leaf.
"Paragraphs are emotional." Gertrude Stein
A student of color wrote to me last night. In another class, a teacher had told her to "stop writing the body." The student experienced a crisis. "I felt brain-dead," wrote the student, "and couldn't write. Because all I want to do is write the body." I began to compose an e-mail with instructions: "How to write the body." Stalling, not wanting to make a joke of it, I turned to the notes/fragments of unfinished essays and paragraphs, to cull something for her.
"Shame may be fatal." Logo on a World War II poster encouraging the treatment of STDs. I have found it to be useful in other areas.
Thinking, too, who my own mentors in this area (writing the body, that is, and not the other!) have been. I think of Lisa Birman and Max Regan at Naropa, whose fierce conversations and own work on human/gender rights have been at the heart of the community there. I often feel as if I could write in their company, or near them. "Holding the space," as Akilah Oliver called it. (A poet who wrote the body to the max.) Membrane-song. I bumped into a former student of Akilah's last week, Luis H. Valadez. He was in town to give a reading with Tim Hernandez, and to give a talk on arts, social justice and contemplative education. We sat for a bit in the smoking area, though neither of us smoke, and talked about Akilah for a long time. We bummed an American Spirit and smoked it as we spoke of her.
The next day, from the shuttle to the airport in Denver, Luis left a message on my voicemail. His poem, written for Akilah—after her, for her, because of her. He sent the text of it the next day, from Chicago. Here it is. Here's Luis smoking the cigarette, that is, and here's the poem :
"i am wrecked in the hips from the times i approached you from the outer edges of my feet. if i wasn’t the same age as your son, i wonder how much sooner you would have stopped nodding your head to the tune of be mine not anyone else’s. besides, i didn’t know how to recognize when someone wanted to touch me. still don’t. it’s because of you i figured out that my language is filed under gets i ain’t got. i apologize for my jealousy. you didn’t lust for me and my girth would have kept me from reaching you, anyway." -- Luis.
Attempt 2.b: (How to Write the Body.)
“the absent visible body – writing comparable to guerilla tactics – to strike, retreat, in striking, to change the landscape, to alter the public, i.e. political, space, to force a discourse outside the script, to flip the script – the body is present in the visibility of language, in the style …” -- Akilah
Akilah: “Things translate into memory almost as they’re happening. I mean this. I mean to rip between languages. I mean to be textured paper. I mean to walk into the terminal ocean one day.”
Bhanu Kapil lives in Colorado where she teaches at Naropa University. She also teaches in Goddard College’s low-residency MFA. She is the author of a number of full-length works of poetry/prose, including The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers (Kelsey Street Press, 2001), Incubation: a space for monsters (Leon Works, 2006), humanimal...