Shake Your Money Maker
1994. You were supposed to be a visual artist or a musician but somewhere you ended up here. Hanging upside down in a NYC train. Carhartt overalls and PNB Nation jacket. Black Classic Nikes. The Afro is a natural. Not a wig. You see, you were in a fashion spread before Terrance Hayes, but Terrance was a poet before you. That’s one version. The other depicts an awkward club-kid who just began to write poems. These are poems that might eventually become poems (or not). An assortment of massive metaphors and rants that could be considered poetic but needed a shit-load of work.
This is a picture of a Tom-boy who made a living hanging upside down in cages above dance floors. Work attire: Danskin professional fishnets, boy shorts (preferably Calvin Klein underwear), vinyl corset bras, combat boots, occasional thigh-high boot with a 2 inch heel (or not). Someone whose dance partners were fem-queen children from the House of Xtravaganza, Cuban muscle boys in g-strings and girls who were two sizes smaller. Someone who just a year before went to an open mic at The Nuyorican unaware that it was a slam, read a poem, made it to second place and left because she had to be in a cage at 10pm. Who later read at an open-mic at The Fez and no one applauded. A chubby girl with surprisingly stronger abs and a firm booty. Someone who wrote to write on a folding bed in L.E.S.; who had little concern with publications, teaching gigs and Rate My Professor.
Let us think. You have at this time, four or five poems that you’ve written and read publicly. Plenty of chicken-scratch that never left the notebooks. Chicken-scratch about homelessness. Chicken-scratch about racial discrimination at the hands of both the NYPD and NYFD. Sergeant Murphy from the Bronx you remember well. Your first hit (every spoken word “poet” has a hit or two) was about Kung-Fu flicks and sexual positions. You used the Afronomical Ways (the classic black velvet glow in the dark poster from 1972), Ron Van Clief’s Manual of the Martial Arts, and your personal collection of Golden Harvest and Shaw Brothers Studio films as your source material.
It becomes your signature piece. Had that sucka to memory because that’s what was expected of you back then. You recall once performing it in a white martial arts suit while mimicking Tiger and Snake style gestures. For your performance, you ordered a custom-made weed pipe from a smoke shop on 8th street to resemble an opium pipe. You were close to purchasing the yellow suit Bruce wore but it cost too much. Talk about appropriation. Talk about performance poetry. Talk about Hip-Hop. The “poem” gets requested more often than the personal shit. The “poem” awards you an invitation to be part of a spoken word collective. This would be your first workshop experience of sorts. That “poem” landed you the Face Magazine photo op.
2013. Soon to be 2014. You still have the muscle memory for climbing cages and hanging upside down but your post-op knee and the Rollerblade stretched ligaments in your hips might not hold you in all those wonderful ways you contorted yourself. This picture captures the last days of a club dancer who by cosmic intervention becomes a poet. That is really weird to write. What does that mean to be a poet? 20 years of scribbling and still scribbling. 20 years of reading. 20 years of being a hobby, a semi-profession, a part-time profession, a full-time creative activity. You do not find yourself a gifted writer or innately sharp with words. Training the writing muscle is hard for you. You’re supposed to articulate effectively your process in words? Trippy. You have required a prescription for stronger reading glasses every two years since entering a GED program to later enter a community college. You’ve become more sensitive than you were in a cage. You’re not as flexible as you use to be. What do you wear now?
You Rollerblade to work dodging killer yellow taxis, sanitation and food delivery trucks 5 in the morning. At around 6, you brew gallons of coffee. With your Haitian co-workers, you serve espresso drinks by 7 to stockbrokers and exporters entering World Trade Center from the Path, Long Island Railroad, the MTA 1. They give really good tips. You actually get Christmas bonuses from them for the extra shots you’ve addicted them to throughout the year. Your least favorite customers you will call them “rude monkeys” in Creole. You wear khakis pants, a blue shirt and an apron.
For the club kid, being photographed by Ellen von Unwerth was the shiznot. To the young poet/rapper who just happened to drag you along with her to this shoot, it might not have mattered much who Ellen was nor her pal, the fashion stylist Lysa Cooper who first hired you to dance at one of her parties in the late 80s at Club MK. Most spoken word heads then and poets now (the ones you're happy to call running mates) do not appear to concern themselves with the fashion industry and NYC club celebrity (at least publicly or to you directly). Poets are concerned with far more intellectual, linguistic, pedagogical and political discourses right?
That day and this photo were indeed the crossroads.
1994. You were fired from your weekly gig two weeks before Christmas because of some extra pounds and the personal decision to cut off your locks. You were writing more and moving less. One of the heirs to Benihana (rumor) and her hubby told the dance captain to relieve you of your duties. You get the club manager to convince them to keep you on for the holidays. It was after all, one of the few ways you made a living. You had two remaining gigs in the Bronx and Queens. In Queens, an off-duty cop moonlighting as a bouncer will sell you and the other girls—for 35 bucks—stunguns confiscated by the local authorities. Club life in New York was steadily going techno anyway. You hate techno. Your last cage dance goes down the day after Christmas.
There was always something wonderful about that cage gyrating and swaying thirty feet above a dance floor. There were nights you would hang upside down for your entire set concerned with little less than your knees and thighs locked firmly to the top bars of the cage. The long haired tech guys would stare across and grin. The bartenders and cute busboys would look above them and see you smiling. You felt safer there than most places. You never wrote a poem about it.
Tarot for the Day: The Hierophant, The Devil (reversed), The Wheel of Fortune
Song of the Day: M.I.A. "Bad Girls"
- James Dean
- Philip Glass
- LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs
- Francesca Lisette
- Bruce Lee
- Jennifer L. Knox
- New York Club Scene
- Martial Arts
- The Palladium
- Spoken Word
- 5 Deadly Venoms
- Face Magazine
- Shaw Brothers
- Golden Harvest Films
- Favorite Books of 2013
- Natalya Gorbanevskaya
- Timothy Liu
Interdisciplinary poet and sound artist LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs was born and raised in Harlem. She studied at the Borough of Manhattan Community College and earned an MA at New York University and an MFA at California College of the Arts. Diggs’s work is truly hybrid: languages and modes are grafted...