"I don’t know if I’m yet awake, as you say," writes Dawn. "Awakened to what? Awakened, perhaps, to distrust? Maybe I’m anxious from pumping my system with chemicals and caffeine (Red Bull). Maybe, I’m predisposed toward distrust because when I was 12 or 13, adult men speaking with accents I couldn’t understand would try to coax me into their cars while I tried to make it safely home from the bus stop in late afternoon. I could tell you other stories, darker stories, of being a girl but this would be irresponsible for the skeptic—to feign a faith in transparency that way. If I am awake it is a state in which I accept my own skepticism, a lack of confidence in the enterprise within which I am constantly engaged—what we broadly call poetry and its languages, perhaps, a designation of speech or speaking to an audience or to myself or to language itself as there is, too, an attention to what wants to be said, what compels one to reach out and attempt to grasp what’s dangling seemingly too far away on the flimsy tree branch so enticingly. What I don’t trust is the generally accepted connection between the experience, the person, the interrogation, the trauma, the site, the emotion, the sentiment (“It is passivity that dulls feeling,” says Susan Sontag), and the representational element. It’s a trick. Magritte’s Treachery of Images. I don’t trust its enactments, its rundown tropes, its linguistic means and edge softeners. I don’t trust anything anyone says about The Bible. On the phone my mother wants to tell me the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. I don’t trust politicians. And, I don’t trust the past. Caught here in the terse meat of afterwards, unanchored. Drift around in muck as if to scream desperately into measure and cacophony. I prefer accidents."
This reminds me of Index of the Disappeared, a collaboration between artists Chitra Ganesh and Mariam Ghani, "a physical archive of post-9/11 disappearances - detentions, deportations, renditions, redactions - and a platform for public dialogue around related issues. The Index also produces visual and poetic interventions that circulate fragments of the archive in the wider world." The Index is an internet presence, an archive, an installation, artists books and journals. Within, the language of erasure and the language of resistance coll[u][i]de.
"Time was my messenger, my coroner, and my muse," from The Exquisite Cruelty of Time, Chitra Ganesh (2010)
DLM: "That’s not entirely true about the past. The past interests me only as a blueprint for my own personal elusive psyche. The past is a diagram of punctuating events. Of perverse tendencies and the like. I enter lots of dark rooms, foreign spaces, there are sofas of worn cloth and leather, carpets, scents I don’t agree with, other bodies, all elegies for a dampened loss. An originary loss. And there is the body clawing amongst the worn objects. It’s OK to be inappropriately embodied. It’s OK to be disparaged, denigrated, humiliated. You’re fucking human. What do you expect? You find yourself puttering around in the mishap of speech, inarticulate, the wandering, the kicking of stones. When they said, Listen to yourself be, I wonder what was heard. What wind drift complicates the matter? How silver dangles on the wrist. Its percussive rambling with the saving grace of being slightly therapeutic. I’m talking into my own ear."
Ganesh and Ghani created the warm data questionnaire, an attempt to redeem the act of questioning. "What describes you but could never be held against you in a court of law? What would be the right questions to ask to know you without knowing your name?"
DLM continues: "Let’s begin again. Let’s begin as if all beginnings were trailers stammering toward some inaccessible past. Proust proposes using a Celtic belief, that souls of the dead “are held captive in some inferior being, in an animal, in a plant, in some inanimate object, and so effectively lost to us until the day (which to many never comes) when we happen to pass by the tree or to obtain possession of the object which forms their prison. Then they start and tremble, they call us by our name, and as soon as we have recognised their voice the spell is broken.” “And, it is so,” he continues, “with our own past. It is a labour in vain to attempt to recapture it: all the efforts of our intellect must prove futile. The past is hidden somewhere outside the realm, beyond the reach of intellect […]” This, it appears to me, is a kind of life’s work—to sidle up to the objects and beings that upon recognition shudder to be opened for release. It is you who shudders to be opened. You end up walking to a tree. You end up kissing someone you’ve just met against the tree. The bark might scar her back. You don’t care. To be recognized by what? The tree? What you didn’t remember? The commonwealth of your own desires? We cannot seek these beings and objects, Proust implies. We might die before we stumble upon them." To be awakened, alert, on guard, might be to miss the very thing that shimmers just beyond what’s visible to the attentive eye."
In a 2010 talk, Ghani and Ganesh discuss disappeared bodies subsequently re-disappeared by language, and their process of abstracting poetic segments of texts from the official and unofficial registers of language in order to create "poetic registers of resistance."
As Dawn concludes, I dream of hypervigilant puppets dancing outside corporatized labyrinths. "To be awakened, alert, on guard, might be to miss the very thing that shimmers just beyond what’s visible to the attentive eye.The work perhaps—the poetry—is to be aware of the possibility of, to allow oneself to trust in, however briefly, the accidental, to be liberated from the awakened state itself."
Dawn Lundy Martin was awarded the Cave Canem Poetry Prize for her first poetry collection, A Gathering of Matter/A Matter of Gathering and the Nightboat Poetry Prize for her second book, Discipline. A founding member of the Black Took Collective, a group of experimental black poets, she is an assistant professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh.