Archiving the Post-Human Future
– Dedicated to Akilah Oliver
An archive meditates on memory, religion, time, war, technology. It is a technology of inscription. An inscription of our psychic processes, our utopias, our seed syllables, our cosmic batteries, and hope of future. Archive is a practice. And through Archive we show humanity – or what ever it is – the consciousness of the future—the post human future –the intelligent slime mold poets of the future – we were not just slaughtering one another.
-- From Ann Waldman's pamphlet, Feminafesto*
Akilah, this is my Archive for you.
When my son and the love of my life died a year and one month ago, it was Akilah Oliver – a mother who had also lost her only child, a son – who knew best what to say, how to stroke my mother's broken wings with "love language." It was this time last year, right after my son's passing, that I got to know Akilah. And I found that she was not only a wonderful experimental poet, working with performance, song, sound, language and its politic-poetic, but that Akilah was a kind and nurturing grieving mother and friend.
We talked and drank wine at the Elephant & Castle in the West Village after she finished up classes at the New School. At the end of our three-hour sitting – and spilling -- together, Akilah said to me: You are doing all the right things.
One of the "things" I "did" for my New York artist son after his death at 32 is build a building: an art Archive dedicated to his multi-media music, film-making, and graphic-novel cartoon work.
But Akilah would know that this material building is but an Earth "atmosphere." While art is material, it is also composed of the air we breathe in and breathe out. I think Akilah believed not only in spirits but in muses, as I do. It is this in-spiriting "process" of the Archive that is the art of life / the life of art. It generates the form of forms of language. It is this "air" combined with a linguistic materiality that is poetry's performance and highly mobile mode of witnessing.
I guess I am now an "idealist" (in the Platonic sense). While this may be an unpopular term in radical writing practices, it is nevertheless a concept that many working poets I know – including Akilah – seem to share. "I, Afterlife," to borrow from Kristin Prevallet's wonderful book title written after a father's death, have experienced / created out of "air" what Akilah once wrote me was her consolation: her son's "essence." The Archive I built – and that I am writing now – is perhaps an atmospheric "essence" inseparable from the planks of cedar wood, or the language, from which it is built. My Archive is "love language" built from its own air-grounding.
I will speak a moment about "grounding" in my "ideal" sense. I, as perhaps Akilah did, perceive grounding as the earthly continuity of what one of Akilah's friends and mentors, Ann Waldman, in her recently published manifesto cited above, calls "the intelligent slime mold poets of the future." The grounding continuity is art's witness. It is grounded – always metaphorically of course -- in a slimy but effervescent, non-destructible (but always splitting and disintegrating) motion-filled space / environment.
For Akilah Oliver's writings and sonoric ranges, there is no difference between sound and ground, air/space and(/or) solid matter. As poetry "beings" ("slime mold poets?"), we slither and move – perhaps as the poet Rae Armantrout uses that concept in her own poetry manifesto (an Artist's Statement published in the Claudia Rankine-Juliana Spahr anthology, Women Poets of the 21st Century). Or, perhaps the more highbrow term is that of Hank Lazer's, "the swerve" (from his essay on Armantrout in the same book). But ... let me write for a moment about slitherings or swervings, and movement – in the context of my garden in Upstate New York.
In this garden sits the building housing, "grounding," my own son's art Archive. This summer, the same garden has been literally writhing -- slithering – with large earth worms. The worms are so prolific – talk about dividing and destructing! -- that the soil in my garden is nearly non-existent. Or, rather, my garden exists -- but as the slime-upchuck of these fat cylindrical creatures.
As poets -- Waldman's language might suggest -- we are endowed with capacities not unlike my garden ground's slithering worms – language being our slime vehicle. Our "soil" base is sound and grammar and the foibles of punctuation. Akilah's work shows best what it is to mime and regurgitate and transform and thus use the grounding of language in its actually pretty slimy syllabic sounds. (I mean this as a compliment to language and poets.) Akilah writes of this motion, through the wormy treadings -- the tracks of language -- on a page, in a poem clearly addressed (more or less) to her 20 year old son, Oluchi, a young man who "crossed over" several years ago at age 20. The poem is called "Crossover":
When you left,
I mean when you had to go,
-- I intend an old saying,
when He called you home
(literally, as if jesus beckoned or something)
I was so unprepared for the earth's
Grace as it disintegrated beneath me
: what is being found –
your shape ephemeral & shy
What can I "say" about such lines, in their slither "about" (about "slither?")? Note the phrase, for example, which in conventional poetry might be "ephemeral sky," "ephemeral & shy"; it becomes a leaving body's essence-shape. The "about" of this poem is Oluchi's new circumstance – this is what I call my son's as well as my own new circumstance, that of the life/death cycle opened up, the continuously regurgitated boundary of that faulty line folding into a steadier consciousness. Akilah and I both valued a view that suggest we "exist" as forms of what is commonly called reincarnation. (Buddhism, I believe, for Akilah, as well as for myself, is one or many spiritual sources of that view.)
