Saidiya Hartman writes that Abolition is a synonym for the end of the world. When it comes to the carceral systems we live in, it’s clear that so much of how-things-are-now has to be shed; and so much of how-things-could-be must be nurtured. Why do I fear the same process of change inside myself? Each of the past ten years has held: self-harm, suicidality, heartbreak, healing, fear, family, practice, persistence. Looking back, the map draws itself, and I can tell that I was growing all along.
This call, “On Tending”, speaks directly to all those punitive, fearful, protected parts of me that have worked so hard to keep me safe—through dissociation, anger turned inward, depression, people-pleasing. Perhaps, in order for them to let go of their strategies, they just need to know that some alternative exists, and that there is community to be found in that shared tending. For so much of my life, I couldn’t—didn’t want to—imagine myself in any future. And now that I can, and do, that future is threaded through with climate grief and anxiety. Shedding self-doubt. No longer fearing decay. Perhaps when I laugh with a friend, despite everything. When I pick a single tiny strawberry from the garden patch. When I allow myself, for once, to feel worthy of this existence, time collapses: future, present, and past. Maybe caring for myself is simply giving myself time to orient to a changed landscape, both inside and out.
To ask: What structures and systems of notation affirm our queer, trans, disabled lives and deaths and futurities? What amplifies the sound of our kinships, echoing forward and backward in time? What does it mean to imagine survival, to make a life, amidst the reverberations of suicidality, climate change, and familial violence?
These two pieces, “stage directions for the future garden” and “cento with the waters rising”, wave a relational web: referencing, moving with, composed of lines by other queer, trans, BIPOC, and disabled writers. My writing and my life are informed by lineages of collective responsibility and radical struggle. During Hong Kong’s 2019 uprisings, protestors adapted the slogan, “Be water”, referencing the way water flows, transforms, decentralizes, moves collectively. To me, this evokes a deeply disability justice sensibility. As my work considers these connections, it brings forth modes of knowing, doing, and being that are non-verbal and communal. I approach crip aesthetics as relational, as merging beauty and practicality (to borrow the words of Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha), as multi-sensory by design. Crip queer world-building requires languages other than English, languages that echo differently in our bodies, our communities, our relationships. These works were created to exist on a page or a screen, and also to be performed live.
1. STAGE DIRECTIONS FOR THE FUTURE GARDEN
enter drone. enter dry
blue glow. a stage, emptied of
fade in, each facing a drum overhead.
our trajectories grow slow, over-
lapping. hollow the first strike of wood
against earth. hollow the din of mourning.
how, synchronized, it yields
to improvisation, like all grief.
at the midpoint, what’s gone
stretches out in both directions.
I am done with words, and my words
are done with me. a loss the rhythm
fills in. measures in counts of even
four. sound precedes meaning, then
the mind follows. then draws from
the theatre a long low hum. then
in the wings, bells. their ringing
blows like smoke, or snow, and
till the silence of our years. sheer
mystery, that memory forms out of
shared movement. or: we have before
and will again. by the time the shoulders
fall, we have sung what amounts to
a garden bed, waiting. together? enter
backbend. enter exhaustion. a few bars
linger, as if, at our most weary, we are
no longer alone. somewhere
in the soil-dark hush, a baby cries.
it reminds us of tomorrow.
at the end of the world, let there be you
saint of the blue peaks by the ocean where we began
a trail of hands
narrating in the context of ache, or, tomorrow
crowned with August & salt
I wake in a puddle of ghosts
I hunt the wilderness in myself
these ever-blooming wounds
the damp & swelling mud, blue hyacinths
rustle nude inside the blue water
the way old grief is gentle
to answer your question: I refuse
history is a song
new name for a myth already lived in
the thought of losing sight of shore
you know, no one can prepare for
hair falling in torrents, roses
of lips, the plummeted paper
planes, the angry weather
there is no prayer or pill for this
Ocean, don’t be afraid
alive means you swallow
each day like a stone
I, too, am built out of a question about the sky
if language can hybrida, anemone, ever be enough
to repair, begin again
where everything you’ve lost is washed ashore
I’m building the boat— I believe
I exist, a historian of my own silence
think of a needle dropped into the sea
the moon, a wound
on the lake, our footprints
to not follow
if you don’t have blood on your hands
by the end of this you weren’t listening
inside every world there is another
world trying to get out—
warm & blood-close
like the light I am scattered
& what is left is only water
Author's note: “cento with the waters rising” is composed of lines from the works of Danez Smith, Jess Rizkallah, Ladan Osman, Eunice Andrada, Noor Hindi, Franny Choi, francine j. harris, Vanessa Angélica Villareal, Natalie Diaz, Aria Aber, Yanyi, Zaina Alsous, Billy-Ray Belcourt, Safia Elhillo, torrin a. greathouse, Esther Lee, Adeeba Shahid Talukder, Gillian Sze, Rachel McKibbens, Sandra Lim, Victoria Chang, Ocean Vuong, Donika Kelly, Aracelis Girmay, Cameron Awkward-Rich, Taylor Johnson, Kyla Jamieson, Shira Erlichman, and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha.
Edited by Bianca Ng.
Header image created by Bianca Ng.