Poetry

Claudia Rankine:
“Some years there exists a wanting to escape…”

 Some years there exists a wanting to escape…

 

Some years there exists a wanting to escape—

you, floating above your certain ache—

still the ache coexists.

Call that the immanent you—

 

 

You are you even before you

grow into understanding you

are not anyone, worthless,

not worth you.

 

Even as your own weight insists
you are here, fighting off
the weight of nonexistence.

 

And still this life parts your lids, you see
you seeing your extending hand

as a falling wave—

/

I they he she we you turn
only to discover
the encounter

 

to be alien to this place.

Wait.

The patience is in the living. Time opens out to you.

The opening, between you and you, occupied,
zoned for an encounter,

given the histories of you and you—

And always, who is this you?

 

The start of you, each day,
a presence already—

Hey you—

/

Slipping down burying the you buried within. You are
everywhere and you are nowhere in the day.

The outside comes in—

Then you, hey you—

 

Overheard in the moonlight.

Overcome in the moonlight.

 

Soon you are sitting around, publicly listening, when you
hear this—what happens to you doesn’t belong to you,
only half concerns you He is speaking of the legionnaires
in Claire Denis’s film Beau Travail and you are pulled back
into the body of you receiving the nothing gaze—

The world out there insisting on this only half concerns
you. What happens to you doesn’t belong to you, only half
concerns you. It’s not yours. Not yours only.

/

And still a world begins its furious erasure—

Who do you think you are, saying I to me?

You nothing.

You nobody.

You.

 

A body in the world drowns in it—

Hey you—

 

All our fevered history won’t instill insight,
won’t turn a body conscious,
won’t make that look
in the eyes say yes, though there is nothing

to solve

even as each moment is an answer.

/

Don’t say I if it means so little,
holds the little forming no one.

You are not sick, you are injured—

you ache for the rest of life.

 

How to care for the injured body,

the kind of body that can’t hold
the content it is living?

And where is the safest place when that place
must be someplace other than in the body?

 

Even now your voice entangles this mouth
whose words are here as pulse, strumming
shut out, shut in, shut up—

You cannot say—

A body translates its you—

you there, hey you

/

even as it loses the location of its mouth.

 

When you lay your body in the body
entered as if skin and bone were public places,

when you lay your body in the body
entered as if you’re the ground you walk on,

you know no memory should live
in these memories

becoming the body of you.

 

You slow all existence down with your call
detectable only as sky. The night’s yawn
absorbs you as you lie down at the wrong angle

to the sun ready already to let go of your hand.

 

Wait with me
though the waiting, wait up,
might take until nothing whatsoever was done.

/

To be left, not alone, the only wish—

to call you out, to call out you.

 

Who shouted, you? You

shouted you, you the murmur in the air, you sometimes
sounding like you, you sometimes saying you,

go nowhere,

be no one but you first—

Nobody notices, only you’ve known,

you’re not sick, not crazy,
not angry, not sad—

It’s just this, you’re injured.

/

Everything shaded everything darkened everything
shadowed

is the stripped is the struck—

is the trace
is the aftertaste.

 

I they he she we you were too concluded yesterday to
know whatever was done could also be done, was also
done, was never done—

 

The worst injury is feeling you don’t belong so much

to you—

 

Claudia Rankine, “Some years there exists a wanting to escape…” (pp. 139-146) from Citizen: An American Lyric. Copyright © 2014 by Claudia Rankine. Used by permission of the author and Graywolf Press. All rights reserved. Citizen is available for order here.

 

Born in Jamaica in 1963, Claudia Rankine earned her BA in English from Williams College and her MFA in poetry from Columbia University. She is the author of five collections of poetry: Citizen: An American Lyric(Graywolf Press, 2014), which received the 2016 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt Book Prize for Poetry, the 2015 Forward Prize for Poetry, and the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry; Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2004); PLOT(Grove Press, 2001); The End of the Alphabet (Grove Press, 2007); and Nothing in Nature is Private(Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 1995), which received the Cleveland State Poetry Prize.

Rankine has edited numerous anthologies, including The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind(Fence Books, 2015), American Poets in the Twenty-First Century: The New Poetics (Wesleyan University Press, 2007), and American Women Poets in the Twenty-First Century: Where Lyric Meets Language (Wesleyan University Press, 2002). Her plays include Provenance of Beauty: A South Bronx Travelogue, commissioned by the Foundry Theatre and Existing Conditions, co-authored with Casey Llewellyn. The White Card: A Play, forthcoming from Graywolf in March 2019, “stages a conversation that is both informed and derailed by the black/white American drama.”—from the introduction by Claudia Rankine. Rankine  has also produced a number of videos in collaboration with John Lucas that can be found at claudiarankine.com.

In 2013, Rankine was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.  Her honors include the Jackson Poetry Prize, as well as fellowships from the Lannan Foundation and the National Endowments for the Arts. In 2005, Rankine was awarded the Academy Fellowship for distinguished poetic achievement by the Academy of American Poets. In 2016, Rankine was awarded a MacArthur “Genius” Grant and named a United States Artists Zell fellow in literature. In 2017, she founded the Racial Imaginary Institute, a “a moving collaboration with other collectives, spaces, artists, and organizations towards art exhibitions, readings, dialogues, lectures, performances, and screenings that engage the subject of race.” She is currently a Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry at Yale University. Author photo credit: Elizabeth Weinberg. [This bio is from the American Academy of Poets website]

Listen to Rankine talking about Citizen here, and read essays about her work here. Interviews of Rankine about Citizen are here and here.

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  • Annette Seidenglanz February 24, 2019 at 10:51 am

    It only takes a moment to step outside the comfort of the illusion of security – these poems take you there, easily. But then further to take away black/white and put things right.

    Reply