The "about" in Akilah's stunning poem, "Crossover" works because the poem's lines "disintegrate[d]" – because the poem is uttered, sounded out and moved about, through hypothetical and purposely short-changing grammars and misdirecting punctuation marks. It, the "poem," becomes not only "about" a "leaving" ("left"), for a body that "had to go" – but a "leaving" in of itself, performed, in the air, on the material page.
"Crossover" is not a religious poem; it is not in the slightest traditional sense. This poem is speaking not "about" institutionalized "death," one perhaps recalled in the "old saying." Instead, it is a much more refined – for lack of better word, spiritualized -- version of the life/death cycle "about." It is "about" a more authentic kind of "Grace" than what the institutions, perhaps, can communicate.
It is the ironic "Grace" in and "about" "love language," which is also our worm-body-cage. (Fredric Jameson wrote a book called The Prison House of Language. Is language a prison-like body-cage?)
As Akilah gave me her understanding over that table at the Elephant & Castle barely a year ago, which now stands as a moment only several months before her own "crossover" in sudden unexpected death, I give her mine here, typing, writing, knowing what she is here writing "about" -- through me, through you. And to you, my dear mother-friend, this is my Archive – to you. This exchange, a continuity.
It is only those of us who have passed through the particular suffering that is the "crossover" of a child, who know the carved "doors of perception," swinging widely to both sides (borrowing that phrase from Aldous Huxley, who wrote about the expansion of states of consciousness that are near-death experiences through hallucinogens; he did so a generation before Timothy Leary and Ram Dass.)
Akilah produced a magnificent poetry book following her son's death, A Toast in the House of Friends (Coffee House Press, 2009), where "Crossover" is published. There are so many wonderful poems in this collection -- I can only but focus on this one for the purposes of my writing here. I am fascinated, as I reread this poem, when she goes on to detail the love of a mother for her child, in "love language." My reaction to my son's death has been to write "love language," too, to use poetic language, in particular, as a healing.
This healing, loving act, performed in and by Akilah's poem, is not one of sentimentalized "motherhood" -- or sentimentalized rhetoric about motherhood, or of "love language" itself. Again, the poem "Crossover" etches into the grounding of the page a profound if always conditional state -- language, as form, and deepest instigation of loss. In "Crossover," Akilah writes:
a love language, that is:
a language gasping for consonants
shape the unspoken
as in: you are my first love, as in:
I wept you
when will I see you again – see,
a love language
My computer insists on trying to put forward the beginning of these lines in capital letters. I have to delete these letters. I have to return to them their lower-case function, that of the "ordinary" lower-case of this writer's prophetic. Many do not see prophet "bards" in the skin of a Black woman, a gay woman, a single mother heroically – against the odds – raising our amazing children to manhood (or womanhood). We tend not see our great poets in mothers, period.
The bias against us is enormous, the future of our Archive easily, potentially, forgotten. One of the topics Akilah and I perused in our discussion is the way in which, as mothers losing a child, we are relegated to the shadows of social interactions. We become the symbolic nadir of human consciousness. Even our "best friends" and family members wish to forget the poison that we represent. We talked about this new frame of loneliness.
Such is the beautiful experience of grief in American culture. Reading yesterday, on the eve of today's 9-11, in the New York Times, the news story of all the New Yorkers who are trying this weekend to "leave town" -- for the sole reason of "forgetting" ("tired of sadness and pain," sort of thing, not as political critique or questioning; see these weary New Yorkers quoted in yesterday's newspaper).
We do not "see, / like that" – in Anglo-American culture -- the importance of the most contrite diction being our most foundational participle of grief . And we do not "see..." that grief is a space, what Akilah wrote me, is a "holding."
Akilah in her own "Crossover" – too soon -- left.
Did she leave? ... her words – here.
For those of you wishing to honor her life, poetry, and passing, consider attending tomorrow night's inaugural poetry event, "In Aporia: The Annual Akilah Oliver Memorial Reading." It was recently established by Akilah's devoted students at the New School, and co-sponsored by Belladonna Books. The reading features many fine readers, most of whom knew or studied with Akilah Oliver:
In Aporia: The Annual Akilah Oliver Memorial Reading
September 12, 2011
Lang Café, Eugene Lang College
65 W 11th St. New York, NY
For more details, the event web page is:
You can also find out more about Akilah Oliver and her poetry-sound-performance work by going to her page on the Belladonna website at:
For more about Akilah's graffiti-artist son, Oluchi McDonald (1982-2003), please see Akilah's "Poetic Trance" dedicated to Oluchi, on her author page for The Tolerance Project at:
For more about my multi-media artist son, Vickers B. Gringo (Paul Daniel Lyon), you can visit his website at:
You can also see Vickers's musical performances and music videos on YouTube, including "Big Rig" (his last) with his innovative rock band, The Deuce and a Quarter, at:
(He's the lead guitarist in the black hat with the falsetto voice.)
And you can see his animation work and acting (playing the Underground Man having an unusual date) in Ronni Thomas's 2010 short film, Radio Girl at:
Anyone wishing to visit the Vickers B. Gringo Archive in Woodstock, New York, can write me:
* Feminafesto is published by Chax Press of Tucson, AZ (2011). I recently ordered one of its 160 hand-made copies. It is beautiful!
PHOTO ABOVE: Akilah Oliver