HOAX Limited Edition Artist’s Set including HOAX / DECK and HOAX / SCROLL and digital extension are out and available now via the Operating System. We printed 108 sets of scrolls with their accompanying decks. Order yours if you haven’t already~
Praise for HOAX
Joey De Jesus returns poetry to its ancient divinatory powers in this extraordinary new work: “we are talking fog,” says the poet, says the soothsayer. 108 is an equation from the present to the present whenever it enters itself, gifted back to us in these poems. The poetics of abolition requires care for others, and here is the poet to show us how mindfulness of such an order has the same tender approach in the magic of song.
—CAConrad, author of AMANDA PARADISE: Resurrect Extinct Vibration
One doesn’t read HOAX–it spills into you. Holding and moving through this feral, magical punk odyssey was like tonguing rough glyphs etched into a mirror, then discovering my body’s outline at the bottom of an oil slicked, holy pond. Joey’s magic serves to make meaning in a world where our interconnectedness is effaced or turned against us; they reclaim mystery for our daily selves, with epiphanic gusto alerting us to honor the wild essence of life. Grief, desire, and outrage evaginate into a portal they draw us through where we can read signs in the sky, down their navel, in the complex detritus of the environment–and find ourselves brightly contiguous with the apocryphal. Joey’s celestographs invited me to rediscover stargazing with wild wonder. My unfathomable child spirit quickened with this text. If there’s a hoax to HOAX, I prefer Joey’s beautiful deception of being audaciously alertly alive.
—Sueyeun Juliette Lee, author of SOLAR MAXIMUM
A hoax is a trick but a trick that is successful because it could almost be real. In times and days when the ‘almost’ between real and irreal evaporates, species vanish and the air and water themselves tremble with imminent danger, shamans and diviners of great commitment must the earth enter. Then too all language is a hoax that asks you to believe one thing over another, one reality as victor and others as banished, shadow certainties, less certain, less believed. Ghosts come into Joey’s book but not ghosts, sounds, and not a book but a chthonic demand, a word or re-ordering of perceptual reality by a verbal art of the greatest commitment to soul and personhood. I find the most local beauty in these epic poems, epic in their hope and ambition, daily in their attestations. I think Joey must have magical powers: to be a poet of such love and precision yet also be a warrior-angel-daimon yet also be a deliberate and careful and strategic community builder and activist. Aren’t these qualities divergent? All things come together in this HOAX, an accomplished work that enables all who read and encounter to be transformed.
—Kazim Ali, author of THE VOICE OF SHEILA CHANDRA
The images above feature HOAX / DECK and HOAX / SCROLLS. The three accordion scrolls and a deck of cards included in a sleeve and black bag.
In “The Trump-Era Boom in Erasure Poetry” (2017), reporter-researcher Rachel Stone writes, “the poetic form gained new political purpose online in 2017,” referring to “erasure poems” by Solmaz Sharif, Jay Dodd and Niina Pollari, situating them within a literary heritage spanning Doris Cross, Tom Phillip, and M NourbeSe Philip, whose book Zong!, composed entirely of language found in the legal case Gregson v. Gilbert concerning ramifications for a slaver’s decision to throw 150 enslaved bodies overboard, has rightfully come to haunt a generation of American poets. We might think of Trans poet Chase Berggrun’s R E D, an erasure of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, orformer Poet Laureate of the United States Tracy K. Smith’s poem “Declaration” (derived of the Declaration of Independence) in The New Yorker, which circulated widely online as other recent examples of the form. Very recently, my dear confidante Muriel Leung wrote “Erasure in Three Acts: An Essay” for Harriet, Blog of the Poetry Foundation, which she opens stating, “Tell me about disappearance, and I will tell you about palimpsests. Everything we try to erase still manages to leave something behind.” Her work encouraged me to revisit and share this piece.
On its website the Academy of American Poets defines erasure or “blackout” poetry a “form of found poetry wherein a poet takes an existing text and erases, blacks out, or otherwise obscures a large portion of the text, creating a wholly new work from what remains.” If we subscribe to this definition, erasure poetry involves three seemingly discrete texts: an original text, a copy of the original text upon which the poet inscribes or “blacks out” and what emerges as, for lack of a better term, “a new work” composed of select remainders derived from the source text. These three objects (the source text, the redacted palimpsest, and the “new work”) form a triptych; they are tethered. They are contingent upon each other. They fold into each other.
In “The Near Transitive Properties of the Political and Poetical,” Solmaz Sharif offers several points of departure for considering the poetic practice of redaction. In it she writes, “Erasure means obliteration. / The Latin root of obliteration (ob- against and lit(t)era letter) means the striking out of text. / Poetic erasure means the striking out of text. / Poetic erasure has yet to advance historically. / Historically, the striking out of text is the root of obliterating peoples.” (2013) How might we think redaction otherwise, or “Other”-wise, while holding these the truths Sharif names? Perhaps, to redact is to cancel, “to cross out something written”, marking the word with crossed out lines, from *cancellus (n.) “lattice, grating,” diminutive of cancer, “crossed bars,” a variant of carcer, “jail, prison.” Blackout poetry reminds us the prison is not a metaphor, but a very real site of dehumanization and atrocity.
In the associative registers of my mind, “erasure” connotes expressions of power, obliteration (lived, literal and figurative), a tool of settler-colonialism, while “blackout” denotes and connotes powerlessness, broken circuitry, as in, the island suffers a blackout, a loss of electrical currency, obfuscation, darkness, expulsion (“out” of light). When I think of the phrase “blackout” poetry as an expression for erasure poetry, I think immediately of the sanctity of Black life and the anti-Black forces hell-bent on our collective obliteration. I think the loss of consciousness as when overwhelmed, assaulted, inebriated or poisoned, loss of memory. The word connotes too the vernacular “Blacking”, which otherwise means to attack verbally or physically in rage. Erasure or Blackout Poetry describes a selective reading practice in which the poet selects words to the exclusion of other words, imposing a progressive teleology (mimetic of settler-colonial violence) upon the source text to produce a poem regulated by measures of time (repetition, meter, rhythm, chiasmus, grammar etc…). I wonder what sounds does this conjure in the mind? Is it shrieking, a monotonous beep, or a gasp for breath? Is it silence? PROMESA is in many ways an attempt at triangulating a sense of this poetic form. What tools might we hone in the study of erasure as a poetic practice to ultimately abolish “La Junta”, H.R. 4900 PROMESA? What might it mean to consider that which has been redacted, to listen there for the exhausted ancestor who suffered keeping magic to the mountain?
In In the Wake, scholar Christina Sharpe posits blackout poetry as an example of “wake work,” calling for new modes of writing and sense-making in/of the cataclysmic wake of Middle Passage. She writes of the cursed route of Zong, of Africans underwritten after capture and rendered cargo. There, in the dehumanizing hold of the ship, anagrammatical blackness exists as index of violability and potentiality. Sharpe redacts the first paragraph of an article titled “Schools’ Discipline for Girls Differs By Race and Hue,” which tells of Mikia Hutchings, 12, whose writing “Hi” on a school wall heinously escalated into a juvenile criminal case. She writes, “Through redaction we might hear what [Mikia] has to say in her own defense in the midst of the ways she is made to appear only to be made to disappear. Put another way, with our own Black annotations and Black redactions, we might locate a counter to the force of the state … that has landed her on the front page of the New York Times.” Sharpe redacts: into “Hi” / “I only wrote one word, and I had to do all that,” / “it isn’t fair.” (122-3) As Sharpe asserts “Black redaction and Black annotation are ways of imagining otherwise.”
Sharif lists state objectives speaking through the redacted FBI file of poet Muriel Rukeyser, later citing erasure poetry by Jen Bervin, Phil Metres, Srikanth Reddy, M. NourbeSe Philip, Janet Holmes, and Anne Carson as examples at subverting respective state objectives. Wake work. Her list of “Possible political and aesthetic objectives of poetic erasure” includes:
Highlight via illegibility and silence an original erasure.
Collapse time and instance between dead and living
Expose author’s authority and, therefore, role as culpable participant
Care for what is left behind so that erasure has an additive or highlighting effect
Render incomplete a text to invite collaboration between reader and text
Point to the nearly infinite possibilities and infinite centers of a single text (e.g. any appropriation)
I’d like to add: Blackout poetry reproduces settler-colonial logics of exclusion, which violently prefigures and situates an ontological whole (not “Man” but the selected word) at the center of the universe (the poem). Erasure or Blackout poems are (anagrammatical) scenes of subjection, remonstrations of the settler-colonial imaginary insofar as each imposes improvement toward aesthetic ideals; the erasure poem requires “blacking out” text in favor of ideal words that together form an otherwise idealized whole: a poem, whereas the settler-colonizer, historically overrepresented by cis-heterosexual Man, erases bodies “marked” Other toward the realization of a wholly colonized World. Does erasure poetry reciprocate in kind violence? Blackout poetry subordinates words of the source text toraw materiality, codifying them as signs of endless improvement by way of negation, in which necessity is enforced as an absolute contingency—the diabolical usufruct,the vicious grabbing of its objects including itself.[i]Redacting a text into a poem is a selective reading/writing process that requires violence: extraction, redaction, inscription, selection, evaluation, all tools weaponized in omnicidal decline. This is precisely why “blacking out” an official document or law to create a poem produces very different responses then when a poet erases the creative work of a writer of marginalized identities persecuted by settler-colonial states.
