Every Lifted Voice

Why the singing.

Now a manifesto, now jazz, now a love lyric; through these voiceprints of language now the witness takes a stand. Another stirs the mischief of the multitudes within each vibrating body of this vast and trembling We.

The point? Only this. Create a landscape wide enough to hold the simultaneous becoming dance of each and all, from the last beginning to the next. Any tent will tear against the strain.

But what do you need? Only to feel tended to and left well enough alone. You might try taking scissors to these pages, and then make a world to hold.

To hold us? That too.

What are you doing? This art is simply a protest. Against the dying off.


“Voiceprints of language” is a phrase June Jordan once used to describe poetry.

Dear Creatures

For our moments of silence.

We remember. Despite some apparent determination to forget. How you were the first circles surrounding our centers. Oracles, you carried messages, promises. You offered invitations. When we wondered about living, and how––and we were always wondering, you offered by example, some possibilities. Like this, you said, and this. There were so many ways. You embodied each fully, without hesitation. Only when we dared to return your gaze could we know ourselves. We were silent before the mystery of you, and you carried our secrets.

You had your holes and your nests, but we hardly knew where to rest our heads. You leant your bodies to our metaphors, our art. Some say you gave your blood, saying paint. You knew we needed symbols to live. 

We painted and dreamed with your bodies, but one day, one of us got carried away by the power of the symbol in his hand and forgot what he was. He went around in darkness, chanting “I am soul! Soul!” and “Let there be light!” I don’t need to tell you what he thought he was. He thought he had arrived by his words. But we had only ever known you in our silences.


Inspired by John Berger’s Why Look at Animals? (1977) in About Looking. And other creatures.

In Defiance of Taste

For the wild uglies.

What crawls and flies far from clean in its joy is often the subject of revulsion, but some forms of rage are raw enough to keep a crawling body painted with mud, and ripe enough with love to offer flight. One held nothing back of substance and much of detail and familiar story lines, to keep each mouthful tasting fully of itself. Eat, she said, there is enough for everyone, but cautioned that some would find at first bite, something raw enough to break the heart. It broke mine, she said, but then came a challenging joy. This angered some, but creatures of the earth are often hated for not making themselves more pleasing, more beautiful, for living just as they are.

Ceiling to Sky

With June Jordan.

You had some nerve, some told you, to speak love into the war, to flaunt that voluptuous hope in all her fullness, wearing not a stitch of modesty. Not even cynicism, or nihilism; neither was she utopian, and although they tried to call her ignorant, her brilliance shone.

They urged you to cover her up, but you wanted to let her dance. You gave her new songs and the earthquake moved you, the way every atom of life and its killing was suddenly known in the leaning faces of strangers.

Coming clean in a disaster is still a possibility, you insisted, and dreamed a blues to meet the moment when the ground breaks itself open, dreamed it a birth breaking open, a mouth to catch a final breath and release––and what came forth from that exhalation? They asked you about your aim and you told them. I aim to make love a reasonable possibility.


Inspired by Josh Kun’s (1995) BOMB interview with June Jordan, discussing the libretto she wrote for I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky (with composer John Adams).

Beyond Notice

A tribute to the unseen.

I can accept appearances without keeping them up, without submitting to your notions of their perpetual preeminence. Call me what you want––and this, too. I can absorb any label because I hold none with any pride. Some create awe, sure––like living, like mother, like still here––but this is an awe for what is given and just as easily removed, that I get to witness for the time being, this fleeting now, swelling in all of its fullness, even when the bulk of any presence, any matter, any one of us at any time––is entirely unseen.


Flight vigils.

We hoped our mothers would know flight and by extension, us. Each kept our imaginations of her wide wings in the same interiors where we had recorded her laughter. We hoped to read between the lines of her open face, a wild and raucous tale of our future histories, so unlike certain predictions and extensions of the moment. Done with those, we wanted a story for the ages we had yet to become. In secret, we wanted to become the ages––and the aged, eventually. Unsure how this could happen, we watched, guarding her worry, wondering what else she did not say. 


For working with words.

No need to transcribe the experience when it’s already there; not unless that’s what you’re after. Even then, it might elude. But you’re after something else, aren’t you? No, it isn’t a release valve for emotion, either. Perhaps a vessel for their distillation? Or to save a life. Or to give shape to one that you mean to bring forth by looking. Or to keep a record of attention in an effort to witness this becoming. To call it out, over and again, finding it stranger at each turn. A silence opens.


The last line comes from the title of a poetry collection by Amy Clampitt.

Between Stations

Songs in transit.

Each meeting was a new territory, and the faces of strangers became unfamiliar markers in a foreign land. We watched her absorb these, making and remaking an atlas of the terrain. To the music in her chest, we pressed our ears. In this, we heard a place we knew well. In the corners of our childhood play, the strings, and then came the drums of our chase. The horns called us to birthday feasts, and the chorus resounded, singing us–––not home, but somewhere entirely new. A place we leaned into. In this way, she peeled us from the scripts of our nightmares and offered new arrangements of light and space, of time. Embraced by her shadows, we prepared to arrive.

We the Unclean

Singing lessons with dirt.

After we saw that having was out of the question––as in, anything in our possession, including accomplishment, it eventually became clear that none of us would be clever enough, quick enough, or hard-working enough to be the brilliant exception.

At the school of roots, we learned of purity, that it was possible under certain conditions. We learned the conditions, but the dirt kept on.

We played in it, laughing with the unclean birds above us and their songs called us out.