singing in public

By David Chavannes

some publics can’t be public. being public transmuted us into lightning rods. toilets. bruises. punch lines.

so even before “social distancing” we were grasping at each other through fungal-brokered exchanges, electric prostheses for our thirsty roots. and even before “social distancing” our learning was a prison, a factory, a narcotic, a buttress in the almighty edifice of racial capitalism. we tried to chisel out of calcified colonial upbringings, meeting through screen like sugar through phloem. i began to sing then.

today, i sing for the others like us, dispersed by windy chance, aching for home and making new ones over and over and over. i sing because its vibrational force can mold the thick fog of our future. i sing for the givingness of it, the relationality of it, the companionship of it.

i sing to find you, public or can’t-be-public, and that you may find me.

Featured Image: tree dance by Andrew Niess.


8 responses to “singing in public”

  1. Amrut Mishra says:

    David, I love this! I find your use of language powerful and affective. Reading your poetry, I can’t help but think of Audre Lorde’s description of poetry as a “distillation of experience” in which “we give a name to those ideas which are—until the poem—nameless and formless, about to be birthed, but already felt.” Your ability convey the wayward, makeshift but still vibrant feeling of life structured by racial capitalism and colonialism is moving. I particularly appreciate the imagery of “fungal-brokered exchanges, electric prostheses for our thirsty roots.”

  2. Adrienne Adams says:

    Wow David, your piece gave me goosebumps. Your sentence about “singing” as a force to shift “fog” has material resonances, particularly in light of the human-caused fires in Southern California. Singing in your poem signals for me the possibilities of human activity and relational networks that do not promote environmental destruction and dispossession of land. Thank you for this offering.

  3. Keitlyn Alcantara says:

    Beautiful (and painful!) imagery, especially the “can’t be public”ness that you call out as predating this moment.

  4. David Chavannes says:

    Friends, I’m so grateful for your responses! I already had names and forms for these ideas, but I’d found all those names when I was trying to communicate in the strict formality of argumentative prose; the challenge, then, was to give the ideas new, more plastic, more emotive names. So, I feel affirmed when I see that you all are having emotional reactions to the text, and that your thoughts are moving in all sorts of directions as you read. Maybe we’ll have a chance to follow these paths together sometime. Thanks for taking the time to sit with this. <3

  5. carol says:

    david this is magnificent where i come for many song is the vehicle for putting into words with melody what cannot otherwise be publicly spoken, melody is the way or path of those words…indlela yegama

  6. David – your words really resonate with me. Specifically:

    “today, i sing for the others like us, dispersed by windy chance, aching for home and making new ones over and over and over.

    i sing to find you, public or can’t-be-public, and that you may find me.”

    My research interest was really triggered when studying concepts/imaginings/realities of “home” linked with blues-type motifs expressed in poems by Langston Hughes and more specifically Quicksand by Nella Larsen. Really engaged with restless/traveling motif connected with blues/jazz flow within Black experiences. Literature is not my “home-base” but I personally love it as it has helped me to better grapple with space, place, and mobility personally as well as academically – especially now. Looking forward to hear more about your thoughts and work. Thank you for sharing! 🙂

  7. Ionah Scully says:

    Some of us cannot be public and how true that is. So much to reflect on here. I appreciate the ode to those of us and those relatives of ours who are supposed to remain hidden-maybe missing and murdered, maybe incarcerated, maybe lost to history, maybe trying to free the grasp of being owned, maybe private land, maybe public land that is still privately owned by the settler-state. You signing them is a healing and ceremony. It is a bridging of that distance between us and our relations struggling to break free. At least this is how I see this.

  8. Dominic Bednar says:

    david this was absolutely beautiful! thank you for your attention to detail, your dazzling prose, and your resistance through all lowercase letters. sing on!

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