A poetics of redaction consider the idealization, if not idolization, of an abysmal entity of abyssal ground—a rational subject who founds a “New World” of promise or the speaker of the poem. The blackout poem requires a subjectifying gaze and pain to effect an inversion of signs to trace violence from the poem to its source. In order to remonstrate the violence of H.R. 4900 PROMESA, I instrumentalized words (usufruct) found in the source document, defined legally as the right to use and derive profit or benefit from property that belongs to another so long as property that property is “not damaged” (the definition of which is dictated by the colonial power). I blackened-out words deemed unfit to live in the poem’s world, performing upon the source document the very violence it legislates by reproducing (lampooning) the exclusionary model of subjectivity the Law advances.Blackout poetry requires a subjectifying force, which imposes a properly-constituted ideal upon the surviving word. The process encrypts the word, sentencing it to either bare life (survival) or obliteration. In the surviving word, we trace specters speculating at what visual, aural and structural cues might signal of hidden truths about the world. A blackout poetics considers how we sense for cyphers of the redacted world in the signs that constitute the poem. We might think of this work as listening for voices from the noise of legalese or the presence of an absence. If poetic erasure renders “raw materiality” opaque, what might be said of the immaterial? Might specters, portal through the blacked-out line tracing a source text’s promissory force (violence) through the annals of history? To appropriate literary critic Ranjana Khanna’s argument, when official narratives show that the state has chosen to forget the uncomfortable past of those it claims to represent, the erasure poem, especially those poems forged of official or canonical narratives, realizes thepolitical use of memory to“right a wrong,” or render an infelicity, violence, apparent.[ii] The erasure poem intervenes against forgetting, calling forth revenants of a dismembered past to address ongoing obliteration.[iii]
PROMESA involves three texts: H. R. 4900 “Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act” known shorthand as “PROMESA”, which was introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives on April 12, 2016 “To establish an Oversight Board to assist the Government of Puerto Rico, including instrumentalities, in managing its public finances, and for other purposes”, a print copy of the Law that I physically redacted (a palimpsest), and finally, “PROMESA”, the titular poem derived explicitly and entirely from PROMESA’s language. “Promesa”, Spanish for “promise”, evokes J.L. Austin’s paradigmatic performative speech act: in its case, the promise of (obliteration as) colonial restoration, a promise premised in bad faith. Provisions within H.R. 4900, for instance, protect the Oversight Board as well as the Federal Government of the United States from liability for failure to restore the Puerto Rican economy to “manageable debt levels” through fiscal austerity measures. (26) PROMESA’s administrators improvise older-style colonial rule with new forms of security and governed mobility, expediting means of appropriation and removal by accommodating and innovating existing forms of oppression: namely specialized methods of accounting for Puerto Rico as means to extract and monopolize upon its resources and people. Fundamental incompatibility between powers afforded the Oversight Board government and U.N. standards for self-government corroborate this infelicitous avarice.[iv] As philosopher Theodore Adorno warns, the new misers … indulge their asceticism no longer as vice but with prudence.They are insured.[v]
Blackout poems adhere to specific formal rules. Paul-Michel Foucault differentiates rule from law, the former, empty in themselves, violent and unfinalized, can be bent to any purpose, whereas the law, finalized, is a calculated and relentless pleasure, delighting in the promise of blood.[vi] Jacques Derrida reminds us, Lawmaking is power making, and, to that extent, an immediate manifestation of violence. If the law reads violence in the hands of the individuals as a threat to the legal system might Blackout poetry run discourse against its limit wheresilence walls up in the violent structure of the founding act?[vii]A blackout poetics considers the poem, in the registry of that founding and justifying violence that institutes an ideal, which is always an interpretative force in complex relation to instrumentality and power.[viii] It understands (withstands, bystands) that what’s erased is not exterior to the language produced.I redacted 122-pages of the Law, known shorthand as “PROMESA”, into a sestina, a 12th century French troubadour poetic form that adheres to a complex structure of repetition: six six-lined stanzas, each line ending in the same words, though in alternating configurations. The pattern of end-words reads: (1) ABCDEF (2) FAEBDC (3) CFDABE (4) ECBFAD (5) DEACFB (6) BDFECA. I selected end-words based on frequency in which they appear in the Law.
I profiled in the Law and selected words that appeared most frequently: “board,” “sight,” “means,” “budget,” “instrument,” “government,” and “section” and attributed to them the privileged status of end-word. PROMESA includes “electric,” “metadata,” “unlawful,” “water,” “privatization,” and “endangered species,” all peculiar references in the Bill: hyper-referential signs, exemplars of the promise of colonial restoration. “Instrumentality”, for instance, appears in PROMESA eighty-eight times in the source document, often to define “territorial instrumentality,” premised on the Instrumentality Rule in corporate law, which permits a court to disregard the corporation when it is operated solely for the benefit of the parent corporation, which controls and directs the activities of its subsidiary. In this context, instrumentality realizes and reifies possession by improvement. To borrow from musicologist Sarah Hardjowirogo, Puerto Rican objects are not instruments of restoration in their ontological definition, but become instead instruments defined by their use (utilitarian definition) toward realizing an ideal (erasing Puerto Rican life and social services).[ix] PROMESA sanctions the usufruct of the island instrumentalities just as the blackout poem requires usufruct of words from the source text toward the production of an aesthetic ideal (a poem).
By extracting the words that appear with greatest frequency, the semiotic majority, I expunge the semiotic minority (the majority of 122-pages of source text) from the poem, literalizing epistemic violence of the extraction required before instantiation of a subject such that words, as they appear in the final version of the poem, survive as signifiers of engulfment, having been swallowed completely, incorporated, literally encrypted into the world of the poem.[x] In a derived sense, the erasure poem plays vernacular against revered terminology; the poem is constituted not just by the word that’s seen but by what the poet conceals in order for it to be (a poem in the world.) When we read erasure poetry, we read signifying practices of representation and aesthetics within a matrix of socio-environmental affectivities, which cohere signs into an idealized whole, the poem. The aesthetic rules of the blackout poem (the means behind erasure toward the ends of the poem) realize the aesthetic ends of a source text (its relationship to erasure) by imposing a progressive teleology, which unifies select signs into a poem, a world, an otherwise whole.
Logically, the line of text that adheres to grammatical conventions of the source text—the English sentence—comes to signify a properly-constituted kinship unit insofar as the sentence syntactically collects and collates properly-constituted signs into ruled sense-making. To think along with Black Feminist critic Hortense Spillers, the grammatically correct sentence in the erasure poem becomes a mythically-revered privilege reserved for free and freed community.[xi] Considering a “Blackout” poetics reveals alternative (grammatically incorrect) kinships (repetition, rhyme, alliteration, silence, image etc…) in the poem as potentially dangerous to the privilege of the proper sentence in the new world’s order.
The logic of exclusion reproduced through poetic erasure critically mimics the symbolic regiment of human difference, lampooning the advancement of claims in the ‘name of man’ by erasing words, just as Law erases bodies racialized Other from modern political grammar. The poem signals the demise of race—others, who fail to signify the properly-constituted ideal—is already under way.The poem contains “me-” and “instrum-”,words half-redacted. These two words mark what DaSilva considers minor transparent I’s, sites of engulfment, that is a partial negation, the symbolic appropriation that produces them, inaugurating a relationship precisely because, in the regimen of representation interiority governs, it institutes unsublatable and irreducible subjects.[xii] The partially obliterated text concretizes an affectable I in a world of words, the hyphens in “me-” and “instrum-” literalizing a horizon of death. The hyphen silently shrieks at the oblivion out of which the word escape scathed. The redacted content is coetaneous with the words in the final piece insofar as the same raw material produced the entire poem. The hyphen signifies the chasm between the cultures of rulers and ruled;it amplifies into transparency at the aporia. The hyphen signals engulfment into power groups.
PROMESA remembers erasure as original technique foundational to the colonizer’s “new world.” Just as I scoured source text to produce an idealized whole poem, erasure, redaction, and inscription (of Laws) each serve as discursive methods of aesthetic production foundational to realizing and maintaining a colonized Puerto Rico. At the close of the Spanish-American War, 1898, President McKinley’s administration acquires Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines as colonies from Spain “not as a means toward the end of making new states, but as an end itself.”[xiii] Puerto Rico today remains an “unincorporated territory” subject to Congress’s limitless power to legislate over it without end.Congress obliges to prepare territories for entry into the sisterhood of states, however, as Evelyn Baring, colonial administrator of British-controlled Egypt and contemporary to President McKinley advises, the commercial spirit should be under some control such that the colonized population remain, nationally speaking, more or less ‘in statu pupillary,’ masterless among themselves.[xiv] As a result, the U.S. regards territories colonial possessions rather than proto-states.[xv] The Harvard Law Review argues the relationship between the U.S. and Puerto Rico (Pre-PROMESA) is akin to territorial federalism, an analogy that entitles neoliberal market fundamentalism. In the vacuum of nationhood, American corporate, capitalist, military, pharmaceutical agents of colonization, run up a continental hostage-taking, demanding payment of a massive and incalculable debt[currently over $87 Billion] by those who never promised it. In June of 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that federal Bankruptcy Code excludes Puerto Rico from any federal debt-restructuring contingencies as well as relying on the Recovery Act toward absolving liability for damage caused. Congress and the Obama Administration arrived at PROMESA just as repayment deadlines neared.[xvi]
The Oversight Board occupies the niche of “new world Master”—not the redacted, but the selected, the extracted, “saved”, the properly-constituted subject, whose very being dictates and embodies a new normative subject, properly-constituted and destined for survival. They form a body who instructobjects of policy with the hope that the colonized will, by natural authority, at once diffuse the instruction and exact the necessary. It presides over instrumentalities of the island imprint its character on the whole of society, forging a world of violent social order.[xvii] Rules for eligibility include having demonstrated mastery and expertise in finance, municipal bond markets, management, law, or the organization or operation of business or government. Simultaneously, Oversight Board eligibility excludes any officer, elected official, candidate, or employee of the territorial government—elected bodies tasked with speaking to the lived realities of their constituents. Additional criteria for Board membership, includes proper mastery of disciplines, knowledge, and technologies of finance, business, governance and banking and need not hold permanent residence on the island. Baring writes, “that each special issue should be decided mainly with reference to what, by the light of Western knowledge and experience … we conscientiously think is best for the subject race, without any reference to any real or supposed advantage which may accrue … to the special interests represented by some one or more influential classes of colonizer,” which reverberate in the exploitive potencies interred within PROMESA’s provisions:
Chief among its provisions, PROMESA establishes a federal Financial Oversight and Management Board (Oversight Board), whose stated purpose is “to provide a method for [Puerto Rico] to achieve fiscal responsibility and access to the capital markets.” Consisting of seven presidentially appointed members the Oversight Board is designed to function as the island’s “finance czar,” endowed with the power and responsibility to oversee the development and approval of (1) territory and instrumentality budgets by Puerto Rico’s elected branches of government and (2) territory and instrumentality fiscal plans — pre-budget proposals “to achieve fiscal responsibility and access to the capital markets” — by Puerto Rico’s elected Governor.[xviii]
Oversight Board powers include: the authority to reform or dissolve structural interdepartmental and interagency relationships within the territorial government, to modify and/or establish revenue structure, to devise alternatives for pensions of former territorial government employees, to modify or transfer public services to privatization, commercialization and alternate service delivery mechanisms, and authority to effect territory’s laws and court orders regarding the operations of the island. PROMESA turns to the commercialization and privatization of public utilities and lands as compensation for its accumulating debts mythologizing bureaucracy through violence, redefining governance to expedite extractions of surplus value of which all Puerto Ricans are subject—The former dominate; the latter must be dominated, which usually means having their land occupied, their internal affairs rigidly controlled, their blood and treasure put at the disposal of one or another Western power.[xix] PROMESA’s language valorizes privatization and access to capital markets marking positive its signs and hypersigns (private loans, private monopolies, private business, crypto-currency) as paramount regardless the needs of the people for a reliable power grid, housing, healthcare, pensions, education and other social services recently cut through austerity. These negatively-marked hypersigns are obliterated (redacted) becoming sites of construction in service of an ideal—demonstrating totalizing poetics of erasure.
