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I met Vidhu Aggarwal on a freezing-cold day in March 2015 in a poorly lit corridor at the University of Montana, where we were participating in a conference on race and creative writing, Thinking Its Presence: The Racial Imaginary. Vidhu and Bishakh Som, her artist-architect collaborator, had just realized that there was a mix-up in the timing of their own presentation and nobody would be able to attend. In the moment, we decided that they would come with me immediately, without any preparation, to be integrated into the panel—aptly on intervention and infiltration—I was about to chair with Eunsong Kim, Ricardo Dominguez, and Gregory Laynor. Vidhu and Bishakh were brilliant. Hilarious. Incredibly smart about what the structural risk and potential of a transdisciplinary or transnational collaboration might be.
As the year passed, I got to know Vidhu’s work through a close reading of her recent collection, The Trouble With Humpadori. It is an extraordinary book, in which notions of radical, non-local embodiment and the “conduit”—thoroughfare, reverse migration, crossings of various kinds, a “moving ravenous”—converge in the abject narration of HUMP, a creature introduced to us through questions of touch, or more precisely, the capacity to receive/resist touch in turn. I read these body-life moments in her work as a mode of proprioception: alliance and kinship are “indented” upon the skin, “my insides, my kindreds.” This is a writing in the tradition of the feminine monstrous, though it is as interested in the contemporary African American tradition as in the construction of diasporic territories, entities, or verse. Is form an entity? Aggarwal’s “Humpiverse” suggests it is also an esophagus lined by red, bursting cells (“HUMP’s pink membranes,” as Aggarawal writes). In the selection presented here, we also have Som’s incredible design and play as a severely brilliant accompaniment to the Humpiverse Aggarwal produces and emits at every turn.
Moving ravenous HUMP slicks down the rare mandala underwire
and twists the gold erectile into place—
HUMP is a place that ruptures and expands all space
his nerves twitching her sprouts of rage
tearing into the gargantuan hoverspace
Gone supernova, HUMP’s mad
HUMP asks: Don’t you think it’s nice
to be swinging from errant
leafy revolutions looping though space-time anomalies
knowing no one
will ever really-really love you?
The gold tail makes everything
possible-like: simultaneous pause and leap
a skewer of
bloody coils and poings, filaments splintering open
the hot warp
of HUMP’s core
skanking the precious
monkey luster unevenly across the cosmos.
Sheherazade Loves HUMP
I was in a car crash.
I turned a page, my carriage
I had a constant
I must have been
in a daze.
whispering in my ear: “Let’s make a deal. You will enter
into the harem of a killer sultan. He’s our ace in the hole, old chum.
Every night, you’ll spell
an arcade of rhizomatic stories. Play Parcheesi
afraid, desperado. You will not
undertake the hazard alone. I’ll caddy around
the corpse-girls night after night. I will reach into your dermis
for the storied tumors. Soon he’ll be caught
in the skinmaze
of our sonic nerve chador.”
Avatar of the Virus (from Outer Space)
Avatar of the Flood
I need more food
I need another lover,
I need a heat-
for more lovers more lovers a blue taffeta
kimono, a machine gun, whole rodeos
of cowboys and radical pricks. And ammo more ammo. I need some help.
I’m going to loot
the world bazaar. Crude
oil and fizzing sodas, I’ve got no filter.
My lust is fatal
like the Russian roulette of gods. Shiva shot one hot
seed into the ocean floor,
and my sizzling waves frothed
in an aarti of lava,
over land and nation, mountain and fjord—a mare on fire.
In the meltmouth of glaciers, the ocean’s raffle,
I revolt—red hot snorts
of pure heat—
I barf up steaming piles of polymer surf in the love hotel
upon the rood
of time. I fuel though deltas
I feel for a loose tooth
in the crown of civilization, and crash through. I see a fool
on a neon raft, a final fool.
I can’t be sure if it’s friend or foe,
or my one and only Mahadev sitting in meditation on the roof
of a mountain, whoever—the last guy left—
I lick his foot
in devotion. I offer
up the loofa
of a boat, my entire body
of knowledge—wave after wave. . . of nausea . . . an upload of a single dove.
Bhanu Kapil lives in Colorado. Her newest book is Ban en Banlieue (Nightboat Books, 2015).
Vidhu Aggarwal grew up in the southern United States. A Kundiman fellow, her book of poems The Trouble with Humpdori (2016) received the Editor's Choice Prize from The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective.
Bishakh Som’s work investigates the intersections between image and text, figure and architecture, architecture and landscape. Exploring themes of gender and sexuality, memory and urbanism, love and loss, these pieces are inspired by the grammar of comics and graphic novels. To learn more, go to www.bishakh.com.
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