Citizens of a Moment
“Moment:” fr L, “momentum,” motion, cause of motion, equivalent to mo- (movere, to move)
Jake was asked increasingly often, by white people, “how long” he was going to take this building project. He started to say that it would go on for as long as it needed to—maybe his whole life. That was also because, at least in what he related to me, it would, when done, be at least ten books long. “[A]nd so the elegy…” he says, “reaches for what’s missing…/ while everyone is looking at something else.”
Memorial can be a landscape, painted-on. As Jake says, in the afterword (“Foreword to a Subsequent Reading”) of his next book, Abide: “If memory lives only there, it isn’t memory anymore.” Abide is filled with references to letters, loops, and musical sustain, the lines that connect with people, living and dead, who are important to him. The poems are joyful affirmations of the shared places—on the back of musical notes, inside the arc of drawings, or in drinks and meals shared—that can never be un-free.
From a talk he gave in the spring of 2012:
If race is whatever is non-white, then, at least for the white reader and perhaps for the white writer, race is a thing, to be located by…—something seen, perhaps heard—that is apart from the self…
Race is not a thing. It is a process.
There is a scene in 12 Years a Slave, when Northup is freed: leaving the plantation his face is shot in close-up; behind him, the camera’s gaze soft. Unfocused as the past, or future. His eye tears, partly from wind, partly from the almost unbearable pressure one feels if ever fully inside any moment, any ending/beginning, what moments are. Another: the scene of his reunion with family; this one has closeness, distance, closeness. Touch. As if with attention, attending, we could ever know what Past/Present lies within another. "Moment," from L. mover, "to move." Where else could it start?
Responding to dominance and enclosure Jake designed a poetics, an architecture, of arm’s length, of usable space. And so the unfolding series of elegies became the series of book spines known as Inscriptions for Air. Steeples and city. City and citizen. Mournful city. Heavenly city.
Let’s replace race with relation. Propose a relation, live relatively.
City beyond cordon sanitaire, polis beyond the policing of time—that great double agent, collaborator with Master and Mistress Narratives. Here, outside this policing, each of us, from Abide again, “citizens of a moment”:
Let’s get closer, get within.