Government officials cannot legally enter into contracts[xx] greater than $100,000 without approval of the Oversight Board. Ultimately, neither the Governor of Puerto Rico, nor its legislature has the authority to prevent the programs of the Oversight Board, three of whom may execute decisions on behalf of the board, despite consensus or public opinion. The Puerto Rican government, at most, may “deem” the Board’s budget approved.[xxi] Additionally, PROMESA states, “the Oversight Board shall have the right to secure copies, whether written or electronic, of such records, documents, information, data, or metadata from the territorial government necessary to enable the Oversight Board to carry out its responsibilities.” (20) The Oversight Board’s fiscal responsibility for and unfettered access to records of island metadata confirms domination by those whom presume to that know the dominated and what is good for them better than they could possibly know themselves.[xxii]
Redaction literalizes the strife between being and concealment; it is a mode of world-making which Gayatri Spivak argues marks the colonized as unspeakable other. Blackout poetry literalizes poesis as “projective saying” or “the saying of world and earth, the saying of the arena of their strife and thus of the place of all nearness and remoteness of the gods,” for the blackout poet “worlds a poem” of the materials rendered raw and otherwise assumed uninscribed earth. Spivak draws analogy between worlding and the inscriptions of cartography over space deemed uninhabited prior to conquest. Accordingly, when the Heideggerian concept-metaphor of earth and world is used to describe the imperialist project, what emerges out of the violence of the rift … is the multifarious thingliness of a represented world on a map.[xxiii] A poem. Rightly, scholar Rajana Khanna expands, Projective saying is saying which, in preparing the sayable, simultaneously brings the unsayable as such into a world.[xxiv] Blackout poetry concretizes projective saying as such, especially when the poet considers the palimpsest as poem.
The law sentences Puerto Rico to the normative ideal of perpetual subjugation, terraforming land and its inhabitants into images of enforceable ends and administrative means. PROMESA establishes a legal precedent for the United States to strip its colonies any semblance of self-governance, or autonomy over economic decisions and instrumentalities. The bill defines its usage of the term “territory” to mean not only Puerto Rico, but Guam, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and US Virgin Islands, promising colonized land to would-be administrators of new incarnations of colonial time and the worlds shaped in their universes. (8) PROMESA “worlds a World” held together by teleological time, materially and immaterially violently redacting the world terra nullius by veiling normative ends of colonialism, wealth extraction, and land seizure under prescriptive, quantifiable ones (fiscal responsibility, access to markets, etc…).
It is upon this land the settler-colonizer builds his house. Perhaps a poetics of redaction elucidates French Philosopher Gaston Bachelard’s concept-metaphor: the house—he evaluates, its corners, corridors, cellar rooms—is far less important than what poetically it is endowed with, which is usually a quality with an imaginative or figurative value we can name and feel: thus a house may be haunted, or homelike, or prisonlike, or magical. So space acquires emotional and even rational sense by a kind of poetic process, whereby the vacant or anonymous reaches of distance are converted into meaning for us here.[xxv] The erection of Bachelard’s house predicates upon the rendering of space (otherwise occupied) empty; like PROMESA, it presumes a principle of vacante soyle, or vacuum domicilium, or terra nullias, territory that has not been subject to the sovereignty of any state in international law. PROMESA and PROMESA tyrannically represent the so-called new world as vacant and uninhabited … a central trope of settler colonialism, employed to banish, sequester, and dispossess indigenous peoples of their lands.[xxvi] The Law imprints the likeness of the Oversight Board, in everything, the poem blackout remonstrates the process. Space is not empty and (settler) Man, homologized to his house, does not prefigure its center. Bachelard’s house is haunted, no doubt; it is populated too by specters that resulted from the totalitarian bricklaying of settler-colonial terror across polities—the blackout poem mimics and therefore reproduces this temporalizing force that opens the world (of text) to extraction.
Can a “Blackout Poem” exert enough force in the world to disrupt colonial time? Erasure/Blackout poems offer testament to officiated time and the possession of earth through counterfactual narrative mimetically mined of the source text. The redacted line signals the unifying force of temporalization, a force of worlding, weaponized toward to the production of a history required for actualizing a “higher world” of superior forms, a meaningful whole that brings all beings into relation.[xxvii] PROMESA redefines the grammar of the reality in its own terms, ushering a new era of colonial domination, extraction and obliteration.If redaction or forms of erasure (poiesis) render present an absence, is a redacted line spectral matter concretized and what might the practice teach to break colonial regimes of time?
Repetition and syllabics regulate a traditional sestina’s rhythm as aesthetic rules. A traditional sestina culminates in an envoi or tornada as its final stanza, which reconfigures the six end-words across the ultimate three lines of the poem. While composing a sestina out of PROMESA, I bent the rules, eliding resolution by eliminating the tornada for aesthetic purposes— for the last to literally occupy the position of the first, Frantz Fanon’s metaphor for decolonization. I reread the bill several times, physically redacting fragments, paragraphs, and pages of text while reserving words from which to compose lines of poetry. I engaged in an extractive, destructive, reading practice: each read-through, I erased more text from H.R.4900 until only the words in “PROMESA” remained. These formal rules shape the poem, which must be thought not simply what appears on the page, but include (by negation) all that redacted, erased matter. The poem and the palimpsest, as two seemingly distinct documents, are inextricably tethered to each other—folded up, blurred into poem together they form, in this case, a palimpsestina, a portmanteau of “palimpsest” and “sestina.”
Just as I select the source material to otherwise arbitrary aesthetic rules, the Oversight Board reformulates time to their own calculations in order to maximize and expedite extraction of raw materials, while slowing or reversing growth in other sectors. PROMESA bureaucratizes time, resubmitting Puerto Rico to teleological chronometry: a time in which cause and effect follow each other in an irreversible sequence of succession, a time circular and self-returning. Final causality actualizes a rational end into existence: perpetual colonization.[xxviii]The Oversight Board, in its sole discretion, schedules, calculates, and manages appropriations of time. The bill authorizes the Oversight Board to determine scheduling, timetables, and deadlines, especially in Section 2, subtitled “Approval of Budgets,” which outlines several processes by which to arrive at a territorial budget. One such schedule outlines that the Governor drafts and submits a budget to the Oversight Board, who may unilaterally accept, nix or revise it. The Board then returns their report (on their time) to the governor, whom, within 90 days, might “deem” the budget approved or rejected. Ultimately, the Oversight Board possesses—or is possessed by—the authority to execute its program uninhibited by juridical or governmental disapproval or intervention—reshaping Puerto Rican time itself.
H.R. 4900 authorizes such a manufacturing of time, slowing the territory’s juridical mechanisms. It installs the figure of Man in the form of the self-owning, earth-owning Oversight Board that keeps time in the “realm of freedom” by instrumentalizing pain: Of humane laws in colonial Egypt, Samara Esmeir observes, While informing the law, humanity was simultaneously established by it. The relationship between law and humanity was therefore one of performativity. The project of juridical humanity instrumentalizes suffering such that becoming human by law equates to the reduction of suffering. Unreduced suffering signals dehumanization, the reforms that put suffering to use … reflected and constituted a sensibility of humaneness, which located suffering on the side of the inhuman, thus carve out spaces for colonial intervention.[xxix]The law establishes a Term-of-Service for Board Members of 3 years (14), power to initiate hiring freezes (46), and 4 years of accordance with accrual accounting standards (61). Additionally, an immediate stay on litigation essential to stabilizing the region for the purposes of resolving this territorial crisis suspends pre-PROMESA claims in legal limbo by forcing “voluntary resolution” between the Puerto Rican government and its creditors instead of defending numerous, costly creditor lawsuits—reparations for the pain. (56, 88, 91) PROMESA actualizes its colonial mission through empiric subjectivation of time into manageable quantities; In the words of Cedric Robinson, the Oversight Board plays timekeeper in the “realm of freedom” by instrumentalizing pain in their ordering of significance, meanings and relations.[xxx] The cause of teleology is not external, but originally immanent to its (diabolical) effect.
The juridical project of PROMESA, and by extension Congress, capitalizes spheres knowledge, power, and utility, calling pain into being by putting it to use. Humaneness reflects the capacity to manipulate pain, by measuring and calculating what otherwise remained arbitrary, for instance: Section 403 of PROMESA, “FIRST MINIMUM WAGE IN PUERTO RICO”, which establishes a minimum hourly wage of $4.25, an arbitrary sum well-below the federal minimum wage of $7.25. This discrepancy in the value of labor perpetuates outmigration, displacement, cycles of poverty and pain. Pain is put to use for it is not pain as such that dehumanizes … rather, it is pain’s own biological reconfiguration as separate from morality that dehumanizes a suffering subject.The imperative to overcome pain becomes a means of humanization—and humane legal reforms accomplish precisely this.[xxxi]Escalated outmigration and exile result from the instrumentalization of pain.[xxxii] Puerto Ricans escaping deteriorating social and environmental conditions on the island exercise the “right” and “freedom” as citizens of the United States to migrate to the “mainland.” Doing so performs a rational spontaneity that characterizes the … power of self-determination initiating the Puerto Rican into the domain of American freedom.[xxxiii] The Puerto Rican exiled to America offers the body up to engulfment becoming “Transparent I”, with full voting rights, though hyphenated by foreclosing tactile, material claims to the colonizer, opening those sites to corporate interests and ceaseless extraction. The remainders suffer the pains of a zone becalmed by depopulation, where raw materials are ceaselessly transported…[xxxiv]
The Oversight Board divides, deploys, schematizes, tabulates, indexes, and records everything in (and out of) sight; to make out of every observable … an immutable law; and, above all, to transmute living reality into the stuff of texts, to possess (or think one possesses) actuality. Of Cromer, Edward Said continues, knowledge of subject races … is what makes their management easy and profitable; knowledge gives power, more power requires more knowledge, and so on in an increasingly profitable dialectic of information and control.[xxxv] Rhetoric around accrual accounting [over cash basis] offers one such specialized dialectic valorized by the bill, its architects, and the Oversight Board. PROMESA imports the language of a “governing race of Men,” inaugurating a Bibliothequeboricua, an emergent glossolalia, an archive that protects private interest from prospective violence.[xxxvi] Accrual accounting standard is thought to improve accountability, transparency, and public finance management; detractors say it is costlier, and easier to manipulate—to inflate income, grow receivables and keep books open after year’s end.[xxxvii] Accrual accounting standards are also more complicated than cash basis, which the standard method by which the U.S. holds its budgets. Due to its complex mechanisms, accrual accounting standard risks potential gains and raw life on fiscal illusions in exchange for income statements that better measure profitability. The Oversight Board thus delays, delivers death-sentence to vital infrastructures alien to their desired world—legally banning access to water, electricity, education, the land. The Oversight Board, in its sole discretion, executes legal violence all but criminalizing the colonized as “fiscally irresponsible” and therefore subject to rendering (from the Latin “redere” or “give back”) as “given back” to the earth, or dead.
