Art as Service
IT’S AN HONOR TO BE HERE WITH YOU
IN THE DARK
SHARING A LANGUAGE
OFFERED IN SERVICE
PAUSING TOGETHER WHILE WE CAN
FREE TO SHARE
WHAT WE KNOW OF LOVE
WITHIN THE TRUTH
THAT WE WILL DIE
AND HAVEN’T YET
FLESH ELECTRIC FOR ANOTHER MOMENT
READY TO BREATHE THE MAGIC OF THIS RITUAL
ALL THROUGH THE BLISTERING CHAOS
SO THAT WE MAY REMAIN SOFT ENOUGH
TO WITHSTAND ITS TOWERING VIOLENCE.
In the Winterbody
… it is a winter of trials and rewards for me.
Breathing deep, freaking out, calming down,
being brave in love, because life is short — it’s short.
And I don’t want to be pining as the lights go out.
That’s what’s present for me.
That sharing and expressing affection are everything,
and that I don’t want to get hit by a truck tomorrow
and lay in the road lamenting unsung adoration
as I pass from this gorgeousterrible place into the maybenothing that awaits,
This season has become a favorite of late.
I just [c]onsciously surrendered
to the starkness and the bleakness
of our weather,
and the season’s rigor is now really shining bright within me
and externally too.
It’s making me braver in how I’m relating to people.
More willing to be vulnerable,
because of a more conscious awareness of mortality
and the beauty of what remains
amid the demands of this environment.
That’s the sort of thing that happens when it’s single-digits outside.;
I’m into it.
Deep within the darkness of our vast Before, in that endless sea of all the Nothing, I, too reckless, slipped an ancient voice into this Winterbody and set sail for some bleak, deathcelebrating land. Set out to weather this storm of negation so virulent, so nimble, so praised. And I so new to Deity, was sure I would pass through with ease. But, in truth, I forgot the strength of material weakness — forgot the clownsiren cry of Can’t and made my target your so-called “home”: a state so poisoned it is scarcely able to create any but villains of self, of other, of whole.
I tired early upon arrival and, too quickly, became one of them. I let your place festoon a willingblind and laureled mania all through my laxporous heart, though it faltered — frightenedquiet — at my soul. For pristine, and fireblack, there yet remains within me an everprecious Void, sweet token from the Nothing, spiritmirror of the Old. Here now, so compromised, my engine flickers fast between chaos and consent. Exhausted, and ashamed to be, I let myself forget my name and allowed in some mouldering summerplague that promised no more than a thin fouldrunken fog for solace.
And today within the Winterbody, the fog’s too difficult to bear, and I again surrender to the crushing weight of a liar’s ease. I surrender to the falsity that I am bad and should not be. I surrender to the fear that I breathe fear, am fear, will fear. Yet through this pain a deep and deepening grace remains that I am, I am, I am.
So I reside here still, ever safely seeking home. Knowing I cannot return there plagueformed as I am at present. Would never ask the Passage to heal me of my arrogance, but instead will gaze with fierceforever and a warriorlove upon this my wrongchosen villainy, until the cold has burned it all away. UntiI I starve out the brightly summeringswamp that lingers.
UNTIL I BLAZE AGAIN,
BLACK AS THE BEFORE.
And if you choose to believe you would survive it,
you are most welcome with me as I go.
For when — deadcalm and endless as the Void surrounding with a wisewild glory — I can die,
all that will remain of my time among you will be a voice so siren it could call me to this bad place again:
Bury me alive in the Winterbody!
bury me deep in your carnival air, and I will breathe your fire
till I am strong enough to come home again.
We Live on Earth Where Sex is Fuel
We live on Earth where sex is fuel, and I have longed to spend my time here in the body of a wild creature. Longed for every part of this figure to declare my soul’s connection to our corner of the cosmos. Longed for my spirit to inhabit the same exquisitely, extravagantly, minimalist constructions I adored in elk and tiger, root and petal, flame and ocean, neuron and bone. Longed to look synonymous with sex, with art, with life and with creation.
