Additional notes on Will Alexander's 'Compound Hibernation'
Erica Hunt sets this reading up by calling Alexander a metaphysician. One of her students said “like Jimi Hendrix.” Hunt says yes and also Aimé Césaire, Jayne Cortez. How are they all metaphysicians? What permutation of Black Magic is this political postmodern grimoire? What is it evoking?
Just before reading my bullet points and notes on Will Alexander’s poem, I read a story, saw a video that speculated on how Mars looked before it lost its atmosphere. There are speculations about how this happened, how it lost its magnetic poles, but it went from earthlike with seas and air and clouds to a rusty tomb, where our small land robots search for evidence of microfossils from billions of years ago. I thought about this kind of sifting from a whole to atomic, from the big bang’s busting to dust.
When I read a poem like this from Will Alexander, it evokes so many, many expressions of Black people about/in space, coming from outer space, being not extraterrestrial but superterrestrial. Not the first humans, but beings that, larger than life, made humans possible, not in a protohuman, Darwinian hierarchical way. In the overshadowing way that human parents make blastocysts.
The first stanza reminds me of another story. When Barak Obama got elected for the first time, a Black male friend of mine says: “The day after the election, I was walking down the street and a White woman saw me. I mean she actually saw me. She looked in my eyes and saw me.” We talked about this and he briefly mentioned how he is so often unseen, often by White women. Their eyes glide past, around.
To make someone in front of you invisible, in that classical Ellison sense, is a form of magic. (Of course you make yourself disappear, too. Is this White magic? Is this Glenda or a death hallow?) It’s disappearing action, in the way that iterations of the disappeared have been in South America. In fact, this action is a precursor to the other.
The second stanza: at first I thought it was an incomplete line that led to the third stanza, but then I realized I was wrong. I read “like” as simile when it’s a verb. I came to this when I chose the parenthetical phrase because Will left it open. If I were to excise it for clarification, for a second, it would be: “My perception through … that I ingest like(s) a blackened preexistence or (likes) collected hawks through assignation.” Or even: “My perception through … through assignation.” And so do we simply dismiss the hawks? Why such a terrestrial reference in this scope? I thought of them in the way that Etheridge Knight’s “crows” grounded us in a poem also comments on race, Knight’s “On the Black Male Being the #1 Sex Object in America.” This complements Alexander’s work. Knight’s protagonist is in high relief, right here on earth, as the visible object among “snow janes” and “crow janes.” The birds, the chicks, but also in both hawks and crows, soaring black. Or the metaphor for the unforgiving wind that blasts out through Chicago from the stratosphere. What kind of word is “like”? What does it evoke similarities/similes/smiles to?