Where on the spectrum of loyalty and betrayal does song begin? And where does it end? I think each writer has to decide this over and over.
the changing same
The man sat. The man sat stock still, contemplating his freedom. The man sat stock still, contemplating his freedom from the overseer. Stock still the man sat contemplating the overseer, the overseer’s wife, and the overseer’s children. The man sat contemplating the overseer’s children, who frequently dance on the graves by the river; stock still, he sat stock still. Contemplating his freedom, the man sat by the river. The man sat by the river, on the graves by the river, contemplating his children unmarked and covered in brambles, stock still.
The man sat stock still on graves by the river. On graves, unmarked and covered in brambles, the man sat contemplating the overseer’s children. A mist set on the river, set on the man and on the graves. A mist set on his gaze, typically untroubled by water. On graves by the river, the man sat covered in brambles with a mist in his gaze. Despite or because of the mist, both being the same, the man foretold a mighty flood. “A flood,” said the mist, said the man, “a flood.” All this while covered in brambles.
The man foretold a mighty flood that would wash their souls elsewhere. The overseer, the overseer’s wife, the overseer’s children. The man, no longer beset by mist, but pummeled by rain, awaited a mighty flood to wash their souls elsewhere. The souls of the dead, souls of the living, all would dance mightily on graves by the river, serene and pummeled by water. The man would no longer sit bowed by rain, but plunge giddily downriver. The children too would dance while stock still in their graves. The children, who knew how to inspire water.
The man sat contemplating a reed, bowed by rain. Bowed by rain, the reed and the man, bowed by rain. Despite or because of water, falling headlong, the man beheld the light of the moon. The man, the children, and the graves beheld the moon, but not the overseer. In the moon, the man saw light that shone from a girl. The girl was unmarked. Unmarked or mark unbearable, both being the same, the same being. That’s how he knew. The child having run from a flood that would have overtaken her, carried her in a river to the feet of a man. Still, stock still, he knew he was, contemplating the life of the river, the souls of the reed, the graves of the overseer bowed, all bowed, contemplating their freedom.
morning : mourning : moaning : mo’nin’
I open my eyes thinking I must already have what I need to wake—not from this dream but to the room beside the battered sea where that smell of lemongrass receives me. I am smelling island smell, thinking. Maybe scent is all I need to meet a mother on her knees singing glory glory, glory glory can this be my daughter? Am I she? My bed breaks on a wake caused by bodies swimming. I rap my knuckles against every ream of water. I know I’m not her daughter my dreams are battered the room is empty I fear swimming out too memory I trouble sleeping.
I open my eyes to dream despite writing over sleep. When did I choose the steep, winding bend into that cavity, water rushing underneath, children calling cooing from its peaks? There is no sheltering from dream. Asleep, my speechless limbs are a child’s again—we are astride a tree, its barrels and thick broad leaf, pelvis arching over sky greenness of the sea. We try to tell the children, please go back to sleep back to your canopies and press ointment on those knees, your earthen hours. But now I cannot speak, my tongue slung in that one cavity that one solitary spring—how can it be both stone and water?
I open my eyes to find a man sitting beneath white eaves, fingers gently parted on his knees; he doesn’t turn to greet me. I ask where are we? He responds we’re in a memory—you see this grand old house? Please be patient. I close my eyes to illustrate my ease, but still he does not glance does not notice how I preen for his affection. I shift my feet gaze at his finger pads all fleshy and think does he sit because he’s grieving? The man gets to his feet, what did you say to me? I said you’re glistening. He turns and wades into a stream says follow me.
I open my eyes stick out my tongue taste the breeze. It’s salty. There is a woman on her knees singing glory glory, glory glory and a baby edging toward the water. Baby never falters. When the wet is belly-warm body softens body simmers in a bathtub. Perhaps squid ink purple nearly pink at the margins when glory glory whooshes baby underwater bracing for the sun to bare blue flowers. In the blue I brace too I cry out mother I throw stones I even throw fruit from the garden. But mother never falters, she plays her tune the sea her flute far from home.
“the changing same” is indebted to Amiri Baraka’s essay by the same title. “morning : mourning : moaning : mo’nin’” is indebted to Fred Moten’s chapter on “Visible Music” from In the Break: The Aesthetics Of The Black Radical Tradition.
Jo Stewart is a poet and theater maker. She uses a combination of gesture, voice, and text to make performance that investigates entrapment, borders, and freedom. She is the winner of the 2020 Sublingua Prize for Poetry, and is currently a cross-disciplinary MFA candidate in the Literary Arts program at Brown University.
Originally published in
Our spring issue features interviews with Tiffiney Davis, Alex Dimitrov, Melissa Febos, Valerie June, Tarik Kiswanson, Ajay Kurian, and Karyn Olivier; fiction by Jonathan Lee, Ananda Naima González, and Tara Ison; poetry by Jo Stewart, Farid Matuk, and Joyelle McSweeney; a comic by Somnath Bhatt; an essay by Wendy S. Walters; an archival interview between Barbara Kruger and Richard Prince; and more.