For years, I thought running, and water, and vegetables would help a clear, wise body emerge from the distracted, unsure form I’d found myself in. Thought a dream romance might find me arm-in-arm with another, perfect spirit all tangled up in the wrong machine. Envisioned shared joy as we saw past our fumbling, mumbling material selves straight through to our elegant, infinite, blazing entities within. Believed that, from this lovingunderstanding, we’d find the spark to fine-tune our rough drafts. And, as the years slid quickly past, I remained calm assuring myself I would, at any moment, begin the work of shifting toward a body more worthy of this gorgeous planet.
But, that’s not the way it happened at all.
No — it didn’t happen like that.
Instead, I fell in love with nature.
And it showed me I was art.
I fell in love with nature and collapsed, exhausted, in its arms — dreamt of recent, human orgasms, and ancient, cosmic eruptions; I dreamt of wine and fire, dreamt of forests and swarms, of bee wings and spider webs. I dreamt fast and slow at once and then awoke in the same body — now gorgeous, nude, adored — on display for lovers of art and students of beauty.
I’d cast a pagan spell upon myself—trusting this home above all else, I dressed in blue and green and gold, expected beauty, relied on magic — and emerged an artists’ model.
My same body — once messy, once apologetic, once ignored — was now luscious, and grand, and central. The current truth of me as beautiful as any ocean wave, and my aspirations now irrelevant, I performed Goddess and found I had become one. Posing on a modest platform before a focused throng of artists, what I once thought I’d find in romance — acceptance as is, and beauty forthwith — I found, instead, in the eyes and at the hands of these creative strangers.
Standing, sitting, reclining,
existing unclothed before them,
art overpowers sex,
and nakedness becomes nudity.
Nudity — honest, natural, glorious. Finally free from inventions of shame. Finally telling truth with every breath. Finally connected to the tortoise and the egret, to the whale and to the dog.
Our form, unfettered. Life, unfettered.
The natural world exists as it does because of all the reproduction it makes possible. This ocean of creative sex is made possible by beauty, and beauty is made possible by it. Beauty evolved out of our explosive cosmic birth as a touchstone for reproductive endeavors. I’m not sure how, or if, other animals experience joy at nature’s beauty the way we do, but we swoon at its announcement of health. We delight in its promise of successful procreation. When we love real beauty, we are rooting for life; we are urging it onward. Consider that this sweet hopefulness is the root of all these electric attractions. There are so many ways we try to distance ourselves from The Animals, but the erotic fact of the natural world is always here with us. It got us all here; it shapes our present, and it is fueling our future.
In The Artist’s Way — a workbook for unbinding creativity from the injured souls of would-be artists — Julia Cameron encourages us to notice our electric connection to the universe when we are able to create freely. Creativity in art is so beautifully parallel to creation in this universe.
These days, walking the Earth guided by a constant, cosmic perspective, I feel small and big at once. I feel the ways I am very nearly nothing to the cosmos just as I am feeling no separation between myself and it. So thinking — drunk on stardust — I picture our corner of the void and see Earth set aflame, a ball of roiling, erotic activity.
Preening, wet, and special.
Falling in love with nature means falling in love with sex.
Means falling in love with the ubiquity of creation.
And admitting your comfort at the orgy.
We live on Earth where sex is art. Where art will win, and beauty’s fuel.
Now I feel an endless, sultry saunter in my every breath.
And I run because I am wild.
And I know that water is a magic potion.
And I eat plants because they eat sunshine.
Now I am gorgeous
because I know where I live.
Birthed dead from slicked earth
— un blasphème pornographique —
this gifted coffin.
The Death Reflex
clapbacks on fleek, we —
black, carefree — stay calm and just
roast the death reflex
The role of the lover is exactly the same as the role of the artist.
If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you can’t see.