If PROMESA lampoons the Bibliotheque Boricua, the monopoly on language and values, legislated in writing by the colonial regime, might blackout poetry always literalize a production of language that threw something into the world (the poem), and simultaneously remaindered another as earthly raw material (the redacted or blacked-out material)?[xxxviii]PROMESA and PROMESA each homologize the colonized subject to said remainder, corroborating that one cannot constitute the figure of Man without rendering the rest in abjection. The same violent instant that produces the self-owning, earth-owning individual embodied by its board members, its paragons, produces ghostly matter.Thrown into the world we find ghastly figures such as the American citizen or the Board member, entities calculated, measured and definitively human to the exclusion of the colonized subject whose dehumanized flesh appears indiscernible from the earth in which it is (or will be) interred. “Humanity” is only ever a possibility for the Puerto Rican postmortem.
Puerto Rico as a constitutionally unincorporated territory is neither on a path to statehood, nor independence. Rather, it remains stuck in a constitutional limbo — a limbo of the Supreme Court’s creation.[xxxix] Ranjana Khanna writes, If this limbo had a national language, it would be one made up of prosopopoeia … in which, the spectral is even more pertinent than the strictly etymological returning us to the question, what matters (physically, semiotically) a redacted line?[xl] The violent erasure of words may fail at undoing history but it does render spectral matter legible in its traces insofar as encryption is a symptom of the illness, and haunting is a symptom of [colonial] melancholia.[xli] Put another way: if law implies in itself, a priori, that there is no law without enforceability, and no enforceability of the law without force, then the power of the Oversight Board, is present and represented everywhere in PROMESA’s enforcement, always effective, wherever there is preservation of the social order; they are there, the faceless figure.[xlii]
Poetic erasure calls for divining pain in the production of textuality—force, the blackout poet understands history as an utterance projected into the worldand understands the world … as profoundly shaped into unconcealment through that event of saying. The erasure poet reveals the way in which earthed specters exert pressure on that which is unconcealed.[xliii] PROMESA and PROMESA each literalizes erasure. Does considering redaction as poetic practice excavate secrets from the earth—an exhausted, ancestral well of spectral force? Is a blackout poem an object, or a refraction of an object, massively distributed in time and space to the extent that their totality cannot be realized in any particular local manifestation? Is it a sort of crypto-utopia?
I derationalized the words of the bill, translating them into affect and music such that words and sentences in the bill cease “to mean.” PROMESA produces an ostensibly free, open, and public soundscape, but this soundscape resounds over something silenced, built of and upon the literally erased. What sounds emit from the plane of consistency, that long harmonizing note of redaction, that uniform sound em-dashing into oblivion? In its poetic use, redaction reflects and refracts the dominant mode of violence as medium for the abjection of language. If the visible word and the sentence signify the properly-constituted subject and the sociality in which it participates, what then might the redacted line denote in its over-determination if not the historical mobilization of sonic signifiers to produce color lines? If redaction serves as a sign of negation, the rendering of unwieldy heterogeneous material (graphemes, letters, words, sounds, etc…) illegibly and inaudibly homogenous, does the redacted line mark an aporia of engulfment into transparency/opacity? Redacted signs are denied access to legibility, where the extracted word literalizes what Alexander Weheliye names the conjoining of flesh and habeas corpus.[xliv] The black line reflects an articulated assemblage of the human (viscus/flesh) borne of political violence as metaphor forlaying bare the flesh of the word’s sonority, intonation, intensity—the shout that the articulations of language and logic… the aspect of oppressed gesture which remains in all speech.[xlv]Redaction neutralizes the sonic and phonetic qualities of speech, rendering text hieroglyphic in uniform negation. Text is denied legibility, its aura negated and speech prevented. In other words, redaction produces a textual space, in which audio-visual signifiers enmesh, such that no speech could condense or comprehend.
A redacted line cannot be read aloud without the reader having access to its pre-existing content, but the content within the black line of redaction may be speculated at. How might we read a redacted line? How might we consider the sonic qualities of a redacted line as sign of plentitude rendered uniform? Does erasure poetry demonstrate the force with which dominant listening produces a literal sonic color line—that *bleep*? Redaction demonstrates the ideological barrier between the proper word (in the poem) and the raw materiality of its source, literalizing the visual and sonic representational processes of settler-colonial white supremacy and the dehumanization of social others; it literally marks the liminal space between the proper and impropriety, concretizing DuBois’ metaphor for the color line.[xlvi] One might imagine redaction a concrete expression of universalizing force, a deliberate reduction externally imposed upon the legibility of the word—the word is denied reduced and so denied the integrity of being.
Jennifer Lynn Stoever recuperates the aural imaginary through the listening organ, offering listening strategies we might effect to survive the cataclysmic fate proffered by settler-colonialism. Stoever blurs the border of actual and imaginary sound. The aural echo of the visible color line (erased/redacted text)constitutes an imaginative landscape of experimental sonority. Poetic redaction rehearses a hermeneutics of race as marker of material presence. It literalizes an over-determining force that attributes to its subject a signifying property plus as simultaneously silent (acoustically) and loud (visually)—by negation, ghostly, haunted imaginary sound loudly populates the redacted line. Redacting text-bodies demonstrate a telegraphic coding, embedded in bizarre axiological ground, a crisis of over-determined nominative properties. Might we listen for sound in the redacted line? Stoever offers embodied listening as practice, listening, she says, offers an epistemological venue for our particular embodiments; our embodiments, in turn, filter incoming sound along various indices of classification and value.[xlvii] In the words of Spillers, the redacted line is loaded with mythical prepossession that there is no easy way for the agents buried beneath them to come clean.[xlviii]By considering embodied listening as a practice integral to a blackout poetics, perhaps we might sense, if at all conduct, that which shrieks back at diabolical forces of obliteration. The silence of every caesura in the erasure poem resonates loudly.
Puerto Rico has become a haven to fanatical multi-millionaire investors in crypto-currency who pay 0% taxes on capital gains. In her New York Times article “Making a Crypto-Utopia in Puerto Rico,” Nellie Bowles investigates newly-landed crypto-investors in Puerto Rico. She writes, “They call what they are building Puertopia. But then someone told them, apparently in all seriousness, that it translates to “eternal boy playground” in Latin. So they are changing the name: They will call it Sol.”[xlix] “Sol,” “the Sun”, “the One”, summarily names the settler-colonized ideal, of biblical proportion, an exaltation of the Whole.
Returning to Adorno, PROMESA makes clear, Only a humanity to whom death has become indifference as its members, that itself has died, can inflict it administratively on innumerable people.[l]I believe forces hell-bent on collective obliteration, through Congress, seek to colonize the very sky, terraforming an increasingly erratic climate into unrivaled weapon by which to execute the omnicidal sentence. Can a poem interdict reality with enough ghoulish force to prevent what seems inevitable planetary doom without reproducing the colonial mission of restoration? The erasure poet commits to breaking this cycle of belonging and forgetting by un-writing to lostness, literally enacting a mediumship of presences through erasure. The poet voices the corpse word by listening.
I began (de-)composing “PROMESA” in the summer of 2016 with the hopes of mobilizing the abolition of H.R. 4900, which ushers in a new era of colonial brutality. The poem, first published on the Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day, thanks to Carmen Gimenez Smith, appeared on the heels of learning that an estimated 4,500 Puerto Ricans died because of mismanagement and failure at every level of government in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Disgraced Republican Governor Ricardo Rosselló’s Office first announced an official death toll of 64 despite public outcry otherwise. The Puerto Rican Government officially revised the number to 2975, only after CNN opened several lawsuits with the aim of acquiring official documents on the numbers. If the process of redaction articulates select text to the disavowal of text rendered abject visual or sonic phenomenon, how might with think state-enforced prohibition of words, censorship, as not simply obliteration, but rather, rendering words Black? The dead include my kin. After suffering a stroke earlier in 2017, my Grandmother’s Sister, Titi Iris, couldn’t breathe. Without regular access to electricity, we were told she suffocated in the weeks following landfall, that she died calling out for our grandmother, there were no means to keep the bodies cool and funeral homes were overwhelmed.
Derrida warns whoever traces the mystical foundations of the Law’s authorityit to its source annihilates it. Again, my hope blacking out, or channeling in kind violence to instigate a showdown divine: repeal of PROMESA. I also hope to add to the ongoing conversation about poetic erasure, that it appears blackout poetry might channel and/or trace the diabolical across worlds. “Blacked out” text serves as a nexus, the literal codification of wor(l)ds black; the poet who practices it therefore divines a what seems a mirror, a portal to the crypto-world of text as usufruct. Erasing the bill, I remember and recall ghostly forces: millions of unceremoniously buried now encountered as spectral traces in the world. Revenants echoing in Oversight Board member Jose Carrion’s voice when he announces austerity cuts to social welfare programming on the island. What ghosts echo in my voice too? Blackout poetry proves that which is hidden must have been worth hiding (the excess of the text: the noise, volume, mass, mess) and that considering that which has been absented, that ghostly matter, not only threatens the presumed integrity of the idealized Wor(l)d but heralds its destruction.
from PROMESA H.R. 4900
(1) IN GENERAL.—If the Oversight Board determines, based on reports submitted by the Governor under subsection (a), independent audits, or such other information as the Oversight Board may obtain, that the actual quarterly revenues, expenditures, or cash flows of the territorial government are not consistent with the projected revenues, expenditures, or cash flows set forth in the certified Budget for such quarter, the Oversight Board shall—
(A) require the territorial government to provide such additional information as the Oversight Board determines to be necessary to explain the inconsistency; and
(B) if the additional information provided under subparagraph (A) does not provide an explanation for the inconsistency that the Oversight Board finds reasonable and appropriate, advise the territorial government to correct the inconsistency by implementing remedial action.
