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Between the bright and disparate elements of these poems—between the documentary and the biography, the quoted and the co-created, the domestic and the aesthetic, the mother and the son, the flat and the felt—Sarah Blake builds a space for a new tone to emerge. She’s the white girl who knows that if she’s going to talk about Kanye West, then she’s going to have to live with being cast as Taylor Swift. But that doesn’t stop the speaker (aka makeshift rap biographer, aka new mother) from protesting the limited cultural scripts available. In fact, the limitations of fandom, marketplace, and partisanship necessitate the poems, which cut and paste together an open-ended and provisional kinship system: a young white mother moves toward a young black man, moves her language toward his language. From the vantage point of one punished American social position, the poems try to look toward the most punished. Blake invokes a black man who possesses strange alternative American powers: he can upend the VMA awards, he can give New Orleans a ton of money, he can hurt George Bush’s feelings. The lines of these poems want to carry Kanye West’s grief onto each page. The poems want to start with him. The self wants to be an interruption, an aside, or a chronicler. Not the center. The language is tentative, contingent—there’s no way to get it right—but the mood isn’t anxious. It’s noisy. It’s the mood of the living room, warm, aglow with laptop screens. A mother is at work here, pushing around blocks of words, flashing images, subjective bursts. She’s moving the conversation we need to have about race, can’t have about race, are having about race, into the heart of her family where she hopes it will grow large.
A DAY AT THE MALL REMINDS ME OF AMERICA
Recently, my 14 year old sister was approached at the mall to see if she’d be interested in working at Hollister, or Abercrombie and Fitch, or American Eagle. I can’t remember.
She’s that beautiful. And with the mall’s lights all around her—I can only imagine.
Yet on Facebook, one of her friends calls her a loser. More write, “I hate you.”
I wonder if Kanye knows that these girls are experimenting. As with rum. As with skin, all the ways to touch it.
My day at the mall begins with a Wild Cherry ICEE and an Auntie Anne’s Original Pretzel. A craving.
I pass women who you can tell are pregnant, and I know we all might be carrying daughters.
The mall is so quiet. The outside of the Hollister looks like a tropical hut, like the teenage girls should be sweating inside.
No one’s holding doors for me yet, but they will as I take the shape of my child.
And if my child has a vicious tongue, it will take shape lapping at my breast.
THREE MONTHS, TO THE DAY, BEFORE TAYLOR TURNED TWENTY, BUT KANYE
I’m not mad. I read on your site about how you spoke to Taylor’s mother, heard your mother in her. You used over forty exclamation marks and I think that’s how America needs to be spoken to. America can be found pining for you in her bedroom. Your hair like an Aztec god’s. Your biceps like the end of days. This moment, on YouTube, viewed millions of times. Taylor’s little ketchup mouth.
I could see that Beyoncé had to smile. Even I could see that.
"RUNAWAY" PREMIERES IN LOS ANGELES ON OCTOBER 18, 2010
MTV.com reported: At the end of his speech, West touched briefly on his mother’s death and how he isn’t scared of anything because he feels as though everything has been taken away from him. "I have no mother, no grandmothers, no girlfriend, no daughter, and I lived with a woman my whole life," he said.
Kanye is 33. If he were Jesus, he would die this year,
and be resurrected.
I can’t unthink this thought.
He said he had considered suicide, but found his life to be that of a soldier’s,
“a soldier for culture.”
Some men are kept alive by fighting.
I don’t want this for you, Kanye.
To the right of the article is a video clip of an interview.
“. . . both me and George express ourselves with our truest, our truest vision . . .”
Kanye’s bottom teeth distract me.
If I ever questioned whether the diamonds were there,
You’re all kinds of beautiful.
And if that’s not a word I can use, you’re
resplendent, numinous, healthy.
I am two months pregnant.
Monday this premiere, Tuesday this article, Wednesday
my first ultrasound, with my child’s boneless arms in motion.
A memory I didn’t know I could have.
Thursday I write—If I have a daughter, you can hold her. A son, too.
The two of you, tied to this week in my life.
I TRY NOT TO SEE MYSELF AS A MOTHER FIGURE
I imagine Kanye’s hand on my stomach
because I’ve begun to imagine that everyone’s
touching me through my clothes.
I was not one for fantasies,
but fantasizing makes me more of a woman.
If I see Kanye's teeth
in my bedroom, if I see him
with the head of a falcon, penis of a buck
(which I’ve never seen), or
if I see myself in his studio,
in his house, introduced to Jay-Z,
drinking what I can’t drink—I am a fool.
I am encouraged to paint myself the fool.
Tattoo of Kanye’s head on my hip.
Something to morph.
To humble me. Humiliate me.
If I can only see myself protecting Kanye,
am I even a woman?
Suge is pronounced like sugar without its –ar.
Liar turns lie. Color turns cull. Whisper, wisp.
