It takes more than good intentions to transform the South. It takes money.

What the hell is a Scalawag?

Art is an embedding. When we create, inspired or troubled by the world, we testify to the truth of being a part of a much longer, deeper vibrant narrative. The complexity inherent in the story of living is great, and more than one medium is needed in its telling. The story must be sung, danced, painted, and carved. The story must be spun with words. 

The experiences into which Black Southern artists dipped their brushes and plucked their strings were never still, never static. Cultural practitioners and inventors both then and now know that Blackness is constantly on the move, fugitive and fuguing. "No Such Thing as A Still Life"—A Southern Collection of Black Ekphrasis features poems with origins deeply embedded in the materiality and sonic aesthetics of Black visual artists and musicians creating in the South.

Like Blackness itself, these poems were not created ex-nihilo. A rich materiality is our mother. The fabric of Blackness, its grammars, traumas, its poverty and joy and collective resonances so often deemed nothing by the white gaze, are and have never been no-thing. The poets and writers included in this series practice conjure, repurposement, and re-creation to discover the yet-embedded meanings vibrating the deep. 

[New Impressionz Found myself a clappa] 

after the Go-go band New Impressionz *

Though I'm practical and would rather watch
the room fill and fold like a black sea
turning over, I'll be your disciple. 

I'll follow where you pull me, which, you
walking before me, makes me forget
my creditors. Pressing up on me in the houseparty, 

pressing on me so that I could be the wall
holding up the house with my desire. Violent pleasure
I welcome, your weight. You asked me into study, 

pressing up like that. I work for your weight 
against me. I was saying something like                 {I don't care about commerce}
when you keep asking that narrow question 

about my body. Baby, I'm undoing myself behind you.
You shaken down to what the drums give, and
I found myself, found myself inside this 

homeless groove you can't name. Can't name me except being
given over to the usness we make for the next 90 seconds. 

Sometimes I feel so outside, then you invite me in.
This is how I keep time, and I keep to it, you inviting me in. 


Lincoln Town Car 

after Deana Lawson's photograph "Trap Car"

My grandfather would spell certain words so that the dog couldn't comprehend. O u t, F o o d. The dog, that little bear-fighter, ran into the road one day, buried in the yard now. And the next dog, he waited in the backroom for my grandmother to return heavy-footed from around the corner. And when she didn't return, he sat there unreachable as language. 

Something was wrong if we left the country: fluid around the heart, not enough movement, syrup for blood. Leaving meant taking showers and my grandfather fixing my grandmother's hair. All of us, clean-shirted, in the front seat of the Lincoln Town Car. We shared a humid thought, pressed as we were against the maroon leather, six-legged in the front seat. Before us the highway unraveled. Sorghum and corn and soy— collapsing as the wind fell, listening for light. I listened for muscadines swelling in the ditches on the water-logged sides of the highway. I listened to the quiet narrow as we entered the city. 

I loved the language my grandparents spoke: saying nothing, holding both my hands. Was the pines that set off sound in them. My grandmother stared out the windshield and into the hills, saying That man, That man. My grandfather shifted in his seat at the wheel, practicing owning something. I had a feeling that I was the last let into the kingdom of their distance. Something was owed, neither side would spell it out. I counted the fallen pines as the car dipped through the hills in the tidewater, lonely as a dog with the whole world inside. I counted the pines and put my voice inside them. 


* Editor's Note:  Go-go is a form of Black music indigenous to D.C. that rose alongside the advent of funk.

Taylor Johnson

Taylor Johnson is from Washington, D.C. Their first book of poems Inheritance will be published in fall of 2020 with Alice James Books.