(2) DEADLINES. —The Oversight Board shall establish the dead lines by which the territorial government shall meet the requirements of subparagraphs (A) and (B) of paragraph (1).
(c) Certification Of Variance.—
(1) VARIANCE.—If the territorial government fails to provide additional information under subsection (b)(1)(A), or fails to correct a variance under subsection (b)(1)(B), prior to the applicable deadline under subsection (b)(2), the Oversight Board shall certify to the President, the House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, the Governor, and the Legislature that the territorial government is at variance with the applicable certified Budget, and shall describe the nature and amount of the variance.
(2) CORRECTION OF VARIANCE.—If the Oversight Board determines that the territorial government has initiated such measures as the Oversight Board considers sufficient to correct a variance certified under paragraph (1), the Oversight Board shall certify the correction to the President, the House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, the Governor, and the Legislature.
“…I arrive at blackness as, blackness is, anagrammatical. That is, we can see the moments when blackness opens up into the anagrammatical in the literal sense as when ‘a word, phrase, or name is formed by rearranging the letters of another’ (Merriam-Webster Online). We can also apprehend this in the metaphorical sense in how, regarding blackness, grammatical gender falls away and new meanings proliferate; how ‘the letters of a text are formed into a secret message by rearranging them’ or a secret message is discovered through the rearranging of the letters of a text. Ana-, as a prefix, means ‘up, in place or time, back, again, anew.’ So, blackness anew, blackness as a/temporal, in and out of place and time putting pressure on meaning and that against which meaning is made.” Sharpe
 Despite the acronym and the fact that 71.8% of Puerto Ricans on the island do not consider themselves fluent in English; the bill was written entirely in English and sponsored by Republican Sean P. Duffy, a reality-television persona from MTV’s The Real World: Boston, Road Rules: All Stars and ESPN turned district attorney, who represented Wisconsin 7th Congressional District and sat on the House Natural Resources Committee.
 Provisions regarding geography, economy, wildlife, and wasteland management fit the narrative of humanitarian restoration. PROMESA instructs its reader not to “construe” transitioning to privatized generation capacities as affecting “the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973” despite climatological reality of a warming planet, mass extinction, and their otherwise executive control of the island. In regards to Vieques National Wildlife Refuge, previous legislation approves military and defense activities of the Department of Energy, including weapons and nuclear testing. H.R. 4900 PROMESA specifically names these and lands relegated to solid waste management free from its jurisdiction. See Vieques Island, Section 1508(c) of the Floyd D. Spence National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2001.
 Territorial Federalism refers to distribution of power over territorial entities. The overarching State, the federation, is divided into territorial sub-units (states), and State Power is dispersed over these federated subunits.
 The Oversight Board includes: José B. Carrión III, of the Banco Popular dynasty, President and Principal Partner of HUB International CLC, LLC, a “leading North American Insurance Brokerage” who collects claims for catastrophic fires in California; Ana J. Matosantos, President of Matosantos Consulting, a budgetary advocacy group; David A. Skeel, Jr. a Professor of Corporate Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School; Judge Arthur J. González, a Senior Fellow at NYU’s School of Law; Andrew G. Biggs, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a prominent thinktank of American Neoconservatism involved in political advocacy; Natalie Jaresko, former Ukrainian Minister of Finance (2014-2016), who was named Executive Director of the Oversight Board in 2017 and earns an annual $625,000. In the spring of 2016, Jaresko formed a provisional Cabinet of Ministers, and running (as a U.S. operative) for Prime Minister of Ukraine; and Carlos M. García and José R. González, both CEOs formerly involved in leadership positions at Santander Bank—a 2016 report titled, “Pirates of the Caribbean” alleges “that Garcia, Gonzalez and other executives at Santander presided over an explosion of lucrative underwriting that allowed the financially strapped island to continue borrowing huge sums, but on increasingly risky terms. The structure of those loans, the report suggests, was more favorable to Santander and other financial institutions than to the government ― and thus the taxpayers.” According to the report, Santander participated in the underwriting of $61.2 billion of the island’s $70 billion in debt, according to the analysis. The report estimates that more than $1 billion went toward management fees for Santander and other banks.” Daniel Marans, ”Two Of Puerto Rico’s New Overlords Are Accused Of Helping Create Its Debt Crisis” See Huffington Post [online]
 Frantz Fanon (1963). The wretched of the earth. New York, NY, Grove Press, 37
 In Representing African music: Postcolonial notes, queries, positions, (2003) Musicologist V. Kofi Agawu corroborates harmony and tonality the dimensions of European music with the greatest colonizing power insofar as its sonic ability to fold disparate sounds into/under a universal note.
[i] HARNEY, S. & MOTEN, F. (2017). “Improvement and Preservation, or Usufruct and Use” Futures of Black Radicalism, Verso Books, 83
Note: On July 3rd, 2020, extraordinary poet Patty Gone reached out to me with the opportunity to compose a piece for Mount Analogue’s Political Pamphlet Series II. The pamphlets, printed on a gorgeous pink on slate-blue paper, sold out immediately, Mount Analog donated the proceeds to Apogee Journal‘s Inside Out, and I’ve given away my copies to campaign volunteers. I’ve since been wanting to make this piece widely accessible, so I’m posting it as it was published, although the poems appear as rotapoems in the original:
“We Animate the Dream”: A Poet’s Run for Public Office
Joey De Jesus
“You deserve to celebrate not only who you’ve become, but who you could’ve become but fought not to.” JonJon Moore, Twitter handle @incivilitea
~ This piece is dedicated to everyone who made my campaign for public office possible, especially Leo Fines, the best campaign manager and confidante I could ever hope for as a candidate.
A Poetics of Abolition
Something about the phrasing of a “poetics of abolition” staggers me; I’ve always thought “capital P” Poetics an ethereal network of institutions and institutionally-sanctioned behavior financed and otherwise deeply implicated in ongoing geocidal projects of settler-colonialism, capitalism, and white supremacy. What is the work of this lowercase “p”? What might the poetics of abolition be? Is the poetics of abolition a practice or model of care or caring for social others as we work to eradicate prisons from the land? What does abolition work require of listening and decentering oneself? In a roundtable on poetry and prison abolition published in The Poetry Project Fall 2020 newsletter, Canadian writer Mercedes Eng offers, “I think poetry is a way to think about how the carceral continuum pervades so many aspects of life that can be more effective in convincing people that we need to tear down these systems than other types of texts on prison abolition because poetry can access emotion, can be effective.” Perhaps poetry offers tools to parse space sensing askance the appendages and vestiges of systemic violence that haunt this entire land? In the same roundtable, Poet Justin Rovillos Monson, incarcerated by the Michigan Department of Corrections, advocates that poetry teaches us how to tell our stories and how to evaluate our lives through the lens of our language. Monson emphasizes the possessive and the power of having the language to— What might I have the language to—?
Between the Augusts of 2019 and 2020, I ran for New York State Assembly District 38 on the premise that there is no finer venue for poetry than the People’s House, ultimately tying the 11-year incumbent and losing to the third candidate. Despite the loss, I take great pride in my candidacy—it was the best choice I could have made. My campaign was characterized in local media as the farthest left in the state and celebrated for a platform shaped by activists that named and made clear policy solutions to issues that plague our reality. I am immensely proud to have fought to re-enfranchise voters (mostly of color) disqualified by the Board of Election’s administrative obstacle course, in addition to embodying a litany of firsts: the first candidate to campaign on defunding the NYPD, and the first genderqueer Latinx poet to ever run for NY State Office. I write this in the hope that I am not the last, and that you, reader, consider what language you might have to—.
An Elegy for Krystal
Twelve years ago, before I left to study for several months in Botswana, I told my mother, she would attest, of a dream in which a silhouette stands over me asleep in her basement whispering a frequency I couldn’t quite assimilate in my gut. In one regard, I was anxious about moving to the other side of the world; in another, I couldn’t shake the thought of her brother, tio Cuqui. Tio (meaning ‘Uncle’) led a generally unhealthy life. He lived in the Lower East Side, but he was at the time, collecting unemployment and disability after a career in physical rehabilitation on Rikers Island. Three weeks after I left, a gangrenous issue recalled something erroneous about him and he died, bereaving a wife and three children—a funeral I knew I’d miss that I might saunter with the wild hyenas, and I did.
My uncle didn’t raise his children, each birthed to separate mothers, only his youngest, a daughter, Krystal and Krystal was amazing. Brawny, young, queer, hood—she loved playing football and boxing. At 22, Krystal was named GRID Alternatives Construction Fellow where she advocated for solar energy and trained formerly-incarcerated people to install solar panels, her work drawing the attention, philanthropy, and friendship of actor Mark Ruffalo—who to my understanding helped pay for her funeral.
Almost a decade after Tio Cuqui’s passing, sometime in the summer of 2018, Krystal was involved in a violent incident, in which, on video, it appears she assaulted a man in the hallway of a neighboring building, leaving him with multiple stab wounds. She was charged with attempted murder and spent over four months being shamed and traumatized on Rikers Island, unable to post an exorbitant bail. In truth, however, Krystal was a victim of mistaken identity, which is not to propel this narrative or binary that exalts the innocent over the other, but is to state a fact. The victim of the crime testified on Krystal’s behalf his relation to the actual assailant who’d been arrested separately with the weapon connected to the incident. Krystal was a victim to the proverbial “wrong place at the wrong time.”
