Liquid Ink

The official website of Gint Aras, Finalist 2016 CWA Book Award


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Roger Reeves on severed tongues

I’ve had the pleasure and honor of reading together with Roger Reeves on a few occasions here in Chicago. I think you’ll appreciate what this poem does to you.

Cymothoa Exiqua

cymothoa exigua*: the tongue as what it is not—blemish
and parasite: gimp and glottal stop: what question can be
answered with a truant mouth: can the lynched man hung
from the sails of a windmill taste the lead pipe wedged
between his lips: when the signifiers dangle, empty chum
lines in a cold creek: when the men in Waco, wearing white
straw hats, fraying at the crisp edges of their white shirts,
leave Jesse, leave John, leave Paul in ashes in the unpaved
streets to choke passing mules into prophecy: when we pinch
our noses to staunch the smell of the twice burnt black man
burning for a third time this day: when the boys, sweet
and good animals, come to what’s been left in shallow ditches:
false rib and femur, clavicle and severed hand—quite simply,
the language of sorrow: glyph of the gadfly rooting himself
into the rotting meat of the dead: when it is too late
to refuse our bodies being made urns: corn, unharvested
and heavy in its husks: when, in the marketplace, the butcher lifts
our tongue from a bed of ice, shouts: who will speak for this flesh:
when the tongue answers as all severed tongues do:

*Notes:
Cymothoa exigua is a parasitic crustacean that attaches itself to the tongues of spotted rose snappers and extracts blood from the tongue until it atrophies and falls off. Then the parasite attaches itself to the nub and acts as the fish’s tongue. According to scientists, the fish is not harmed in the process.

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Photo of Roger Reeves from the Whiting Foundation


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Rita Dove on transcendence (or something like it)

I missed a few days due to some matters I won’t get into. My apologies. I hope this beautiful poem by Rita Dove makes up for it.

American Smooth

We were dancing—it must have
been a foxtrot or a waltz,
something romantic but
requiring restraint,
rise and fall, precise
execution as we moved
into the next song without
stopping, two chests heaving
above a seven-league
stride—such perfect agony,
one learns to smile through,
ecstatic mimicry
being the sine qua non
of American Smooth.
And because I was distracted
by the effort of
keeping my frame
(the leftward lean, head turned
just enough to gaze out
past your ear and always
smiling, smiling),
I didn’t notice
how still you’d become until
we had done it
(for two measures?
four?)—achieved flight,
that swift and serene
magnificence,
before the earth
remembered who we were
and brought us down.

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Photo of Rita Dove from Wikipedia.


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Gwendolyn Brooks: The Independent Man

This is a poem by Gwendolyn Brooks. I really like it.

Now who could take you off to tiny life
In one room or in two rooms or in three
And cork you smartly, like the flask of wine
You are? Not any woman. Not a wife.
You’d let her twirl you, give her a good glee
Showing your leaping ruby to a friend.
Though twirling would be meek. Since not a cork
Could you allow, for being made so free.

A woman would be wise to think it well
If once a week you only rang the bell.

 

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Photo of Gwendolyn Brooks from Wikipedia

 


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Malcolm X on reading

I want to continue today with Malcolm X, whose Autobiography was a strong influence on me when I first read it in my late teens. I both identified with Malcolm X and realized I had a lot to learn from him, primarily about the experiences of people whose lives were different from mine. I admired his desire for knowledge and authority, his passion for books, and his diligence in prison, where he studied the English language with obsessive fervor.

It’s crushing, annihilating to me to know that we now have a president whose illiteracy is celebrated by a massive swath of Americans, while others shrug it off as acceptable. Malcolm X spent his days in prison memorizing the dictionary. Decades later, America elects a man who can hardly utter a three syllable word.

I wish I could quote his entire book. But this will do:

I have often reflected upon the new vistas that reading opened to me. I knew right there in prison that reading had changed forever the course of my life. As I see it today, the ability to read awoke inside me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive. I certainly wasn’t seeking any degree, the way a college confers a status symbol upon its students. My homemade education gave me, with every additional book that I read, a little bit more sensitivity to the deafness, dumbness, and blindness that was afflicting the black race in America. Not long ago, an English writer telephoned me from London, asking questions. One was, “What’s your alma mater?” I told him, “Books.” You will never catch me with a free fifteen minutes in which I’m not studying something I feel might be able to help the black man. 

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Photo of Malcolm X from Wikipedia 


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Ta-Nehisi Coates on enslavement and destiny

February’s quotations of black intellectuals continue here on Liquid Ink with Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose Between the World and Me should also be standard reading. Virtually every other page contains a quotable insight. Here’s one that really resonated with me (the ‘you’ is Coates’ son, to whom the book is addressed):

You must resist the common urge toward the comforting narrative of divine law, toward fairy tales that imply some irrepressible justice. The enslaved were not bricks in your road, and their lives were not chapters in your redemptive history. They were people turned to fuel for the American machine. Enslavement was not destined to end, and it is wrong to claim our present circumstance—no matter how improved—as the redemption for the lives of people who never asked for the posthumous, untouchable glory of dying for their children. Our triumphs can never compensate for this.

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Photo from Wikipedia.


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Toni Morrison on flesh and love

Liquid Ink’s celebration of black history month continues today with this quote from Toni Morrison’s Beloved, a novel that should be standard reading in every high school in America.

In this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face ’cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! And no, they ain’t in love with your mouth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed. What you scream from it they do not hear. What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give you leavins instead. No, they don’t love your mouth. You got to love it. This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I’m telling you. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. And all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver–love it, love it and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize.

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Photo of Toni Morrison from Wikipedia.


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James Baldwin on society and education

To celebrate Black History Month here on Liquid Ink, I’m quoting from black American intellectuals every day until March. These quotes are all deeply meaningful to me.

Yesterday’s was from Frederick Douglass. Today it’s James Baldwin, taken from his Talk to the Teachers, delivered in 1963.

It would seem to me that when a child is born, if I’m the child’s parent, it is my obligation and my high duty to civilize that child. Man is a social animal. He cannot exist without a society. A society, in turn, depends on certain things which everyone within that society takes for granted. Now the crucial paradox which confronts us here is that the whole process of education occurs within a social framework and is designed to perpetuate the aims of society. Thus, for example, the boys and girls who were born during the era of the Third Reich, when educated to the purposes of the Third Reich, became barbarians. The paradox of education is precisely this – that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated. The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions, to say to himself this is black or this is white, to decide for himself whether there is a God in heaven or not. To ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with those questions, is the way he achieves his own identity. But no society is really anxious to have that kind of person around. What societies really, ideally, want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society. If a society succeeds in this, that society is about to perish. The obligation of anyone who thinks of himself as responsible is to examine society and try to change it and to fight it – at no matter what risk. This is the only hope society has. This is the only way societies change.

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Photo of James Baldwin from Wikipedia.