Soul, what do you say? Soul, let’s meet again. Drinks? To see the shine of you, looking back, your words dripping over me. I will not repeat what you said or did when we shared breath in that space where the doors were secure until they–– Soul, I meant to save you when I told them Take it, of my body, of my time. Come back. I have run out of spare parts to give away.
Consider all this a precursor, the artist was saying, to work in another medium. I wanted to begin with some questions, she told us. I was talking to a friend, she said, as I am now––and the friend, these friends, had certain questions. These questions encouraged me, she told us. To keep looking, you know. With these hands.
I was trying to make something, to see it. There is a way to thread a map of layered memories so that knots are formed at the points of collision. There is a way to see the knots as what hold the web together.
Of course, they won’t hold still, so it is not clear yet, but I can see how the tendrils of these maps might thread together, suspended in ropy intricacy as though in branches above us. How we might assemble beneath the canopy, looking up.
It would be so much that we would have no choice but to return to a preverbal state with sounds and textures and smells and a sense of being in one place expanding out and then back between carryings, and no one can ever describe what happens in this state, when the tremble of memory is soul.
After the body, winking branches point to cloud faces and birdsong heralds their parade. Here is a frame for the living, and in it, more seeds than there are numbers.
Far from immaterial, this breathes syllables of flesh and leaf, spore and wing; limbs and their memory, and without these containers it would be everything all at once like water to a fish, synonymous with life’s self, but we are creatures bent on naming.
We make nests of words to offer as a frame for warming the babies, so that when the known perimeter breaks––by degrees and then completely, they might recognize in our heat, the beginning of something, and stay.
What knows, perceives, wills, animates––a body, while not of body. Moving a mind, but not quite a mind or of one. Plato considered a soul of the universe, and others saw it in the celestial bodies. Some confuse it with perceptible motion. Where is it before–– and after, this form and these forms? Before understanding, and after? Indivisible, and yet able to multiply, into greater unity, ever greater being, explaining nothing, with no guarantees.
A Moonwalk revelation, ending in an embrace, the wide white smile of The Godfather of Soul shining back.
There is a night, long after my bedtime in 1983, when the three kings take the stage. Soul is leading. For a moment, he is front and center, green jumpsuit and perfect hair, wanting company. The numbers dead from the Ethiopian drought have reached four million, and protestors are gathering at Greenham Common Air Force Base as Reagan’s army deploys missiles. It’s almost time to invade Grenada. It’s civil war in Zimbabwe, earthquake in New York, the birth of Mario Bros and Microsoft Word, some say the birth of the internet, and a new land speed record in the Black Rock Desert. I don’t understand what is happening.
The King of Soul calls on the rising King of Pop, younger and still darker than we knew him later, who leans in to be embraced by Mr. Dynamite, kissing his ear, his first words into the mic, I love you; I love you, then spin, shimmy, what is this? A Moonwalk revelation, ending in an embrace, the wide white smile of The Godfather of Soul shining back. It’s the Embassy Bombing in Beirut, the highest U.S. unemployment rate since 1941, the assassination of Aquino in the Philippines. Here comes Run DMC, Depeche Mode, Iron Maiden; the age of the international superstar. Let’s dance, karma chameleon, I want to party like it’s 1999. It’s time to fasten your seatbelts, ladies and gentlemen; buckle up, it’s the law.
Next comes the King of Funk; Prince, where are you? Pointer finger extends a royal summons to the back of the room, stage left. The Artist arrives straddling the waist of the white-bearded muscle man who bears him on his back, whose image calls to mind Hell’s Angels; up goes His Royal Badness in a futuristic jumpsuit, gold lame details, heels. This king on the guitar, a prolonged erotic moment. Oh no, it’s not a jumpsuit, now the top half is coming off, now it’s the shirtless High Priest of Pop making love to the Mic stand, to the audience, thrusting himself into the space between the music and their rising cheers, then falling like a spent lover into the crowd. They are filling the prisons, building new warehouses for storage of the fathers and brothers and sons. There are bullet holes in the ceilings. The new warehouses are stacked five stories high; they can’t build them fast enough. The vans arrive in a constant stream; the machine needs bodies. The bodies are the fathers and the brothers, the uncles and the sons. Where are they now? They are Away.
This is the year I enter school – line up! Bells, the bells, the stone buildings, the weight of this ominous word, terrorist, its point to point to some being not quite human, grounds for extermination, but now, we were told was the age when the wars were done; now, the adults said, was a time of hard-earned peace. Of progress, the dawn of a new age! News of another car bomb punctuated news of mass extinctions, and even with the bombs erupting everywhere, even with the mass extinctions, and the adults looked ill with symptoms of battle fatigue that no one was allowed to discuss.
It is the year of the West Bank fainting epidemic, and epidemics of fainting elsewhere, especially at concerts; it was the heyday of new religion, and our stadiums became our new meccas; and Sally Ride is the first woman in Space, Ride, Sally, Ride! and Guion Bluford is the first black man in space, Say it Loud! Vanessa Williams the first black Miss America, and the King holiday is signed into law. The Zapatistas are rising; Thriller is released.
I am too young to be at the concert; too young to even know the names of the kings who take the stage. I find the footage later, among the artifacts of the hyperspace that was being assembled around us. I pour through the artifacts, looking for clues in the aftermath; it’s the same question in any aftermath, isn’t it? What happened? And what was there before? And, was there any sign, before it hit, what was happening?
I can’t help it, the way I keep returning to the moment when the second of the kings takes the stage, the way he says I love you like he’s someone just arriving, and I love you like he’s someone already getting ready to leave. I can’t help but think that if I had seen him then, I would have been moved with recognition. Even then, before I knew anything about anything except the speed of the way it feels to spin with your arms out wild, knowing you’re about to fall flat when the spinning gets too much; that’s what we did then, holding hands until we released them, falling flat and breathless on our backs, laughing in terror at the still-spinning sky.