The Brooklyn Rail

APR 2010

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APR 2010 Issue

If I Could Say This With My Body, Would I. I Would

for Kiki Smith’s Sojourn.

Kiki Smith Messenger III, 2008 cast aluminum, white gold and gold leaf 31-1/2
Kiki Smith Messenger III, 2008 cast aluminum, white gold and gold leaf 31-1/2" x 42-1/2" x 42" (80 cm x 108 cm x 106.7 cm) Photo by: Joerg Lohse/ Courtesy The Pace Gallery © Kiki Smith, courtesy The Pace Gallery
Kiki Smith detail of Singer, 2008 bronze 65
Kiki Smith detail of Singer, 2008 bronze 65" x 27" x 24" (165.1 cm x 68.6 cm x 61 cm) Photo by: G.R. Christmas/ Courtesy The Pace Gallery © Kiki Smith, courtesy The Pace Gallery

origin organza “spurned as a feminist”
so we think so we march on
Sojourner Truth sold
with a flock of sheep
for $100
Ain’t I A Woman?
that was like to think
a mordant time ago
to be poet or assassin
or abolitionist
rustling the assemblages
one such my body might offer
as one does these parts
& feminists needing people
our colors cling to
as they do our “outed”
artist spirit
& spike in the heart
& in territory too
complicated colors
of many patched skins
& migratory bodies
through channels of
life & death
& wounds no matter
& synthesis is matter
to a feminist!
syncretic form turns
the singer into spirit-griot
I offer you flowers
parched of atmosphere &
more tough-wound-resilience,
lovely sisters & ghosts
of the paper parted and
herself to mold it
& laugh
the forest made
the monkey
the forest made 3 crows
but the cave & steppe,
make the human sister!
an interjection
to come out,
come out now
bejeweled, tattooed
or wrapped
with capes & shrouds
with a
circulation of images on this
Nepalese paper
that sucks up
an ink like blood-of-the-
juice that could feed
(& you feel) the world
in the vein
how it wants to
be blood-let
& flow, say again “flow”
let it flow…
want to live long & with
seventh sense
drink her heat’s
fluidity, a trace or trance
some with sparkles
a bulb abuts head
to glow with sense
the valor by which
we merit love
is possibly just like this
external to love
it tries us, sensibly
remembers “valor”,
a masculine
tone as it might be
that they earn it, the guys
try us on again
for sighs,
as we sit and stitch
with prudence “her” story
a kind of wild stamina
the ubiquitous valorous
body summons
in the drawing
in the cloth
on the foolscap page
in the paint
snatched up by hand-maiden
& in a case
of metallurgy
gets sung to
as it becomes instrument
of daughters
beaten with love and hit
to strike the note
(& as I headed to Ajanta
Kiki said Strike the
column in cave # 3 was it?
and it will sound!
as it was meant to)
and answer the eternal question
“what methods of political
thought can poetry
uniquely perform?”
(& thought) sounding
& inward character
of human & imagined
is a body.mind
sound, sound
a line drawn right
the track
toward all female ones
faces & bodies open
as you delineate them
of a family, munificent
caves & caskets
and in each
a kind of pieta
of an ubiquitous one
which carries
her ancestor’s thread, DNA
made of papier mache
the artist’s one-on-one
dreamer, a double, her familiar
she who might
be spirit now, mother
resembling a
wide expansive
cheerful force & character
of the other painter
one recently dead
in her last days
or maybe a body
of light in a tradition
that calls such
wild folly
or the “reward-body”
when she
moves from
Bodhisattva & other
to Saint or Buddha-hood
& will arrive
from other gaze mere
names, props
for shadow & light
that keeps bruiting
an umbra-phantom in dream
& these ideas come
through them
although body
vanish from our sweet
touchable world
explicitly against tyranny
enactment of her haunted
“witness” faces
(have you seen the other side
& what does it look like?)
& anyone’s politics these days
is a continuation
of war
& reprehensible darker sides
they just can’t seem to
get enough of it?
of what?
of suffering!
I wanted wit…. got it
I wanted wisdom… I got it
I wanted terrestrial & got
that too
I wanted her
but got her child-shadow
her mirrors
then a maritime
floating puppet walking in
another century’s steppes
over this
civic wide hospitable Brooklyn
( 18th century: how long slavery
how long our suffragette cause?)
that took a species of
troglodytes to the perimeter/
when I first tried poetry
it caught my tongue
spun gauze around it
nurtured it
to walk inside a tome
a tomb a shadow-box
that put so close a mark
on life
as to be furred, feathered,
the purr ended in there
never “did not want to go no further”
the life cycle of woman
Sojourner spoke Dutch til
age 9
& trespass
stopped at a
laboratory of sleeves
O sisters
as Jun’ichiro Tanizaki
describes the
head & hands only
of the Bunraku woman
recess shadows
no flesh
the stick pole woman
syntax derived
that she be vertical
& locked inside flesh
teeth blackened or perhaps
with green lipstick the better
to glisten
in a lantern locked-light
the more beautiful it, places
private & like retreat
return, reflect
that it glimmers outside
what to think of one
who she would
say of herself
lived following
on this or any other stage
song’s deep emancipated

Kiki Smith’s “Sojourn” at The Brooklyn Museum’s A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art Through September 12, 2010


Anne Waldman

Anne Waldman is the Artistic Director of the Jack Kerouac School's Summer Writing Program.

Kiki Smith


The Brooklyn Rail

APR 2010

All Issues