The Poetry Project

& when the spaceship comes for ____________, i want to go with them


“There is a frequency that this planet wants to reach so she can lose us all.”
– Harmony Holiday, Hollywood Forever

i imagine all the things we could be
in a world where nothing belongs to us,
except everything

Sound is how we language the body. It is how I have found possibility in times that have seemed unimaginable, undreamable, impossible. In moments when words fail, when people fail us, and when we fail ourselves, too—an utterance, a low timbre of recognition—can be enough to propel us back.

When I say sound, I mean everything. And when I say silence, I mean nothing at all. And what I really mean is quiet is most deadly. Quiet is that soft hum, that hesitant pitch, that elongated absence—that false truth right there, underneath the real truth, the two of them too close to tell apart. It is that muted color that we still see, the low light that stuns us all.

When I am soundless, I am in need. And when I am in need, I go to the poets I love the most—poets who make sound of the body. Who use the page as deliberate, free, sonic material. Who call to us and to each other through a frequency that we cannot get away from (and that it’s best for us not to). Who give us every reason to run: from this country, from this collapsed dream, from all this quiet disguised as living—back to ourselves.

Is That A Star

In The Sky?

or is that just you, shining

Two nights ago, as of writing this, in a “Jazz Ensemble”—an improvised listening between Harmony Holiday & Fred Moten—I found this sound:

Passing sound—whether that be in the poem, in conversation, or in music (all a matter of music after all)—is the gift of being directed toward something that wants to find you if only you can make yourself visible. This is how we hear each other—through other sounds, through sounds that cannot be made, through the open doors between one song and the next, one body and the next, one love and the next, the way that new song comes in just right after a long, long silence.

Music has often been how I’ve loved—saying, here let this sound pass through you the way you have passed through me. The way we memorize things so we can keep them, the way we keep the sound of a lost loved one’s voice tucked somewhere inside us, for now, forever. This is now our way of speaking. This way nothing becomes a silence, nothing ever truly dies. So many times, I’ve wanted to say something, and the music has said so itself. Like when we say let the song cry, let the note wrap around you, let improvisation be our way through, let this not be the end just a transition to the next life, next song, we all know your favorite part is still coming.

In the quiet, I opened a door to “Hollywood Forever.”

Hollywood Forever by writer, dancer, and archivist Harmony Holiday is a book that is not just a book, but a portal. It is a passageway from one word, one line, one image to another—where we move through this world (in all its cruelty, its excess, its beauty) and onto the next. And in that imagining, where we call this world in. The poems never ask, but require our seeing to be heard; they speak in a language that everyone knows yet is afraid to remember. They are one person talking over another, two women loving the same man (and no man at all), a complicated star dead next to a brighter shining thing, the magazines and their recommendations for living, an advertisement for the company coming to turn off the light, our light, how everything in the city was once glowing, is still glowing despite our recklessness, despite the sun who “kills questions” and a commercial for a new world far away from this one we know and love to hide from, the moment we finally move away from each other and back to ourselves, this dream we hold tight, this land we built, this country’s lies and superimposition, still not enough to kill this black pitch, this sound our guide, forever.

Harmony Holiday acknowledges our contradictions, our impulses, and our fears and does not quiet them, she gives them music. This is the pitch that rings through silence. In Hollywood Forever what I hear most is don’t get lost in the accumulation of silence, in the inviting timbre of nothing at all, in all that sound they stole from us and try every second to sell us back—and why? Because. There is so much more to hear. Even if to hear we must imagine elsewhere. And this is the sound underneath all other sounds. The real truth next to the false truth. The real loud thing, that Black voice upending all quiet in the body, all nothing in the universe.

“Then I found I needed words again. Then I found I needed something else. I needed people. As instruments. To be part of the cosmic reordering of the universe. To heal the black/diasporic imagination with counter histories that destabilize the West and make room for a way of life that serves us here or lets us go elsewhere in peace.” – Harmony Holiday, Hollywood Forever

On nights when I wanted to lose this planet,
this was the song that passed through me.

