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  • "And when I begin to believe I haven't left"

    I Don't Miss It 
    BY TRACY K. SMITH


    But sometimes I forget where I am,
    Imagine myself inside that life again.

    Recalcitrant mornings. Sun perhaps, 
    Or more likely colorless light

    Filtering its way through shapeless cloud.

    And when I begin to believe I haven’t left,
    The rest comes back. Our couch. My smoke

    Climbing the walls while the hours fall.
    Straining against the noise of traffic, music,

    Anything alive, to catch your key in the door.
    And that scamper of feeling in my chest,

    As if the day, the night, wherever it is
    I am by then, has been only a whir

    Of something other than waiting.

    We hear so much about what love feels like.
    Right now, today, with the rain outside,

    And leaves that want as much as I do to believe
    In May, in seasons that come when called,

    It’s impossible not to want
    To walk into the next room and let you

    Run your hands down the sides of my legs,
    Knowing perfectly well what they know.

  • along the boulevard

    “fall
    in love
    with your solitude”

    — rupi kaur


    Walking along Logan Boulevard in mid June feels a little like falling in love. Sure, the peonies have come and gone, but the flowering trees are in full bloom, showing off, maybe even shaking a flower or two in your hair if you strut under it at exactly the right moment. Just after dark, on a weeknight, the traffic on the Boulevard slows, and if I’m on the quieter side of the street, it feels like a secret, at least until the next traffic light.

    I recently moved right off the Boulevard and am getting used to taking that quick left turn after I leave the building, guiding me down the Boulevard to where the action is, or isn’t.

    On every walk I’ve made in the last couple weeks, I’ve discovered something new: a house I hadn’t noticed before; a different cat in a window; a perfectly pink rose bush that surely couldn’t have looked that perfect yesterday.

    Sometimes I’ve been with a friend, but usually I am alone, listening to music, which probably amplifies this ridiculous romanticism.

    I’m having an affair with Logan Boulevard. Tell no one. Tell everyone.

    It feels like this, except I prefer my view, I never dramatically break into song, and — unfortunately —Jazmine Sullivan never shows up. So I guess it’s nothing like this at all, but fuck! I love this song, they *are* walking — and I listened to this twice while walking yesterday.

    Let us all behold Jazmine Sullivan's majestic snarl now:

     

  • to be sorted later » baby be simple

    I’m listening to the new Feist record and wearing my first-ever pair of Levi’s jeans. What a time to be alive!

    My mom told me not to bother with Levi’s. “They don’t work with our body,” she had said to me when I was a teenager, a statement I took as scripture. I never questioned how she specifically stated it as if we were one body, not two completely separate beings; I never once bothered trying on a pair of Levi’s after.

    Mom, you were wrong. These jeans feel great.

    Man, I’d love to rub this in her face right now. Who knows, maybe it was exclusively the 501 fit that doesn’t work for “our” body. I’ve got the 711, and I feel just like this.

    *

    So anyway: FEIST.

    It’s been six years since Metals came out—I almost can’t believe it. I saw Feist the following summer at Pitchfork, in 2012, and I’ll be seeing Feist again this summer, again with the same friends. Maybe I’ll be wearing my Levi’s!

    The new record, Pleasure, feels like a welcome departure from the last album—not that I didn’t really enjoy Metals; I did—and it’s one that her producer Mocky described as a “hard left” to the New York Times. Personally, I love the contrast of the notion of “pleasure” with the reality that the album deals with sadness and even despair. Because “pleasure” isn’t simple at all, is it?

    As Feist put it:

    “It’s such an inaccurate, one-dimensional word that, in fact, when you look a little closer, it carries in it yearning and loss and self-punishment,” she said. “Pleasure is implicit in pain, which is implicit in pleasure.”

    I’ll be sorting through this record for awhile. That’s for sure. Current standouts: “Get Not High, Get Not Low”; “Any Party”; “Baby Be Simple” — and oh, fuck it, all of them really. It’s Leslie Feist.

    In “Any Party,” Feist sings, “You know I’d leave any party for you/no party’s so sweet as our party of two” and it’s the most romantic lyric that’s caught me in some time. And then there’s “Baby Be Simple” … oh, just listen.

    *

    I’ve also recently fallen in love with a new poet: Morgan Parker. Her book There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé is truly marvelous, to steal a description Terrance Hayes used in his review. A preview, from the poem “Another Another Autumn in New York”:

    “When I drink anything
    out of a martini glass
    I feel untouched by
    professional and sexual
    rejection. I am a dreamer
    with empty hands and
    I like the chill.
    I will not be attending the party
    tonight, because I am
    microwaving multiple Lean Cuisines
    and watching Wife Swap,
    which is designed to get back
    at fathers, as westernized media
    is often wont to do.
    I don’t know when I got so punk rock
    but when I catch
    myself in the mirror I
    feel stronger.”