Upon hearing the testimony of the victim, the judge released Krystal, jobless and verging on homelessness into winter. This truth, however, didn’t prevent Daily News writer Shayna Jacobs from running a hit piece on my beloved queer baby cousin. Instead of framing the incident as “community advocate incarcerated over a crime she did not commit released,” the headline reads, “Solar energy advocate once praised by actor busted for attempted murder” and, as if to predict her suicide, Jacobs begins the piece, “A pair of starkly different videos bookend the sad, strange tale of Krystal Ruiz.” Krystal cited Jacob’s article in advance of suicide on the eve of Father’s Day, 2019, as a document that haunted and shamed her. What is justice?
I felt guilty about the barriers that prevented me from helping Krystal when she needed and for missing the distress signals. The last I’d seen her I was dropping her off beneath the 4 train near Woodlawn, I’d given her a bus ticket and $60 to travel to and stay with our family matriarchs in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. For days following her funeral I couldn’t shake the sound—even now, recalling it, piercing from the ear to the throat like a spear—of when they opened Krystal’s casket—to imagine me holding my mother, sisters, grandmother, all small enough to fit within the breadth of my arms wincing as we all looked away. I wanted everyone to hear that sound and I committed to doing everything within my power to shutter Rikers Island forever.
The month after Krystal’s funeral I attended an action organized by the abolitionist advocacy group No New Jails in opposition of New York City’s plan to construct new borough-based jails without committing to the immediate closure of Rikers. NNJ built an altar to honor the recently-deceased Layleen Polanco, Khalief Browder, Akai Gurley, and many other victims of carceral violence and spoke for the need to immediately vote Nay on the forthcoming proposal. They advocated the need to end cash bail, which had caused Krystal and her mother such grief, and a moratorium on the investment in and construction of new jails, motivating me to contact my City Councilmember, Antonio Reynoso, a weasel-like man, to speak of divesting from incarceration. After that call, I decided to look into all of my representatives in the chance I encounter what I thought to be filth, and behold—Michael Miller, his primary slated for June 23rd, 2020.
While I had a particular disdain for my city councilperson for parroting language used by activists “in the streets”, State Assemblyperson Michael Miller, a machine Democrat and 11-year incumbent, who voted against marriage and workplace equality, decorated his office in copaganda, inside and out, and ultimately left office disgraced for vile misogynist, threatening and illegal goon-like misconduct. He’d initially been handpicked without contest to replace Anthony S. Semenario, a crook who died in a Federal Correctional Facility for abusing his office to steal exorbitant funds from state hospitals. The only time he’d been primaried, only 2000 voters in the district showed up to vote—if only because people across the district had been disenfranchised and disconnected from a mystified process for forty years. It was the way he exalted the police that resolved me to do it.
Had you told me I would run for office prior to this moment, “I would tell you there’s a greater likelihood of me perishing, or a meteor strike, than me doing so, let alone winning and that the day I run for office should signal a beginning to the end.” It’s true, my closest friends would attest. But in that moment, I thought of Krystal, ending cash bail, the fight to close Rikers, the Blue Lives Matter Flags (plural) outside, and as if in an instant all the doubt vacuumed out then and thenceforth and I decided to run.
A Possible, Local, Durational Poetics
I felt encouraged in conversations with friends to think of speechwriting, and public and personal performances of servitude to diverse communities of people as a durational poetics, from durus, “hard”, an ongoing performance of practicing poetry with others in the world. I needed to learn more about mechanisms of capitalism and anti-Blackness destroying our people. That summer, I spent a great deal of time studying Sam Stein’s Capital City, and Zoned Out! Race, Displacement, and City Planning in New York City, edited by my college friend and confidante Sylvia Morse, Thomas Angotti and Maria Cecilia Fagel,and theorist and poet’s Jackie Wang Carceral Capitalism for language and context to discuss process and impacts of gentrification.If I was to run for office, I knew the prescient issue of our community to be gentrification and displacement and that I would need to speak first with those on the frontlines of this fight, especially as a New Yorker who moved to this neighborhood. Thankfully, our community has several champions who’ve been doing revolutionary mutual aid work in the fallout of Covid-19.
Before I decided to formally run, I contacted the Ridgewood Tenant Union, a volunteer-run organization of tenant’s rights activists in my community and asked their thoughts about my possible candidacy. Raquel Namuche, one of the group’s founders admitted she’d been working with someone who was thinking to do it, but hesitant. I explained my hope was for activists to shape the platform. She introduced me to the New York Homes Guarantee, which would end homelessness with housing first policies, fully-fund public housing, refuse privatization of public property, close loopholes landlords exploit for profits, introduce protections for tenants, invest in community land trusts, and ultimately create a pathway for the decommodification of land through a state buyback program—the whole of which I adapted into my housing platform when I, as a candidate, signed the pledge.
When I joined the Ridgewood Tenant Union, they were involved in multiple campaigns, the first to prevent a high-rise of luxury condo from being built “as-of-right” in the neighborhood by Avery Hall, organizing rallies. In a neighborhood struggling with a rising homeless population due to gentrification and lack of permanently-affordable housing, it is unfathomable that new housing units would not be completely affordable for those displaced by the influx of artists and craft breweries to this very neighborhood. Additionally, our neighborhood was the location of mob violence, when a local demagogue on City Council, racist Robert Holden, held a series of Community Board Meetings, official and not, to protest forthcoming shelters to the district. He stoked fears regurgitating Trump’s language about rapists, pedophiles and murderers. At one of these CB-5 meetings, in Glendale, a resident from outside the district called for firebombing local homeless shelters to the Council Members and audience’s applause. I thought how can we expect dignity of a people denied it? Wild to think, that should I win, I’d represent this crowded thousand who many of whom spewed racist, homophobic epithets that tickled the way a breeze must a mountain.
If I was to run for New York State Assembly District 38, extending from Ridgewood through Glendale and Woodhaven all the way to Ozone Park and Richmond Hill, Queens, nearly 130,000 New Yorkers, I couldn’t do it alone. The district is large and peculiarly-shaped. Bisected by the Jackie Robinson Parkway, the geographic heart of the district lies in the cemeteries. Ridgewood, a neighborhood diverse in population: many Polish and Eastern European immigrant homeowners with longstanding ties to the neighborhood, many Puerto Ricans as well, a large population of immigrants from Central and South America (New Yorkers severed from Federal and State-issued Covid-relief) and an influx of artists and young professionals constituting the wave of gentrification inundating the neighborhood in displacement, mostly tenants, makes for the westernmost area of AD-38. Ridgewood is bordered by Glendale to its east, a neighborhood very difficult to access by anything but car or bus, mostly homes owned, although many apartment buildings throughout, notoriously conservative, and deeply red in the part where people have yards. Crossing the highway and cemeteries, we arrive in Woodhaven, the J train, a commercial area much like Ridgewood. The district extends east and south into predominantly South Asian and Indo-Caribbean community in Richmond Hill and Ozone Park, the latter of which is also home to Ozone Park Civilian Operation Patrol (OPCOP), a vigilante patrol sanctioned by local community board members and leaders, which is to say, another deeply conservative, “Back-the-Blue” neighborhood. I have friends throughout, mostly concentrated in Ridgewood, and a collegiality to leverage among a community of writers toward spreading the wor(l)d of my campaign. I thought, why not run as a poet? The Martinican poet and philosopher Aimé Césaire held office. Might I be so bold?
I’d taken a hiatus volunteering as co-editor at Apogee Journal, a literary journal com a literary non-profit committed to uplifting writers of the margins of visibility and support in the literary sphere to national acclaim, but my comrades did everything in their capacity to lift up the campaign from fundraising, to communicating newsletters, petitioning for signatures and generating camaraderie among writers getting involved in my campaign with special gratitude for Zefyr Lisowski, Marie Hinson, REL Goldberg, Gustavo Rivera, Leila Ortiz, Sara Jane Stoner, Jimena Lucero, Montana Ray, Sonya Guimet, Michael Morse, Ricky Maldonado, who translated literature, among many others. However, there is one person to whom every success of the campaign is indebted: Leo Fines, my campaign manager.
My sister introduced me to a friend of hers from college who’d just moved to New York after working on a successful political campaign out in Arizona. They were disenchanted from electoral work due to ethical compromises made by their candidate, and scarred by the prerequisite to present as a normative dominant gender in the work environment. After we met, Leo offered to volunteer as my treasurer, until I hired them as my campaign manager. I am so grateful for Leo’s dedication to cause and the countless hours they committed to our vision for a livable present.
I filed the appropriate form creating the nonprofit that would legally raise funds toward the campaign, naming Leo the accountant, for if you have my sister’s confidence, you have my confidence. We quickly registered with the Board of Elections. After I was escorted out of a CitiBank near City Hall downtown when I explained to the accountant I wanted to open a political account, Leo and I opened one with Carver Bank, “the largest Black-owned financial institution”, which does not absolve it accountability for past and present dealings, but was the only institution to treat me with any respect. And thus, the campaign began.
I was a bad student
of blanquitx tongue, the threat
beyond compare, a child
the similitude of magma
claiming interest in soot
& gum rearguard
I was kindling engineered
into smoke column, the far-off fires
raised into bronchial clog
the perfect poison
to shatter fortitudes
They said, cloister a moment,
quiet-sit awaiting quaesita in subordinate condition
I said, soul-eater openly wants what it hates
like smelling onions in another’s sweat
I hid in the prefixes of English gatecrashing
the threshold between violence & the episteme
where experience & knowledge take place
no nine swords to stop my speech act
because I refuse
to listen to a society responsible for my orphaned condition.
Throughout the fall I spent most afternoons canvassing the L and M train stations after work, introducing myself to neighbors and distributing business and palm cards we’d printed from a A&J Printing in-district. One Friday midnight in late October, I received what my friend Riley characterized as a “full-media assault”, direct messages via every social media platform, from Jenifer Rajkumar and her assistant, who introduced themselves as recent Democratic Socialists of America members living in the district. I received Jenifer’s call and she disclosed she’d decided to run for office in the district. We agreed to meet the following Tuesday.
In one regard, I felt relieved at the thought of someone “more qualified” or “better-suited” running with my support, especially a woman of color. But in the days leading up to our meeting I discovered some troubling facts, that she’d plagiarized a lawsuit, to best represent herself in a case, actually, ethically grey but I can get with it if it means seizing power from white men. I discovered a video in which she openly avows a militant Zionism to the denial of the state’s settler-colonial history. She also ran for State Assembly in the 65th District against the only NY Assemblyperson to receive endorsements from Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, Yuh-Line Niou, who is celebrated by many as a champion of the people’s needs. When I decided I would run, I thought my greatest challenge would be the provincial racist who held the seat, Mike Miller; I had no idea it would be Jenifer Rajkumar.