— James Baldwin
Black lives matter. Black lives matter, and you do not yet understand that. It is Thanksgiving Day of 2014, and you do not yet understand how devastating your confusion is. You do not yet understand that the grief emanating from your insistent ignorance is not located solely within those you murder, incarcerate, drug, rob, starve, depress, impoverish, and refuse to educate. The grief among those you so treat is continuing to shake loose. It is continuing to become wild — as wild as the land now called your name once was. The wilderness of this grief is as sublime and as potent as was the land whose material promise you so violently devoured in your flight from the oppression you could no longer tolerate back home in England.
The emerging (and ongoing) grief of those you murder, incarcerate, drug, rob, starve, depress, impoverish and refuse to educate will do its own essential work for those so harmed. The boldness of your disregard daily makes it easier and easier for those you murder, incarcerate, drug, rob, starve, depress, impoverish, and refuse to educate to begin to respond and react and reflect and heal and change and thrive.
My concern for you, America, is that you cannot yet tell that you are also acting in grief.
You cannot yet tell that when you murder, incarcerate, drug, rob, starve, depress, impoverish, and refuse to educate those parts of yourself you devalue, you are also — more dangerously — doing the same harm to yourself. And so, because I care about you, and I care about me — because I can tell that we are each other — I will spend this time writing through my own deep grief. I will spend the day here with you beginning to touch the void within. I will spend the day writing through to some greater understanding of why this mania persists.
Because, America, I love you. You are my home. You are the cauldron in which I have been forged, and I am that cosmic sort of iron potion able to dissolve the vessel of its origin. It is within this power and this concern that I love you. And because I can tell that love is work (hooks 110), and because I acknowledge that I have been lax in this regard, I will spend this day with you — the first of many — considering our violent history, our official myths, and our will to survive.
Some years ago, I read the words “Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us” (Chödrön 7). In that language, I began to see the circumstances of my birth as privilege and not as curse. Because I have committed to never inflict upon myself any reactionary mortal harm — because I refuse to let you kill me — I am more able every day to look your violence square in its mind’s eye, and I am more able to know it cold, and plain.
As we crossed the Manhattan bridge, squeezing past the cars our group had stalled in the roadway, just before she began to cry out “BLACK LIVES MATTER! BLACK LIVES MATTER! BLACK LIVES MATTER! BLACK LIVES MATTER!” longer and louder than anyone else around us, I recall her voice — tight, dry, bracing for discouragement — asking me, “Do you want to have [black] kids?” I was happy to be able to answer, ”Yes.” And I was sure to clarify that this was a very recent triumph.
I emerged on this planet at the onset of The Me Decade, in the center of your most celebrated city. I was born to working-class baby boomers who were themselves born to the descendants of enslaved Africans living on islands in the Caribbean Sea. My working-class parents spent my youth fighting their way into your economic middle class. Only one of them made it. And all three of us bear battle scars.
I was enrolled exclusively in private schools on the island of Manhattan and spent the majority of my youth being educated alongside female children of The One Percent. The outrageous privileges of this academic history run directly parallel to the insidious toxicity of its problems, and after a decade spent unraveling my rage from my delight, I emerged able to revel in my curiosity, intellect, empathy, and resilience. And I am now able to see clearly the extraordinary benefits of perspective my outsider status has afforded. The discordant coupling of acceptance and denial — the privilege of my insider access to the modes of powerful academic institutions, and my outsider’s desire for transparency, nuance, and revolution — could easily have killed me. But, instead, I emerged with a deep appreciation for my nimble psyche; I emerged with immense gratitude for my insistence on survival.
I write today from Crown Heights, near the center of Kings County, in the city of New York, in the Empire State of a nation that likes to call itself The Greatest in the World — imperialist nostalgia flagrant, rancid, ignored — on a wet and colorful planet spinning through a bleak, and luscious, 13 billion-year-old void. That this cosmic perspective is absent from our daily human discourse is evident in the mutual violence we 7 billion kinfolk ignore, accept, applaud, and perpetuate. America, you purport to value inclusion and innovation, and I think you do, but those fine qualities are weakened by your dismissal of your own grim history. You stomp around the globe insisting upon justice on your terms, but you have not honestly, and humbly, addressed your own scandalous past, present, and likely future.