    Parker was profiled in this week’s New Yorker, which really sealed the deal for me. I mean, c’mon:

    "Parker lives in an apartment in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, with stacks of vinyl records, a wall of overstuffed bookshelves, a non-working fireplace filled with “Mad Men” DVDs, and artful preparations of crystals and candles. On an afternoon shortly after the publication of her book, she was wearing flared jeans, suede magenta boots, an eyebrow ring, and a gray T-shirt with “Phenomenal Woman” on it—a reference to the Maya Angelou poem. Her appearance made me think of a line from her poem “Another Another Autumn in New York”: “I don’t know / when I got so punk rock / but when I catch / myself in the mirror I / feel stronger.” She described her domestic aesthetic as “a little bit about avoiding the quiet.” Her miniature poodle, Braeburn, gnawed a toy while Parker made coffee; Carole King’s “Tapestry” spun on the turntable."

    The only reason I’m not wearing my gray “Phenomenal Woman" t-shirt right at this moment is because it’s in the washer. Carole King. Mad Men. Vinyl. Miniature poodle. Hello. Hi.

    *

    One last thing: The Handmaid’s Tale! Let’s talk after I’ve watched Episodes 2 and 3. Holy hell! When Margaret Atwood showed up in the first episode, I screamed.

    Slap.

    Previously: “something funny started happening”

    Photo: Valle de Bravo, Mexico [via me]

  • Always a Woman » Laura Marling's "Semper Femina"

    Always a Woman » Laura Marling's "Semper Femina"

    Leonora Carrington (Wiki Commons)

    *

    "Fickle and changeable, though I may always be," Laura Marling sings on "Nouel," one of the many tracks I'm currently obsessing over on her new album, Semper Femina. She may say "fickle and changeable," but she's fucking with us, flipping the script on how anyone might dare to define what femininity, and womanhood, really means.

    From The Guardian's review:

    A concept album about femininity and female relationships (or “an exploration of womanhood”, as one magazine put it, making it sound like something that worthy Channel 4 would have broadcast in the early 80s), it starts quoting Virgil at you before a note is struck: the Latin title is a bowdlerised line from the Aeneid, which edits a dire warning from the god Mercury that: “Woman is always fickle and changeable” into the more positive slogan: “Always a woman”.

    A lot of Marling's references flew right above my little head until The Guardian broke it down for me. She's referencing Gustave Courbet’s 1866 painting L’Origine du Monde; she's inspired by Leonora Carrington and Rilke; and while this could all get a little insufferable, you really don't have to worry your pretty little head about it either, unless of course you want to. 

    You don't need to know or care much about the surrealists or the realist painters of whatever century to connect with tracks like "Nothing, Not Nearly" — at least, I don't. I guess I understand the feeling of "having a year where I didn't smile once, not really" or the sentiment throughout my favorite track, "Wild Fire":

    She keeps a pen behind her ear
    In case she’s got something she really really needs to say
    She puts it in a notepad
    She's gonna write a book someday

    Of course the only part that I want to read
    Is about her time spent with me
    Wouldn’t you die to know how you're seen
    Are you getting away with who you’re trying to be?
    Trying, trying to be

    It reminds me of a female friendship I lost a long time ago, and it doesn't make me miss that friend (and certainly doesn't make me miss being a teenager) but oh, I get it. I still get it. Maybe in some ways, we never lose our teenage selves in our female friendships. Maybe we still have that "wild fire" for the women we love like sisters and sometimes more than lovers. Or maybe you don't know what the fuck I'm talking about, similar to how Marling sings, "You always say you love me most/When I don’t know I’m being seen/Well maybe someday when God takes me away/I’ll understand what the fuck that means." 

    I laughed, loudly, when I first heard that lyric. I was in bed, with the cats, playing the song on my phone. Mufasa couldn't get away from me fast enough. She looked at me, annoyed, and leapt off the bed. Layla turned her head and yawned, slowly, deliberately. Lots of wild feminine energy in that bedroom. Geez.

    Speaking of bedrooms, I'd like to live in the one from the video for "Next Time," which is four minutes and three seconds straight outta my weird dreams, of which I have many, frequently. In fact, I think I might be this woman in the video. NPR's Robin Hilton describes her as appearing "trapped in a baroque room, intermittently examining various objects and dancing, as though she's trying to both make sense of and escape from the space she's created." So essentially, me on any given Saturday. 

