Selves

It’s snowing again. Every few days for the last week, a new squall, blizzard, or nor’easter has rolled across the coast of Maine, blanketing the fields and gardens around the house. My parents-in-law, frugal New Englanders, don’t heat this part of their home. My toes and fingers are numb, but I know this quiet is where I need to be right now—a quiet that allows me to revisit this Dispatch.

In her essay, Zohra Saed recounts the experience of living with a forgotten, handwritten poem that Langston Hughes translated on his journey through Uzbekistan. She writes, “To say, ‘I found it,’ is too easy. There was magic in my stumbling upon it, the process of reading, of holding this manuscript moment in my hand and dwelling in Hughes’ handwriting.”

While bringing together these works for Tongue, we editors experienced a kindred magic. In Safiya Sinclair’s poem, “Spectre,” her speaker says, “Call me an easy animal / this dark season, a door for you to walk through.” That’s what Hughes’s handwriting was for Saed: a door into her own family’s history in Central Asia. Saed and Sinclair each give us this palpable sense of living with what is left behind, remnant things: ghosts, glimpses across uncrossable distances. They remind us to, in Sinclair’s words, “touch mouths / with the mostly dead.”

I’ve read Kimiko Hahn’s unsettling and playful “Erasing ‘Host Manipulation’” many times in the process of creating Issue 3 of Tongue. But I find myself still lingering in its void and matter. Though a poem of erasure, the poem reminds us how much is gained by engaging with the difficult truths about our world, our bodies, our fragile ecosystems and tentative organic selves we tend to forget are host to millions of other selves. Protozoans. Archaea. Viruses. The occasional parasite at play in its host.

Hahn has put the thought in my head that poems and essays and photographs can be invasive little beasts: they get inside you, disturb and unsettle, re-configure. That line buried in “Spectre,” has this effect on me: “smiling / green in the ear of his god.” I’ve become its host, of course: some part of me will be irrevocably changed if I let the poem do its work.

As Mrigaa Sethi noted in our first Dispatch, the disquiet out in the fields of America and the wide world tonight can make art (and pausing to live with art) seem futile. But we send you these poems, this essay, these photographs knowing we are all better for the quiet and storm, ghost and flesh, the selves and the strangers that they carry.

I love picturing Zohra Saed as she allows Langston Hughes’ handwriting—that testimony of presence, his attempt to translate another into his own words—to put her in touch with the echoes of her family’s past, what they lost, what they gained in exile.

Presence and absence, stranger and friend, present and past. Sitting here in the winter silence with these words and images, these carefully hewn lines and re-discovered fragments, I am grateful for how challenging and new, how intimate and familiar each work of art continues to feel. How they reveal the truths of our fragile and permeable and multiple selves.