Mar 31, 2014

RED is nostalgic. It brings me back into my father’s black suit, tailor made in Singapore when he was then younger than I am now, when he was stationed in Japan as a sailor in the US Navy, traveling between there and the Philippines. I used to wear his old suits regularly, when I was in my 20s and into my 30s, but now that I am 15-20 years older than he was when he was at his most fit – I am certainly not at my most fit – the suit I used to rock on the regular is now a bit compromising. Ok, that’s an understatement: it’s tight, but thank art-goodness that my father and mother gave me one of my dad’s kimonos that kept me reasonably fashion fluid and warm. And also thank art-goodness that with some grace, the suit opens up some, as I dance.

A few years ago, Black Took Collective gave a performance at CalArts, and the Poet/Artist Wanda Coleman, was one of the members in the audience that came to see us. This meant a lot to us, certainly to me, who is a long time admirer of her work. I’m so glad that I had the chance to meet her in person before, so sadly, she passed on last year. A tremendous loss. I will never forget that she told us that we were Poets (Black Took’s members are me, Dawn Lundy Martin and Duriel E. Harris) that took great Risks! After she urged us to study the many performance artists that came before us, to know their work intimately, Coleman made a pointed and unique query. She asked about temperature; that is, how did we feel on stage—were we hot, cold? How did our bodies feel up there?

During the shooting of RED, I was freezing most of the time. The Port Jefferson Pier was my stage! I shot in brief intervals on two days in the New York Winter cold. My toes were numb at the end of filming, and the tripod was often impossible to manipulate, my fingers were so numb. Besides, I’d just flown in from Santa Cruz days before, where I just shot WHITE, so the differences in environment and atmosphere were quite stark, and equally revealing.

In shooting RED, I was most interested in capturing my performances in the distinct quality of light, the pink and grey-blue of the sky, the greens and greys of the choppy Long Island sound, the bare brown trees around me. Actually, I am here now in NY, for a few days, before I return West and I feel the pressure of returning to teach at University of California, Santa Cruz, and my past fulltime life here in NY, much of it as a graduate student at New York University, City University of New York, then a baby professor in Western Massachusetts at Mt. Holyoke.

What I love is that feeling, maybe nostalgia for that past or the always kind of sadness around how my partner of 22 years and I work on opposite sides of the country, is tied, for me, to the bareness of the trees, the stoic bark, and attentive branches in the crisp clear winter. This sky here does not soothe like the sky in Santa Cruz— it does not satiate, relax, is not wet with the salty sea; instead, it reveals itself in the cold, dry air edging me into a particular kind of thinking, and making.

Perhaps the poem, “Red,” written in tiny tercets of sharp description and sound emerge from this? Still, I am trying to be more conscious of writing about family and now engaging with my mother, her influences on my sense of style, scale, intimacy with fabric, design, and costume. How is this tied to questions of location, history? Hers, mine? I do not even know where my mother was born in the Philippines, the circumstances around which she left. I do know some of her story from my father. She is, however, quite guarded about revealing too much herself, but the process of making these films is helping me to figure out a way to ask her, directly, and to perhaps move in a radical direction towards what this line of inquiry means, promises. Maybe it will not be as difficult as I think?

In the poem, “Red,” I felt at first, too concerned with what distracted from these questions. “Red,” in one sense, negotiates being a writer, looking for a job, working in a world of other writers, being critical about poetic modes, desires, figuring out a way to work out what’s one’s craft in the face of it all, what it means for me to be working in various mediums, with voice, image, picture, dance. In another, it promises something that is much more central and important.

I realized that as I revised the poem – in the space of the video – it became less about critique, and more about process: What gets mined? And who? And for whom? The poem and the piece revolved and revolves, at least in the ways that I am now reading it, as a means to figure out what I want to say about my relationship with my family, my past, and to my mother, in particular. The poem is embedded, camouflaged and amplified in the body of the visual field—elastic, changing, morphing. And to keep in form with this, below is “Red,” the poem, entire. Hopefully, the process of rendering such poems in these morphing visual fields—the work and play of it all—will move me in directions I’ve yet to fully imagine.



The interviewer didn’t
mark me. Red,
I dropped to the side

of the tub. I wore
black socks. G’d up,
I pissed my blue suit

at the interview,
before & dried—
It was, I think, Cebu.

Still, I went in & got
the call back.
Another all expense

paid tour. But
to Model stomp to
be whom I want.

Brilliant, but
they didn’t take
so fraught.

Who, the history
of consequence—
How to assimilate?

My father’s kimono,
Singapore tailored—
so, too, his suit.

My mother made
our Judo gis—tapioca
tint & brown flecks,

fragile fabric, destroyed
in practice. The boat
is red in the Sound.

The long bus blinks
across the short meter.
The boat, the distance,

the camera’s tripod
so, too, the camera.

One pulls a phone
out. Another snatch-
es a poem out of con

-text. Another picks
words off a conveyor belt.

That Sashimi
on boats, floating
—is not.

Lazy is lazy,
after all. What
is your language?

Lazy is lazy.
After you. What
if this language

weren’t for any
tongue, no palate.

calls to some.
This Yatch, is
not, now, messy.

My pluck & duck
gets it in—

iMovie: Wonder
share, a wonder
—Isn’t it?

A workaround,
a fix—
I speak my own language.