I arrived fifteen minutes early to our meeting at the Queens Brewery to find Jenifer already there. She introduced herself, immediately announced her love for poetry, and began reciting Yeats, striking me as oddly-timed and competitive. When I asked about her run for the Assembly seat in lower Manhattan and her (non)commitments to the community there, she made it clear she’d only moved to our district to run for office. When I asked how long she lived in the district, she said, “long enough,” immediately rendering her character clear, though I believed in affording her the benefit of the doubt. We were to each vie for the same endorsements—a process I was learning on the fly—and she introduced herself as a socialist so I imagined our politics mostly aligned. But Jenifer Rajkumar is not a socialist and that messaging was always a ruse. In the course of the conversation she offered support in my future political ventures, inviting me into her campaign, in the event I drop out. She affirmed my concerns, at one point asking me if I agreed with censuring Ilhan Omar (of no relation to Queens, NY to the best of my knowledge) for her statements against Israel, asking me outright if I thought it had a right to exist, to which I responded, “The settler-colonial state of America doesn’t have a right to exist, but it does, so what is the point of such a question?” Was I convinced Jenifer would fight for all gender affirmative healthcare fully-funded by a Medicare-for-all program? No. Did she believe in raising taxes on the billionaire class of New Yorkers to restore full-funding for tuition free public education? No. Did she lie to constituents about why she wouldn’t affirm activist and organizational pledges? Yes, she most certainly did. Did she believe in prison and police abolition? No. Universal suffrage? Absolutely not. All of which is to say, after meeting, I felt affirmed in my campaign.
I would later learn that she’d rallied alongside City Councilmember Bob Holden and the woman who called for firebombing local homeless shelters, pandering to local racists by arguing concerns over devaluing property. It should be said, that within five minutes, this same community and community board voted to build a massive no-kill animal shelter in the district, which is to say, they feel more comfortable affording dignity to animals than humans, which Jenifer would’ve known had she lived in the neighborhood longer than the minimum required to run for office.
And despite vying for (and receiving) endorsements from progressive groups throughout the city including Queens United Independent Progressives, the Stonewall Democrats and Jim Owles political club, Rajkumar had received campaign funds from unacceptable sources. Her campaign finance report revealed she’d donated $100,000 to her own campaign, that she received over $20,000 from the real estate industry, including max contributions from directors of MONPAT, the roofers of correctional facilities all across the state, as well as from Castellan Real Estate, who deported rent-stabilized tenants in New York in order to deregulate units and were forced to pay restitution to victims of their abusive practices. She received max contributions from RSS ideologues vetted by members of NoHindutvaNYC, an interfaith coalition of activists concerned with the growing sympathies in the neighborhood for PM Narendra Modi’s regime. They reached out to me about Rajkumar’s far-right ties including billionaire executive at Raytheon, Dinesh Paliwal, executives in the oil industry, and several financiers of Hindutva schools—that’s right, individuals responsible for the persecution of religious minorities in India. Jenifer would ultimately earn endorsements from local LGBTQ political clubs unconcerned with her politics-in-practice, however QUIP formally confirmed and announced her funds and publicly explained her selection would be contingent upon returning several tens of thousands of dollars.
Political organizations that orient toward neoliberal assuaging of white guilt, or exalt white sensibilities of political prestige, viability, propriety etc… were and still are ill-equipped to grapple with the nuance of candidates like my opponent, and, in general, limits to the politics of representation, or as the adage goes, not all skinfolk are kinfolk; yes, she’s a woman of color, she’s also a candidate accepting campaign donations from war profiteers, slumlords, and prison builders, and when confronted about it, despite the stone cold evidence of her campaign finance reports, denied any wrongdoing by her supporters, instead expressing pride in all her supporters, when challenged to denounce racism at candidate forums. Simultaneously, she claims the To many people, issues in places such as Kashmir seem alien to us here, but they are very much in play in the politics of South Queens, and this anxiety, seemed to embolden a politic of respectability from an audience unaware they were platforming a fascist, one adept at deriving advantage from the benefit of the doubt.
Regardless, we each pursued the endorsements from several of the same organizing bodies, including the Working Families Party and the DSA. Here is my speech from the Queens DSA Candidate Forum in late fall 2019:
The Stump Speech
I am a Bronx-born gender-queer Puerto Rican poet and part-time adjunct lecturer in English at Borough of Manhattan Community College. I direly seek your endorsement in my campaign for State Assembly District 38 against an incumbent who voted against equal pay for women and otherwise squanders power. And that’s all I’ll say about him.
I am very excited to present my candidacy before you in the hopes that we might mobilize a sea-change of socialist policy and together address urgent matters affecting our most afflicted and oppressed communities. I’m honored you’d receive me on this stolen Lenne-Lenape land.
I’m running for NY State Assembly in Ridgewood because I feel the gravity of lethal presumption, law and policy; I feel it in the burning of my cells. I am running to demonstrate thoughtful, ethical leadership. I am running to assert the fact that full understanding of American imperialism could only be achieved post mortem. We survive the brutal wake of the other side. I am running because I believe we Queer people of color must represent ourselves and I do not believe poetry excludes commitments to political and social life. Our representatives must disable by any means necessary mechanisms of state violence that seeks to inter our bodies in the ground. Too many have been ruined, murdered and maimed. I am sick at the thought of having to plead for accountability and another Go-Fund-Me account. Not while queer revolutionary colleagues of mine were out there, reciting poetry to music and getting pepper sprayed during the ouster of Ricardo Rosello in Puerto Rico. They inspire me to step my shit up.
I left Soundview prior to the river-cleaning and the shooting of Amadou Diallo, went to Fieldston, a private school in Riverdale, on scholarship from a young age. My family experienced a series of traumas in my teens. I’m so amazingly inspired by my mom, an assistant principal in the Yonkers Public Schools and single mom of three—just beat colon cancer, after grandma beat breast cancer. I am the eldest of two younger sisters and two wonderful step-sisters and I come from amazing, tight knit, matriarchal extended families.
I went to Oberlin College in Ohio, where I studied poetry and environmental policy; I had the opportunity to study human-wildlife conflict and land use policies in Kenya and later Botswana. I got my MFA in Poetry from Sarah Lawrence College to come back and be with my sisters, with the hopes of teaching poetry. It took years to find the most exhausting of adjunct gigs at ASA College, a predatory for-profit nightmare. Every semester over the past several years I wonder if I’ll have a job or can find something to sustain me over the summer.
All the while I was involved in cultural programming and literary arts. I have learned to work the word to build communities under the banner of the literary arts and engagement. I volunteered for several years at Apogee Journal, a literary non-profit committed to uplifting writers of the margins of visibility and support in the literary sphere to national acclaim. I’ve developed and led cultural programs in the city in the past decade at the Queens Public Library, Newtown Literary Review, The New York Writers Coalition, The Poetry Project and elsewhere. My early activism focused on naming dominant biases in literary editorial practices. I sit on the Advisory Board No, Dear Magazine, a literary non-profit and small press and am deeply involved in QTPOC-literary community.
NYU offered me a fellowship to get a second masters in Performance Theory, which I took to study performativity of Law, ontology, Critical Race Theory, Caribbean philosophy, Black studies—my interests were in redaction, and tangentially WEB DuBois’ relationship to Einstein’s theory of relativity: double-consciousness and particle-wave duality in the study of light, and HR.4900 PROMESA. While I love teaching, I believe the world of academia in its current state stifles our potential. It starves its students. And I refuse to be so institutionalized.
I come to you exhausted. I have been committed entirely to this campaign over the past several months. And I’m not sure if you all know what’s been going on in Glendale and Ridgewood over homeless shelters, but I have joined with my neighbors and placed myself on the frontlines against bigotry and racist hatred. Several members of the Community Board 5 and City Councilmember Bob Holden tacitly monger around fear instead of organizing around principle, and encourage neighbors to violence such that constituents called for firebombing homeless shelters and locking up the homeless forever to unfettered cheers.
Meanwhile, our taxes and government continue to subsidize capitalist housing such that developers get to produce value with a pen-stroke. They conscript us to build high-rise machines for their money laundering while the homeless starve below. They increase supply at the top of the market with materials thieved from those at the bottom. Private equity firms and bad policymakers displace us from our homes then criminalize us for our inability to keep up with the rising rents. They construct convoluted metrics and sink money into land coffers, coffins; they criminally underfund public housing while criminalizing its inhabitants. They create barriers to work—fares on dilapidated, bureaucratized transit. They police us from place to place. They gentrify, feed bigotry, displace families, and build prisons robbing us of our children and ourselves—financing abomination, such as the Vernon C. Bain prison barge, a slave ship in operation today. They demolish our homes. They weaponize the sky to demolish our homes and kill our elders. They starve us. They poison us. They cage us. They shoot us. They push us. They smash us.
Our bodies and minds may be brutalized in the gears but when we remember this Lenape land is stolen, we ourselves are remembered. And there is faith in that. I believe in reparations, decolonization, restitution and recuperating a sense of retribution—can’t spell redistribution without it. One hundred and twenty years ago, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled Puerto Ricans unentitled to the Constitution’s full protections because we are “uncivilized”—a racist precedent that remains in place today. And so I openly wonder how anyone can expect me to be other than— Experience as a poet teaches me, that the dominant turn to my ilk for some sort of neoliberal assuagement of their guilt for the murder of my people. I am not here for that.
We must enact a Statewide Homes Guarantee for housing is a human right. With 89,000 homeless New Yorkers, and over 250,000 vacant units in New York City alone, New York State must enact emergency measures to immediately provide dignified, supportive housing for its homeless inhabitants. I will fight for a litany of taxes on the rich to house the poor and support the “Good Cause Eviction Bill”, a Right to Sell and Tenant’s Right to Buy, buyback programs to enable tenants and/or the state first passes at purchasing property for sale toward permanent and social housing that’s tenant-owned, organized, unionized, or community land trusts. I will fight to see a fully-funded and retrofitted NYCHA, investing in our most segregated schools, our libraries, housing for LGBTQ elders, tuition-free public education and investing in CUNY’s state budget to meet the demands of the 7KorStrike movement after over a decade of fighting against adjunctification and poverty wages. We must also repeal the Taylor Law which prevents public employees from legally striking.