    All this is to say: I can't stop listening to Semper Femina, and I don't intend to anytime soon. I guess I forgot to mention, in case you aren't familiar with Laura Marling, this is a folk album, and a damn good one. Give it a listen. Remember, you were wild once, too. 

  • "Their joy runs, bang! into ecstasy."

    "Their joy runs, bang! into ecstasy."

    Langston Hughes was born on this day in 1902. In 1926, he wrote an essay, "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain," which, according to The Poetry Foundation, was "seen by many as a cornerstone document articulation of the Harlem renaissance."

    Here is an excerpt. Happy birthday Langston Hughes, one of the first poets I studied and fell in love with, whose work continues to help me view the world in new ways, outside of my own limited perspective. Thank you.

    From "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain"

    "Most of my own poems are racial in theme and treatment, derived from the life I know. In many of them I try to grasp and hold some of the meanings and rhythms of jazz. I am as sincere as I know how to be in these poems and yet after every reading I answer questions like these from my own people: Do you think Negroes should always write about Negroes? I wish you wouldn’t read some of your poems to white folks. How do you find anything interesting in a place like a cabaret? Why do you write about black people? You aren’t black. What makes you do so many jazz poems?

    But jazz to me is one of the inherent expressions of Negro life in America: the eternal tom-tom beating in the Negro soul—the tom-tom of revolt against weariness in a white world, a world of subway trains, and work, work, work; the tom-tom of joy and laughter, and pain swallowed in a smile. Yet the Philadelphia clubwoman is ashamed to say that her race created it and she does not like me to write about it, The old subconscious 'white is best' runs through her mind. Years of study under white teachers, a lifetime of white books, pictures, and papers, and white manners, morals, and Puritan standards made her dislike the spirituals. And now she turns up her nose at jazz and all its manifestations—likewise almost everything else distinctly racial. She doesn’t care for the Winold Reiss portraits of Negroes because they are 'too Negro.' She does not want a true picture of herself from anybody. She wants the artist to flatter her, to make the white world believe that all Negroes are as smug and as near white in soul as she wants to be. But, to my mind, it is the duty of the younger Negro artist, if he accepts any duties at all from outsiders, to change through the force of his art that old whispering 'I want to be white,' hidden in the aspirations of his people, to 'Why should I want to be white? I am a Negro—and beautiful'?

    So I am ashamed for the black poet who says, 'I want to be a poet, not a Negro poet,' as though his own racial world were not as interesting as any other world. I am ashamed, too, for the colored artist who runs from the painting of Negro faces to the painting of sunsets after the manner of the academicians because he fears the strange un-whiteness of his own features. An artist must be free to choose what he does, certainly, but he must also never be afraid to do what he might choose.

    Let the blare of Negro jazz bands and the bellowing voice of Bessie Smith singing the Blues penetrate the closed ears of the colored near-intellectuals until they listen and perhaps understand. Let Paul Robeson singing Water Boy, and Rudolph Fisher writing about the streets of Harlem, and Jean Toomer holding the heart of Georgia in his hands, and Aaron Douglas drawing strange black fantasies cause the smug Negro middle class to turn from their white, respectable, ordinary books and papers to catch a glimmer of their own beauty. We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn’t matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too. The tom-tom cries and the tom-tom laughs. If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn’t matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves."

  • #NoBanNoWall

    #NoBanNoWall

    "How to reason with nature?

    And how to ignore a wall?

    Try risking nothing.
    Look up to the palm tree tops. Look down across the sugar cane and cotton.
    Look anywhere, but do no make direct eye contact
    with the wall, or if you must, stand so close
    that the eyes blur and you can no longer see it.

    Keep calm and just keep eating.
    Don't ask where your food comes from
    or who picks or prepares it—
    about Monsanto,
    about how the rich got rich,
    or who the gatekeepers are.

    Do not look up the words
    social or justice in the dictionary."

    — Excerpt, "How to Ignore a Wall," by Amalia Ortiz, Rant. Chant. Chisme.

  • "No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark"

    Conversations About Home
    (at the Deportation Centre) 

    by Warsan Shire

    Well, I think home spat me out, the blackouts and curfews like tongue against loose tooth. God, do you know how difficult it is, to talk about the day your own city dragged you by the hair, past the old prison, past the school gates, past the burning torsos erected on poles like flags? When I meet others like me I recognise the longing, the missing, the memory of ash on their faces. No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark. I've been carrying the old anthem in my mouth for so long that there’s no space for another song, another tongue or another language. I know a shame that shrouds, totally engulfs. I tore up and ate my own passport in an airport hotel. I’m bloated with language I can't afford to forget.

