Not that we’re not in an emergency, but rather, the need to break out of the fast cycle of news that feels designed to agitate and then numb me into a state of helplessness. “Crisis time” invokes a logic of panic in the here and now. How will the headlines help me take care of my roommate who is, at the time of writing, using a borrowed inhaler, recovering from what the doctor diagnosed over the phone as COVID-19 and/or pneumonia? You can’t make soup with statistics and bylines.
What about the care work, dream work, and reflective thinking that sustains, moves, and propels our bodies inch by inch into the future? I find myself turning to endurance art, affect theory, performance studies, poetry, and maintenance work for a primer in how to slow down in order to keep on keeping on. These are “untimely,” perhaps, but what better time than the disrupted reality of quarantine to seep in the sustaining power of the “untimely”? In a moment of uncertainty, the durability of theory compels me, offers a dense but clarifying light (or should I spell that “lighght,” gifting it with an extra, silent “gh” as Aram Saroyan does?). The art of enduring is an art of making a way where it seems like there is no way. Or, as Frank O’Hara suggested in Meditations in an Emergency, “It’s like a final chapter no one reads because the plot is over.” In the waiting room for the end of times, I want to hold onto my books a little longer, past the final sentence; perhaps I’ll annotate in the margins, or scrawl in notes on the vacat pages…
What follows are three “unemergency poems” written in the time of coronavirus, followed by a reading list of some of the writers I have been thinking alongside as of late. From my quarantine crystalis, I humbly offer a poetics of emergence.
Suppose we are attached, at bare minimum, to a shared register of temporality.
That is to say, we are tethered by our co-participation in a compositional field.
An accumulation of flickerings. Sensory perceptions and weighted images.
Or perhaps, for some of us, a series of refused interpellations.
Fractured scenes of catastrophe. Episodic disavowal.
Loosely disturbing a topological map. Ordinary ground shifts.
Desire lines. Breathless leaping between quantum levels.
Leading to marginal world-making. An orchestration of forbidden bondings.
An accretion of synchronous relations. Tentative landings.
Collective aliveness: it’s catching.
So we are coevals. What is the form of our contact?
Intermingling requires making room for our mutual codependency.
A politics of maintenance. The attunement required. Rehearsal time.
Our precarious proximity could only be a stage for circumscribed continuity.
Let’s just say we’re being with, despite.
* * *
Is “haptic” happily submerged magnetism?
Rhythm is ancient. Has a scent.
Oratio of misunderstandings, or indeterminate futures.
The limits of what can be conceptualized.
Emergencies insist on borrowed time. Confidence intervals stressing urgency.
Headlines repeated on loop. Caps-locked. The fish brain of institutional memory!
Process work requires… processing time.
Rear view mirrors are a technology of self.
Reflection widens while you narrow.
Continual experiments at the borderline of consent.
Ongoingness. Coexisting durations, parallel narratives.
Or a shifting assemblage of encounters, deliberations. Assuaging volatility.
Care of self is inextricable from a relational field.
* * *
Clarity comes from inside.
Drift patterns of recognition. New waves of seeing.
“Starting over every time,” the painter suggested.
A jar of melodies, love notes. A compositional field.
Vibrational energy. Keep doors ajar.
Leave space to attune to one’s self.
There’s room in rumination.
I find the love letter where you called me your “femme boyfriend.”
Giddy pluralism. Vocabulary expands, love languages accommodate.
How much we can grow.
How much we don’t know.
A Reading List Towards Enduring, Caring, and Holding On
Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice, by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Maintenance Art Manifesto, by Mierle Laderman Ukeles
The Performance of Becoming Human, by Daniel Borzutzky
In the Wake: On Blackness And Being, by Christina Sharpe
Out Of Now: The Lifeworks Of Tehching Hsieh, by Adrian Heathfield
Ricanness: Enduring Time In Anticolonial Performance, by Sandra Ruiz
The Year of Blue Water, by Yanyi
Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin In The Chthulucene, by Donna Haraway
Ordinary Affects, by Kathleen Stewart
After the Party: A Manifesto for Queer of Color Life, by Joshua Chambers-Letson
Enduring Time, by Lisa Baraitser
Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity, by Eve Kosofsky-Sedgwick
A Treatise on Stars / Empathy, by Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge
Featured Image: Illustration of a person with colors of green, purple, and magenta surrounding them. There are various patterns in the background. Illustration by Jan Brugger.
Noa/h Fields is a genderqueer poet and teaching artist. They have written for Filthy Dreams, Telekom Electronic Beats, Anomalous Press, and Scapi Magazine, among other publications. Their first poetry book WITH is out from Ghost City Press. They are fond of techno and avocados.