from Citizen, V [Sometimes "I" is supposed to hold what is not there]
Sometimes “I” is supposed to hold what is not there until it is.
Then what comes apart the closer you are to it.
This makes the first person a symbol for something.
The pronoun barely holding the person together.
Someone claimed we should use our skin as wallpaper knowing we couldn’t win.
You said “I” has so much power; it’s insane.
And you would look past me, all gloved up, in a big coat, with fancy fur around the collar, and record a self saying, you should be scared, the first person can’t pull you together.
Shit, you are reading minds, but did you try?
Tried rhyme, tried truth, tried epistolary untruth, tried and tried.
You really did. Everyone understood you to be suffering and still everyone thought you thought you were the sun—never mind our unlikeness, you too have heard the noise in your voice.
Anyway, sit down. Sit here alongside.
Exactly why we survive and can look back with furrowed brow is beyond me.
It is not something to know.
Your ill-spirited, cooked, hell on Main Street, nobody’s here, broken-down, first person could be one of many definitions of being to pass on.
The past is a life sentence, a blunt instrument aimed at tomorrow.
Drag that first person out of the social death of history, then we’re kin.
Kin calling out the past like a foreigner with a newly minted “fuck you.”
Maybe you don’t agree.
Maybe you don’t think so.
Maybe you are right, you don’t really have anything to confess.
Why are you standing?
Listen, you, I was creating a life study out of a monumental first person, a Brahmin first person.
If you need to feel that way—still you are in here and here is nowhere.
Join me down here in nowhere.
Don’t lean against the wallpaper; sit down and pull together.
Yours is a strange dream, a strange reverie.
No, it’s a strange beach; each body is a strange beach, and if you let in the excess emotion you will recall the Atlantic Ocean breaking on our heads.
From Citizen (Graywolf Press, 2014). Copyright © 2014 by Claudia Rankine. Used with permission of the author.
Born in Jamaica in 1963, Claudia Rankine is the author of five collections of poetry, including Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2014), which received the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry. She served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2013 to 2018.
Date Published: 2016-05-04
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/citizen-v-sometimes-i-supposed-hold-what-not-there