This is the same song that I hear when Douglas Kearney yells sshssh and we see every single body in his voice, every speck that comes flying out his mouth like some kind of sonic rocket long waiting to reach whoever it reaches, that loud-ass colored silence choosy as it wanna be. Poet, performer, librettist Douglas Kearney is someone who is always seeing, always listening, and always speaking, too—even in the echo. His words sing and swirl and loop and long after every last sound, even the one that catches you swept up in your quiet. 

There is no one way to read a Douglas Kearney poem; not even for Kearney himself who you will hear in one instance read a single word real real soft, real quiet, like a whisper. And in the next, make that word the loudest thing in the room, give song to an utterance. And because of this, there is no one way to hear him—no single sound that can be expelled from the body. There’s no one way to understand him either. On the page (such as in Patter) his words perform: they zip across each other, pile one on top of the other, repeat, cross out, turn on their heads and back, and yet the truth of the poems is never mistaken or lost. All of his words hold each other together, they act as witness. This closeness, this dexterity—is an example for us even outside of the realm words live in. 

And they do exist elsewhere. In performance, Kearney creates a new live world, one not separate from the page, where an accumulation of screams, laughter, and exaltations—truths loud & soft—are the language. When I first saw him perform, he burst into the room—full of momentum from a missed flight and impromptu long-distance drive—sweating, chest thumping, and without saying a word, tapped the mic, and took off, like a jet plane we were lucky enough to see before it takes flight & all I could hear was the sky—in a place that had long been so quiet, I didn’t know if any sound could still find me.




exhales / exclaims / breaks

Jonah Mixon-Webster, open-mouthed, soft-bodied, waiting into the camera the first time I see him turn his body into the poem. It is a gift to break silence. It is a gift, too, to hold it—right there, as you tell sound (and all that other noise) to go be somewhere else for today. Go be some other body.

Jonah Mixon-Webster, poet-educator and conceptual/sound artist, writes into the noise. He bodies the sound. His poems extend from the physical and into the mind of the reader, not to be forgotten, or misplaced or overwritten. In performance, he makes use of what we know and can see right there in front of us: the room, the audience, the pause. Yet he also moves into what we can’t possibly see (or hear)—the space between the unknown and the images we are told to look at constantly, the images we are told are ourselves. In his debut poetry collection Stereo(type) he looks these images in the face, at times re-telling them in his own body, controlling the image. It is a “hauntology” both on the page and in the body—a house composed of ghosts and secrets and white noise. But at its center, it is a structure built by us.

His poems are the amalgamation of the real living that we do, the real voices of the people we know and love, the real niggas, and all the sounds we make, together and by ourselves. They are poems that I look to in being Black and queer and unafraid; in being so loud and so soft and so everything all at once—and in this, forever evading being one single thing, that quiet, that nothing at all.

I want to be a moon rocket.

On the nights when I wanted to be the image, wanted to be the sound—when there was nothing but noise occupying my mind, I turned to these poets to fill my body up like a well. Saying, let this dark sound be water. Let my body be a partner to memory. Their work is kinetic—their poems are all remarkably different, yet all jolt and twist and move with a collective urgency. This movement is a song, a secret, a haunt, a memory of every sound we make and fail to. In their worlds, forgetting is the only thing impossible. And this collective sound that they make is our dream of another world in the center of this one—a vessel that holds us here but will let us go “elsewhere in peace.” And when the spaceship comes for Harmony Holiday, Douglas Kearney, and Jonah Mixon-Webster, I want to go with them. Or better yet, I want to be with them, right here.

I want to be the dream that outlives us all. I want to live. That is the real revelation—the truth right next to the truth, that sound I have waited my whole life to make. The sound I find in these poets whom I love, who make so much possible.

#262 — Fall 2020