    *

    They ask me how did you get here? Can’t you see it on my body? The Libyan desert red with immigrant bodies, the Gulf of Aden bloated, the city of Rome with no jacket. I hope the journey meant more than miles because all of my children are in the water. I thought the sea was safer than the land. I want to make love but my hair smells of war and running and running. I want to lay down, but these countries are like uncles who touch you when you're young and asleep. Look at all these borders, foaming at the mouth with bodies broken and desperate. I’m the colour of hot sun on my face, my mother’s remains were never buried. I spent days and nights in the stomach of the truck; I did not come out the same. Sometimes it feels like someone else is wearing my body.

    *

    I know a few things to be true. I do not know where I am going, where I have come from is disappearing, I am unwelcome and my beauty is not beauty here. My body is burning with the shame of not belonging, my body is longing. I am the sin of memory and the absence of memory. I watch the news and my mouth becomes a sink full of blood. The lines, the forms, the people at the desks, the calling cards, the immigration officer, the looks on the street, the cold settling deep into my bones, the English classes at night, the distance I am from home. But Alhamdulilah all of this is better than the scent of a woman completely on fire, or a truckload of men who look like my father, pulling out my teeth and nails, or fourteen men between my legs, or a gun, or a promise, or a lie, or his name, or his manhood in my mouth.

    *

    I hear them say, go home, I hear them say, fucking immigrants, fucking refugees. Are they really this arrogant? Do they not know that stability is like a lover with a sweet mouth upon your body one second; the next you are a tremor lying on the floor covered in rubble and old currency waiting for its return. All I can say is, I was once like you, the apathy, the pity, the ungrateful placement and now my home is the mouth of a shark, now my home is the barrel of a gun. I'll see you on the other side.

    --

    from Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth

  • The Caged Bird Sings for Freedom

    "Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all of their scintillating beauty."

    – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from Birmingham Jail"

    *

    If you don't already have it in heavy rotation, I can't think of a better time to listen to Common's masterful album, Black America Again.

    "Letter to the Free," the closing track featuring Bilal, talks about mass incarceration and was inspired by both Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow and Ava Duvernay’s documentary “13th.” Common wrote this track for the movie, but it was already a subject that was clearly heavy on his mind, and it’s a topic he returns to throughout the album. 

    The question he asks in this song—“Will the U.S. ever be us?”— followed by the conviction that freedom and justice will indeed come (“Lord willing!”) follow in the spirit of Dr. King’s sobering and powerful words from his 1963 letter to his "dear fellow Clergymen.”

    This weekend, I’m traveling from Chicago to D.C. to proudly join a diverse group of Americans marching on Washington, D.C. in the Women’s March on Washington. The guiding vision of this Women’s March is the belief "that Women’s Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Women’s Rights,” along with the belief that “Gender Justice is Racial Justice is Economic Justice.”

    Like Dr. King, I believe that our liberation is bound in each other’s, and that “whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” So while it may be a “Women’s” March, I’m marching for the racial justice that heroes like Dr. King and John Lewis, and so many more brave men and women, risked their lives for— or as King put, “so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”

    See you in that “not too distant tomorrow” where the “radiant stars of love and brotherhood” — and sisterhood — will shine.

    #WhyIMarch

  • Te vas? No.

    Te vas? No.

    Me, at Frida's. December 30, 2016.

    *

    I ended 2016 with a visit to Mexico City, which of course included a trip to Casa Azul, Frida Kahlo's house turned museum. Oh, Diego lived there, too, I know. But it's really all about Frida, isn't it?

    There are other, in focus, "better" photos of me visiting the Blue House. But this is my favorite – no posing, no posturing, just me in front of a portrait of Frida. 

    Right now, the spirit of Frida feels more pertinent to me than ever, as we're only days away from inaugurating a lying degenerate and misogynist as our next President. She was fierce, resilient, and unapologetic about who she was – and oh, her jewelry! That's the short list. I don't need to explain to you why she was such a badass, unless of course you're the dude I was sitting next to on the plane ride home, WHO HAD NEVER HEARD OF FRIDA KAHLO. (Upon this admission, I quietly opened my book, The Power, and tried to pretend he no longer existed.)

    I only hope to channel some of Frida's chutzpah when I participate in the March on Washington on the 21st. 

    And if that's too tall of a task, I can certainly channel the Resting Bitch Face I nailed in this photo. 

    #WhyIMarch #WomensMarchWednesday