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the path. I walk
I made it up.
— Ra Malika Imhotep
This week's poems confront a generation's exhaustion with belief systems that don't know what to make of our bodies: Black bodies, Queer bodies, Stolen bodies, Hungry bodies.
Instead of embracing dogmas that demand compliance, these Southern poets nominate themselves as pathfinders—and abandoners—who create new rituals of possibilities, new vocabularies for faith.
What I love about Aldo Amparán's "God Haunts Me as Chemical Imbalance," is that the poet is done appealing to tactics of control, whether they be rituals of punishment or anesthetization: "I don't want that chemical safety net, nor the miracle of your hands holding my blood inside this body." After a litany of rejection, this poem affirms the speaker's own agency: "I want to speak my own language. To listen to my voice. To take the cross down from my everyday walkway & wipe the blood from my eyes."
In "I Claim No Specific Religion," agency means ambivalence for poet Ra Malika Imhotep. Uncertainty becomes the place of spiritual potency: "Everything I touch turn to charm." This includes things that previously felt slight and commonplace: "a handful of dirt," "a collection of tarot cards," even the speaker's own doubts.
When paired with these two poems, W.J. Lofton's weekly happy hour routine detailed in "beetlecat bar" takes on the air of communion, except the simple bread of the host is replaced by the luxury of oysters on the halfshell. The alchemy of communion remains a mystery, but the medicine of touch shows us that for the poet, intimacy is at the heart of it all, " i do not know what it means but i know what it does flesh meeting flesh."
The very best poems are incantations, ways of telling the truth, and sharing whatever gospel the moment demands. Through Amparán, Imhotep, and Lofton, we can reimagine what the good news might be: self-sovereignty, pleasure, freedom from physical ailments. They grant us permission to form our own rituals if the ones prescribed ain't working.
Maybe reading poetry is a part of your new ritual. Maybe bomb-ass oysters are too.
— Alysia Nicole Harris
TRACK 01 …….. Aldo Amparán
"God Haunts Me as Chemical Imbalance"
God, you are vaporous inside my mind
again. You are there in the corner, there in the dust, your voice
an echo, your language an infinite equation. I've a chemical
burn on my nape. The shape of a cross.
Where you hide, tired of speaking, tired of my inability
to understand. God, I watch you turn water into blood
as I bathe. Or I have so much sodium in my blood
my veins burst in running water. I know my mind
plays tricks on me sometimes. I'm unable
to let go: I've loved the same man 20 years, his voice
guttural, on the phone, traveling across
state lines. I know he loved me for a month before his chemical
reaction for affection dissipated. God, are you a chemist?
Am I evaporating in your watch glass? My blood
like water. My blood the sea. My sea red all the way across.
Like you, turning red the still waters before my five-year-old mind
could comprehend. The burning tree. & your voice
crackling from the fire. I was unable
to differentiate Heston from Moses. From you, God. Unable
to tell magic from miracle. From special effect. Or chemical
reaction. When my man left, took with him his breathe & his voice,
I saw my blood
soaking the bedspread, my mind
still conscious in that spillage, penetrating the cross-
stitching of the mattress. God, it's crossed
my mind before, how my body isn't able
to remain my own in the face of absence. I don't mind
it anymore. I don't want that chemical
safety net, nor the miracle of your hands holding my blood
inside this body. & never again the echo of your voice.
I want to speak my own language. To listen to my voice.
To take the cross
down from my everyday walkway & wipe the blood
from my eyes. I want to see myself, able
& full, in this mirror of black ink. To break the chemical
scale unbalancing the waters in my brain.
Aldo Amparán is the author of BROTHER SLEEP (Alice James Books, 2022) and winner of the 2020 Alice James Award. They have received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and CantoMundo. Their work has appeared in the Academy of American Poets, Poem-a-Day, AGNI, NewEngland Review, Ploughshares, POETRY Magazine, and elsewhere.
TRACK 02 …….. Ra Malika Imhotep
"I Claim No Specific Religion"
All I have is my self
broken into sleep-
less nights, of wondering
& borrowed ritual.
Blood, a mixed pantheon
forged against forgetfulness.
This the spirit
work of stolen tongues,
in my spit. I got a
handful of dirt
in my left hand
and a collection
of tarot decks
Maybe one day
I'll trust my Ori
enuf to forgo
the quick google search
before purchasing flowers.
I suspect I know
I think. I inhale
from my grandmother's
cauldron. I'm remembering
in every language.
Everything I touch
turn to charm.
The root, a quartered circle
under my tongue. Each breath
a call towards
otherwise. There is nothing
the path. I walk
I made it up. Here
on this bridge, this flesh-
My feet lead
towards the woods.
I pretend to leave
& seat myself
amongst the dying.
Ra Malika Imhotep is a Black feminist writer and performance artist from Atlanta, Georgia, completing a PhD in African Diaspora Studies and New Media Studies from UC Berkeley. As a scholar and cultural worker, Ra is invested in exploring queer Black femininities, Black vernacular cultures, and the performance of labor. As a steward of Black Studies and Black feminist thought, Ra dreams, organizes, and facilitates spaces for embodied spiritual-political education. Ra is co-author of The Black Feminist Study Theory Atlas (2019) and author of gossypiin (Red Hen Press, Spring 2022).
TRACK 03 …….. W.J. Lofton
i go to the oyster bar to remind myself
my throat still belongs to me in a place
like America the thick pink tunnel
has yet to been stressed into a wound
my flesh is weak it opens without apology
i ain't afraid of the war, don't you know
we are at war and when i say come here
it means make this body your most familiar
place— i do not know what it means but i know
what it does flesh meeting flesh
a cold body sleeping in a face of sea salt
dreaming through my breath do you hear
the songs i have buried here
it is the way a tiny gray meat-planet ends
right inside my body all for the sake of saying
i am free, this throat is mine
W.J. Lofton is a Black Queer Southern poet, director, and songwriter. He is the author of A Garden for Black Boys Between the Stages of Soil and Stardust. In 2021, he was awarded the LEAP grant by Ava Duvernay and named a 2022 Poet in Residence at 100 West in Corsicana, Texas. Lofton's work has been featured widely including TIME Magazine, Scalawag Magazine, and Native Skin Magazine. He is Chicago-born but Alabama-raised. He calls Atlanta home.
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