You cannot yet tell that you will never enjoy the peace of true greatness until you acknowledge all of who you are and find the strength to grieve your way toward a loving-understanding of yourself and the rest of the humanity.
You urge that we stuff ourselves with food and endure unprocessed familial stress today, but I won’t. Today, I won’t let food numb the pain my own home inflicts upon me. Today, I won’t pretend that the brutalization of my ancestors is not sharply present in the love my family tries to share across the Thanksgiving table. Today, I won’t let you convince me your own indictment isn’t long overdue.
Today, I won’t let you distract me from your ghastly rap sheet: America, you killed the very people whose land you sought refuge in. It was a murder-suicide snuffing out the integrity of your own young dream of freedom. And it left you the desperate bewildered zombie you remain. America, you killed Martin, Malcolm, and Medgar; you certainly killed Bobby, maybe John and Abraham, too; you killed Michael, and you killed Whitney; you killed Emmett, and you killed Trayvon. You killed millions of women, and you will not even tell me their names. You killed Deandre Joshua, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, Orlando Barlow, Oscar Grant, Renisha McBride, Dante Parker, Jordan Davis, John Crawford, Alonzo Ashley, Kimani Gray, Steven Eugene Washington, Victor Steen, Sean Bell, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Wendell Allen, Aaron Campbell, Kendrec McDade, Bo Morrison, Timothy Stansbury Jr., Timothy Russell, Jerean Blake, Jonathan Ferrell, Amadou Diallo, Ervin Jefferson, Patrick Dorismond, Ousmane Zongo, Ronald Madison, James Brisette, Ramarley Graham, Travares McGill, Jersey Green, Sheron Jackson, Duane Brown, Angelo Clark, Steven Rodriguez, Christopher Kissane, Raymond Allen, Justin Sipp, Melvin Lawhorn, Nehemiah Dillard, Michael Lembhard, Marquez Smart, Tendai Nhekairo, Rekia Boyd, Stephon Watts, Manuel Loggins Jr., Johnnie Kamahi Warren, and endless others.
It will be painful, I know it will, but you must begin to accept responsibility for what you have done, what you are doing, and what you are poised to continue. If you don’t, you will be haunted by the ghosts of those you ate. You will stay sick and sad and scared. You will die alone in a wasteland of your own creation, your final utterances that same, old, tired, pitiful, vile gibberish about being Number One.
America, the only races you are winning are the ones you pretend you are not running. But we can all see you running — hard. The whole world can tell. You are thrusting your limbs, expelling your breath, engaging your core, and destroying your knees to ensure incarceration, gun death, and a vast, sweeping, truly inconceivable abundance of illness for your people.
America, I urge you to stop and look at who you have become. I urge you to find the courage to be accountable for the arrogance of your monstrous adolescence.
I still believe you can be great. I still believe in your dream of yourself, but I can’t see how it will ever come true unless you have the courage to look within and do the work necessary to reorient yourself. If you cannot find the courage to do so, your future will be only more arduous, only more humiliating, only more laughable, and only more tragic.
You do not love yourself yet. I understand, America. I am going through the same thing. I am learning to love myself into a more sustainable existence. It is not easy, but it is the only answer. You do not love yourself yet. That is why you are in danger. That is the pervasive threat you feel. It is you. It is not people from other nations. It is you. It is not people who believe in other gods. It is you. That is why you are full of anger and fear and a poisonous and boisterous rigidity. That is why you are compelled to spend your considerable wealth pressing others into these thin theaters of calm. And even those massive efforts are not working. All your efforts only make more problems for yourself and others. You are not yet strong; you are weak, and sad, and loud, and ashamed.
You do not yet love yourself, America, but you could. There is much about you to love, and when you are able to restore your integrity, this will be the most extraordinary achievement, and the resulting love you feel from within, from those around you (and perhaps even from the Universe at large) will be more beautiful and more nurturing than any joy you have ever felt.
You do not yet love yourself, America. When you do, everything will be better. Everywhere. I promise.
I’ll write again this time next year. Please take care of yourself, America.
I will do the same.
Adjua Gargi Nzinga Greaves