NYU Black Renaissance Noire Winter 2014 - Page 58

+ In thinking of captivity and freedom here, I cannot help but think of the speaker’s activity and inactivity. The speaker brings the girl’s cry “down from the hills” but cannot, or does not, stop her burning. Too, the girl is both the captive of fire, but also “free” in the sense that she is everywhere — her body, or the speaker’s memory of her body, is superimposed onto the landscape. She transcends her own body and is found in the body of the environment — yet, she is only found in the burning of other things. Which is to say, she transcends her body but not her burning. 56 Perhaps part of the work of this poem is also an impossible attempt to reconcile violence with the beauty of a landscape (geographic and linguistic). Recall the poet’s years in Vietnam and the poet’s years in Bogalusa. The similarity of the two geographies. Their beauties and violences. Remembering his childhood, he says, “My sense of poetry has a lot to do with Louisiana where I grew up, my rituals. I was very tuned into the beauty and violence in the people and the landscape. It’s a great, scary irony that the kkk call themselves the “Knights of White Camellia” — as if language is used to pervert nature, to tinge the camellia with blood.” In a way, “You and I Are Disappearing” tinges the landscape and every orange thing with the burning girl. Experience haunts the landscape. Memory floods the speaker. “You are a tilt of the head & vantage point, neither this nor that, clearly prehistoric & futuristic, & then you are gone.” + How might these readings be useful to us as seers and thinkers and writers? In order to think about this more usefully, I have to consider an old Fon story of Legba. In the story, Mawu, the female high-god of the Fon cosmology, tells the other gods that whoever can simultaneously play several percussion and wind instruments for her, while dancing to the music they make, will be named chief of the gods. All of the other gods try their hands at this feat, but fail. Legba, however, succeeds. He plays gong, bell, drum, flute simultaneously, while dancing. (Are you, too, remembering Rahsaan Roland Kirk?) Robert Pelton suggests that this tale illuminates some of the value of polyvocality and rhythmic structures in Fon and other West African musics. This story also helps me to consider the value, or power, in simultaneity. That it takes great, improbable skill to play the several musics at once, but also to hear each of their languages, to dance inside that simultaneity. As scholar Erik Davis writes of Eshu, Legba’s Yoruban counterpart, “[Eshu] knows that the power of ambiguity and the multiplicity of perspectives can change the fixed into the free.” This might translate into a poetics of attention, play, risk — patterns and ruptures of patterns. A poetics that depends on a deep care for freedom in our thinking and seeing, a constant movement toward. A poetics of process vs. a poetics of destination. A poetics of opening, of doors. (We remember the famous father of Haitian liberation who took a new last name, one he