Reading Recommendations: Citizen, by Claudia Rankine

On the tip of a tongue one note following another is another path, another dawn where the pink sky is the bloodshot of struck, of sleepless, of sorry, of senseless, shush. Those years of and before me and my brothers, the years of passage, plantation, migration, of Jim Crow segregation, of poverty, inner cities, profiling, of one in three, two jobs, boy, hey boy, each a felony, accumulate into the hours inside our lives where we are all caught hanging, the rope inside us, the tree inside us, its roots our limbs, a throat sliced through and when we open our mouths to speak, blossoms, o blossoms, no place coming out, brother, dear brother, that kind of blue. The sky is the silence of brothers all the days leading up to my call.

If I called I’d say good-bye before I broke the good-bye. I say good-bye before anyone can hang up. Don’t hang up. My brother hangs up though he is there. I keep talking. The talk keeps him there. The sky is blue, kind of blue. The day is hot. Is it cold? Are you cold? It does get cool. Is it cool? Are you cool?

My brother is completed by sky. The sky is his silence. Eventually, he says, it is raining. It is raining down. It was raining. It stopped raining. It is raining down. He won’t hang up. He’s there, he’s there but he’s hung up though he is there. Good-bye, I say. I break the good-bye. I say good-bye before anyone can hang up, don’t hang up. Wait with me. Wait with me though the waiting might be the call of good-byes.

An altered photograph of a public lynching, Marion, Indiana, August 1930; created by Claudia Rankine’s husband, John Lucas, from <i>Citizen</i>Excerpt and image from “February 26, 2012/ In Memory of Trayvon Martin” in Citizen: An American Lyric  

Claudia Rankine’s work is moving, raw, and powerful – an honest reflection of the struggle and pain she faces, both as a black woman navigating American society, and as a poet-activist confronting the continual ignorance and violence of a culture resistant to change. Her book blends and blurs the limits of many genres, combining elements of prose, of critical essay, of lyrical poetry, of photography and art work – in the end, it is a many-layered conversation about race and racism in America, one that highlights the erasure black bodies face in this democratic society, and invites its audience to truly feel the difficulties and pain of that struggle. It is a political and social conversation that all Americans must rise to be a part of. Further information about Claudia’s work can be found here.

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