from Pia Arke’s exhibition Arctic Hysteria at Greenland’s National Museum & Archives, Nuuk, 2010
I am in my body. I am here, in front of you. I am the temperature in this room. I am undressed in my nudity; I am the light and shade you feel. I am more like other people than like you. I have before and after. I am my self, entirely and only. My outside and inside are continuous. I am muscle, organ, fluid, bone. I am monumental. You are the only one who sees me.
I am not naked as I am; I am naked as you see me. I am transparent, almost visible. I have a time and a place. I am tribal and exotic. I must always carry objects. You are heroic. I am a complete museum, the story of my own making. I am a mirror to you; you are reflected in the looking at me. At best, I mimic you. You write me. When you leave, I will no longer exist.
I am a single conscious point. I am indifferent. I am unself, like a photogram. I am prehistoric, before definition. Your body falls over me. I have depth and luminescence. I am neither here nor there; I have infinite extension. I live inside the lived world, the light and dark inside my head like dream substance. I am camera obscura, the room itself. I both adore and resist.
–W.E.B. Du Bois
Dedicated to Kwame Nkrumah
I was a little boy, at home with strangers.
I liked my playmates, and knew well,
Whence all their parents came;
From England, Scotland, royal France
From Germany and oft by chance
The humble Emerald Isle.
But my brown skin and close-curled hair
Was alien, and how it grew, none knew;
Few tried to say, some dropped a wonderful word or stray;
Some laughed and stared.
And then it came: I dreamed.
I placed together all I knew
All hints and slurs together drew.
I made one picture of what nothing seemed
I shuddered in dumb terror
In silence screamed,
For now it seemed this I had dreamed;
How up from Hell, a land had leaped
A wretched land, all scorched and seamed
Covered with ashes, chained with pain
Streaming with blood, in horror lain
Its very air a shriek of death
And agony of hurt.
Anon I woke, but in one corner of my soul
I stayed asleep.
Forget I could not,
But never would I remember
That hell-hoist ghost
Of slavery and woe.
I lived and grew, I worked and hoped
I planned and wandered, gripped and coped
With every doubt but one that slept
Yet clamoured to awaken.
I became old; old, worn and gray;
Along my hard and weary way
Rolled war and pestilence, war again;
I looked on Poverty and foul Disease
I walked with Death and yet I knew
There stirred a doubt: Were all dreams true?
And what in truth was Africa?
One cloud-swept day a Seer appeared,
All closed and veiled as me he hailed
And bid me make three journeys to the world
Seeking all through their lengthened links
The endless Riddle of the Sphinx.
I went to Moscow; Ignorance grown wise taught me Wisdom;
I went to Peking: Poverty grown rich
Showed me the wealth of Work
I came to Accra.
Here at last, I looked back on my Dream;
I heard the Voice that loosed
The Long-looked dungeons of my soul
I sensed that Africa had come
Not up from Hell, but from the sum of Heaven’s glory.
I lifted up mine eyes to Ghana
And swept the hills with high Hosanna;
Above the sun my sight took flight
Till from that pinnacle of light
I saw dropped down this earth of crimson, green and gold
Roaring with color, drums and song.
Happy with dreams and deeds worth more than doing
Around me velvet faces loomed
Burnt by the kiss of everlasting suns
Under great stars of midnight glory
Trees danced, and foliage sang;
The lilies hallelujah rang
Where robed with rule on Golden Stool
The gold-crowned Priests with duty done
Pour high libations to the sun
And danced to gods.
Red blood flowed rare ’neath close-clung hair
While subtle perfume filled the air
And whirls and whirls of tiny curls
Yet Ghana shows its might and power
Not in its color nor its flower
But in its wondrous breadth of soul
Its Joy of Life
Its selfless role
School and clinic, home and hall
Road and garden bloom and call
Socialism blossoms bold
On Communism centuries old.
I lifted my last voice and cried
I cried to heaven as I died:
O turn me to the Golden Horde
Summon all western nations
Toward the Rising Sun.
From reeking West whose day is done,
Who stink and stagger in their dung
Toward Africa, China, India’s strand
Where Kenya and Himalaya stand
And Nile and Yang-tze roll:
Turn every yearning face of man.
Come with us, dark America:
The scum of Europe battened here
And drowned a dream
Made fetid swamp a refuge seem:
Enslaved the Black and killed the Red
And armed the Rich to loot the Dead;
Worshipped the whores of Hollywood
Where once the Virgin Mary stood
And lynched the Christ.
Awake, awake, O sleeping world
Honor the sun;
Worship the stars, those vaster suns
Who rule the night
Where black is bright
And all unselfish work is right
And Greed is Sin.
And Africa leads on:
It’s a thematic alignment… letting someone go who is on the edge of death, or who has in fact already departed… but of whom those who remain cannot let go.
Today it has been two years already since Paul died, and I don’t imagine a single day has been easy for those of us who have, each in our individual and private ways, had to let him go.
But It Says Nothing
But it says nothing. And one is as quiet
as if to say nothing moves me. Then
there is the chair. And one speaks of
the chair sitting at the table.
Scraping against surfaces, opening the mouth.
The object is a piece of thing before. One
shifts in a chair and opens the talk.
And the time it says nothing one moves.
The table is too long as the wall. Not
a thing but it stays and one opens
as a mouth will begin. Speaking of
the table, nothing but to avoid that of
the wall. One could return over and over
to the chair, the wall one is sitting at.
Least ways it says nothing. And the
thing is, it stays still before
speaking of. The object of nothing, even
Watching from a bluff the tiny, clear
Sparkling armada of promises draw near.
How slow they are! And how much time they waste,
Refusing to make haste!
Yet still they leave us holding wretched stalks
Of disappointment, for, though nothing balks
Each big approach, leaning with brasswork prinked,
Each rope distinct,
Flagged, and the figurehead with golden tits
Arching our way, it never anchors; it’s
No sooner present than it turns to past.
Right to the last
We think each one will heave to and unload
All good into our lives, all we are owed
For waiting so devoutly and so long.
But we are wrong:
Only one ship is seeking us, a black-
Sailed unfamiliar, towing at her back
A huge and birdless silence. In her wake
No waters breed or break.
Comes sarcastic November in mummy garb, hauling,
same old same old what laid bare
what totaled. Sees thru the estimated costs, stench
collisions, inanimate dregs, remembers
the bruised figures, their
numerology as stars. Up up, down down
is how she counts as the hunters begin to hunt.
This is the plot of erasure, this the lavender bath.
Truth be known, the dark won by a landslide.
Yet friends in far January
await news of the front, cycling up the snow-clad hills.
They are to be exhumed from the grail of the keeper,
he who heralds what’s here. To them, send dreams
that pop open when breathed on
and ask them to complete this sentence:
If God is in the details, then …
But in the end there was only a chair covered in velvet
and the sibling, dark as a forest, turned into words.
There were the stamps with monsters
and the stamps with flowers,
there was a dumpster of old paint.
Even the egalitarian whimsy of the gold rush
is in partial view: harbor’s sleek hulls,
willow disintegrating in drapery and nonce.
What others did
taking us to task in the field, into archival maps
along a bank. What is it they wanted?
Among strangers, beyond the stamina of pictures
—the dancer on stage, his ruined feet,
as they would flail crops
when the spring comes, and flood, and tassels
rise, as my head—
Across the ballast’s drab plaster
a colder moment assumes shape.
And Thee, found inside eternity’s crawl space,
midget doctrine of reckless variety,
homing pigeon of whatever returns,
what is your method now and
how do you know when it is finished?
When it detaches, when it comes to life at the edge of time.