In August 2005, Kanye hosted a party before the Video Music Awards, and Suge got shot there.
ambulance, fire and police officials swarmed
the shooter was described as black and wearing a pink shirt
Treasure, trezh. Splendor, splend. Shiner, shine.
In March 2010, Suge is suing Kanye for money, but a car accident keeps him from his court date.
Perez Hilton reports
a quote from Knight’s lawyer:
Nobody likes Kanye West anymore.
Even though he’s still selling millions of records, everybody’s sick of him.
Error, err. Geyser, guise. Razor, raise blaze.
The bullet took the light from the front of the gun. The bullet took the light into the leg and bone.
I think Suge’s alight with something like grief.
Can Kanye save him from something like that?
KANYE IS GLAMOROUS
OH “THE NEW BLACK???” SINCE BARACK IS PRESIDENT BLACKS DON’T LIKE FUR COATS, RED LEATHER, AND FRIED CHICKEN ANY MORE?! WHEN YOU TRULY UNDERSTAND CULTURAL SETTINGS, BOUNDARIES, AND OUR MODERN DAY CASTE SYSTEMS, THEN YOU CAN FEEL THE GLORY AND PAIN FROM THE DAYS OF KINGS IN AFRICA TO THE NEW KINGS OF THE MEDIA.
There is something about fur, isn’t there?
I remember the coats with fur-lined hoods, and my fashionable sister, and her faux fur,
how it touched her face and hair.
I thought of how it would gather dust,
Because I think, often, how to keep a clean house.
In our house, when we moved in, we found old hat boxes with old hats, one leopard,
like Audrey Hepburn wore.
Then there are my ideas of Russia, all the white skin of the characters in Tolstoy’s novels.
(Because I guess it is racial.) How often they would have touched fur.
Sometimes I cry that Anna Karenina isn’t real.
Other times I remember she never abandoned her son.
There was no son.
Kanye mentioned the kings in Africa, and yes, them, too. Wearing cheetah, leopard, lion.
Mouths collapsed as if they once sung.
And Kanye designed fox fur backpacks for his fashion line, and the women carried them,
and the word, luxury, appeared over and over.
A fox neck wrap is 500 dollars, and if I wore only that,
I would be a sexy woman.
A shitty hunter, but a sexy woman.
Maybe not a mother at all.
I think about the fox that lives in the yards behind ours, and the neighbors, fearing for their small dogs. My son crawling in the grass.
An animal without skin is
a stranger animal.
As a girl, I drew women with foxes around their necks. One woman, her hand stroking
the red tail, her head distracted, the fox’s head arranged toward her breast.
The fox’s eye, a jewel?
5 year anniversary of Katrina already.
I remember Bush reading a story to a classroom of children and not leaving. The book upside down.
Do I want to believe that?
No, that was after the planes flew into the World Trade Center.
On NBC, Kanye spoke out. I watched this clip over and over. He looks like he’s going to cry. He says, “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people,” and they change who the camera’s on.
They moved to Chris Tucker, stumbling over every scripted word.
Then, on ABC, an interview, “I’m working—I’m working off the cusp here. I’m working off the top of my mind. I’m not reading the teleprompter. I’m letting—I’m speaking from the heart, and that thing got dialed up and typed—typed into the heart. And that was that.”
“Do you think it was fair?” asked the interviewer. But that wouldn’t be my first question.
How does your heart work?
What else in the body could be the teleprompter?
The internet winds around. Not too many links before I find an interview between Larry King and Dr. Jan Adams, the cosmetic surgeon who operated on Kanye’s mother the day before she died.
I’m disgusted by him because I’ve begun to love your mother.
I’m working in the darkness between her teeth. I’m reading
the measurements of her skull which is an excuse
to put my fingers in her hair.
She dedicated a whole chapter of her memoirs, Raising Kanye, to what he said about Bush and Katrina, to their trip to Houston. They brought Halloween masks to the children. What she called, "‘I love you’ presents." And fifteen furnished homes for fifteen families for one year.
Kanye had said, in that NBC clip, “I’ve even been shopping before
even giving a donation, so now I’m calling my business manager
right now to see what’s—what is the biggest amount I can give.”
What is the biggest amount so that how much remains?
A number I can’t imagine.
After the earthquake in Haiti, Noah and I donated $20 at Wegman’s
and our cashier told us it was the largest donation all day.
In one verse, in 2007, Kanye raps, “Feeling like Katrina with no FEMA,” and I would guess he dreams about Katrina.
About making a song, Kanye said, “I think about how people will react when they hear this. I think about how they will react to a certain point in the song. So, you know, a lot of time I try to build it up like an adventure.”
And he does. And they are.
And I can imagine the water beginning to enter the house.
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“The rising voices wanted to twist arms. The violence of their speech spread across her shoulders, inched down her backside.” A young woman struggles to have an abortion.
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Congratulations to Adebe DeRango-Adem & Simone Person!