I support our sex workers, and believe in complete decriminalization they should have the freedom to cooperatively-own and unionize their business, which is otherwise, none of my business. I believe in State-mandated paid parental leave and State-mandated paid leave for gender-affirmative healthcare for our Trans community and gender minorities. I believe in Unsafe Temperatures and Common Sense Heat Protections Laws for our postal workers and couriers and a statewide jobs guarantee. I call for a radical reduction in NYPD funding and enrollment—happy to speak to that—the abolition of ICE, protections for immigrants, and for legalization of recreational marijuana and the expunging of marijuana-related criminal records. I support the Boycott and Divestment Movement. I pledge as a candidate to the mission of the No New Jails, and am appalled by the sinking of 11 billion dollars into new prisons, without even committing to closure of Rikers. I called Reynoso’s office, raged and then went before and after work to City Hall on Thursday and wept over Krystal—who is here—and Pedro who needs us now.
My candidacy is about lifting up the missions our champions have fought over for so long: our tenant unionizers, our fellow prison abolitionists, our teachers, social workers, healers, our makers committed to recuperating a livable present. I am tired of having to rely on charity for my food and roof, my poetry. I am tired of commiserating with my fellow adjuncts about our unlivable wages. I am modeling something for all of my students. I refuse to tell my students that affecting a shift toward the horizon is up to them; not while regular ass people with histories canoodling the moneyed continued to politrick about willy-nilly while we lose our homes and bury our people.
This is the vision; thank you comrades, for receiving me. I hope we may collaborate toward making our reality. Those of us gathered in this room, we have all been complicit in financing the gears of capital in some form or another—taxpayers or whatever. I plead that we listen to the victims of our errors, of our metrics and our habits, the habitats we’ve built. I’ve been plagued by a terrible thought: that to forget an idea, a thought, anything, is to be touched by death so I remember and recall these forbidden ones to move about freely in the room, in their denim jackets and windbreakers, in their jean shorts and baseball caps, in an oversized Carrhart jacket and matching boots. We shiver together.
Artwork donated to the campaign by Mariah Bermeo
All winter, friends of mine and I would collect information from neighbors throughout the district operating out of local breweries, cafes and bars. Serendipitously, my performance collaborator and old friend B Taylor was attending CUNY Law alongside a former opponent of Jenifer Rajkumar’s in her previous race for State Assembly, Paul Newell, who trained me and about six or seven friends who’d volunteered on how to canvass for signatures to petition my place on the ballot. Paul would later submit my signed petitions to the Board of Election on my behalf. My friends and neighbors, Diya, Paul, Allison, OK, Anna, Cordelia, Elizabeth, Sookie, Walter, Noah, Caitlin, Rosie, her Mom, Susan—petitioning was an amazing experience in that it affirmed my dearest relationships bringing us together in the united purpose of ensuring my place on the ballot. And I got to practice my Spanish.
Aside from the voter data Leo purchased, the majority of the funds we’d spent in the winter—ours was a frugal campaign—was at the local bars out of which we’d coordinate daily field operation. We used Google Forms to confirm commitments from volunteers and buy rounds for all (of age) who’d spent hours in the field collecting signatures and informing voters of the platform, and because of my relationship with many of the establishment owners, we were always treated so wonderfully. It is hard not to look back on this time with rose-tinted glasses, because campaigning was social, fun, loud and collegial, face-to-face—which, reflecting upon in now the first anniversary of the outbreak, is really quite heavenly and far.
I also built relationships in the more conservative areas of the district. In my neighborhood, an amazing organizer named Andrea Guinn, with the DSA Ecosocialists, approached me to pledge to support three pieces of legislation drafted by an upstate-downstate coalition to decarbonize, decommodify and democratize our energy grid. When I found myself in Glendale and Ozone Park, speaking with homeowners far more likely to support my opponents, I mentioned adopting publicly-owned utilities for higher quality eco-friendly power and toppling private utility monopolies like ConEd, National Grid, as well as internet providers like Spectrum—never a bill to them again, can you imagine? I found tremendous support from across party lines so long as I didn’t mention this as a “socialist” scheme.
The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted petitioning and endangered my volunteers, its arrival [I thought] fruition of the thought that a meteor strike or I, a doomy, pot-smoking Boricua, brujx faggot, perish before being to elected public office. Before the Governor, a loathsome murderer and Jenifer’s former employer, rightly reduced the quota for signatures and called for an end to petitioning, our strategy was to collect signatures while wearing masks and gloves from individuals another team had we’d called 15-30 minutes prior using our voter data. Relations having degenerated, we anticipated Jenifer would deploy her wealth to slog me down in the courts, threatening the validity of the signatures we’d collected—that they all be registered Democrats at addresses in-district. Regardless, we collected three-times what we needed and were able to shut down petitioning before the Governor issued a stay-at-home order.
In retrospect, I wish I had someone to help with filing endorsement questionnaires, each a daunting exercise to juggle while attending the field. I’d been told that the outcome of the petition process would be one of many determining factors in my “viability” as a candidate, it certainly didn’t nor did it help that I had no preexisting relationships to other candidates or political clubs. I immediately located my revulsion to the concept of viability in the etymology of the word, vita, ‘capable of life.’ I couldn’t but hear a shrieking echo of eugenics, genetics, breeding, and the zygote—queerphobia, ableism—the very notion of being “nonviable” as reason to alienate our campaign infuriated me. I detested it and the limits it placed on possibilities for discourse in electoral politics; the reality is campaigns cost money, true, and we didn’t have much, but with certain supports I believe we could have won.
An envoy of the Working Families Party called me, for instance, to communicate that while impressed with my endorsement interview, they wanted to refrain from endorsing in our race due to my staggering odds and what I presumed to be Jenifer’s propensity for political retribution, though they “hoped” that I win. I learned then that hope is a funny thing—an agent—or rather that hope possesses its own autonomous agency, insofar as this man “hoped” I win, whereas his “hopes” hoped I die.
even the shining one
of a hundred victories
might be bested
even the stars in their multiplicities
might universally signal
what animals catalogued
in the bestiary your plexus
detested revenant widely
-spoken as secret among the birds
a bearded conciliator
lying to their faces
think to name what
latest storm wants
envoy in the call
avow neither home
nor destination except there
that pyrrhic victory
in the camel’s cluster
where no crystals fall
in the after-noise
Straying from Victory
Despite our precautions, Leo and I each contracted Covid-19, Leo in early March and me in the first days of April. Thankfully, Leo recovered within three weeks. Unfortunately, the virus tasked my body in disasters, and I was wrecked for weeks. On what may have been the second evening of April, lying in bed with a headache coming on, like sinusitis, I felt what I can only describe as a match burning tissue paper, I heard a sizzle-pop, and just like that I lost my senses of taste and smell—which have since returned, albeit differently.
I spent all of April and most of May bedridden, campaigning digitally when able. It was truly horrific, at times like my innards were being warped about, like they were swollen and movement caused a tender ache. It worsened at night. I hosted phone-banking events, a digital performance event, and performed at fundraisers for activists and activist-candidates. We shifted all field efforts to cold calling voters in the district plugging residents into the local Mutual Aid Network developed by the Ridgewood Mutual Aid Network and The Hungry Monk. Campaigning shifted to this checking in with thousands of neighbors over basic necessities. We approached it as an opportunity to connect with voters, to let them know that we were suffering alongside them, and that we had an opportunity for change. We asked and assisted with requesting absentee ballots for those most concerned about physically going to the poll.
I honestly believed my experience with Covid was the state’s attempt at assassinating me in such a way that it could easily avoid accountability or credit. I’d spend several hours a day massaging the base of my ribs along my spine with a back massager at the doctor’s request, to prevent mucus from building up in the base of my lungs, about which we were, at that time, all very concerned.
To worsen matters, my mother and grandmother each contracted Covid-19 independently from the other. My grandmother lives in a building populated by the elderly, and her neighbors didn’t all make it, for it must have made its way down the hall. My mother contracted it while forced to work in the school where she serves as Assistant Principal. Both matriarchs are immunocompromised. My mother was diagnosed with and defeated colon cancer in the fall, I missed one candidate forum, in fact, to attend her surgery. My grandmother finally beat breast cancer after a mastectomy and chemo, and was missing half the lymph nodes in her torso. I was beside myself, but both made it through relatively unaffected.
Jenifer indeed threatened the petitions for my candidacy while I was ill with Covid-19. However, in order to do so, she needed to campaign door-to-door at the height of the pandemic, in outright defiance of the Governor’s stay-at-home order and order to end campaign petitioning, which she did, to the immediate scrutiny of local press. She knocked on the doors of those who had signed to see me on the ballot telling them I’d committed fraud while insisting they vote for her. Those residents characterized her visit to the press as threatening and retributional.
I’d been struggling in certain personal relationships due to the demands of the campaign and saw excitement for my opponent blossoming in the community she found in Richmond Hill, areas where voters had felt disenfranchised for decades. It was then when I finally worried I’d lost the way with one month until the election.
That morning, my friend Elizabeth scaled the fire escape three flights at 6am to wake me and activate her caravan. I had planned on waking earlier to prep her car, but I couldn’t sleep. In the dark, I heard birds, a banging on my window, her hand, then her face. I launched out of bed.
Spirits changed in June. My campaign had formed wonderful relationships with two socialist congressional candidates in districts overlapping our own, Mel Gagarin and Shaniyat Chowdhury, who each believed in our fight, and I in theirs. They were running insurgent campaigns against Grace Meng and Gregory Meeks, two neoliberal corporate capitalist war profiteers with support from a network of progressive and democratic clubs across Queens. We’d met several times at candidate forums and ultimately cross-endorsed coordinating our efforts in the last month. And after May 25th, the date of George Floyd’s murder, the air shifted around my campaign because up until this moment, I had been the only candidate calling for the defunding of the NYPD. I’d even been tokenized for the stance in a City & State publication. We had dozens of volunteers galvanized and seeking to ride a righteous wave to victory.
What we did right: We dispatched separate caravans throughout the district, cars strapped with campaign banners and megaphones each, announcing the day and the need to hit the polls. I did not want to be accountable for the health of volunteers in the field mid-pandemic, so we hired volunteers, with a particular care to employ almost-exclusively transgender people, quite frankly, to call voters throughout GOTV weekend and on the day. It was amazing; we had friends on bikes with literature, my high school English teacher, an incredible poet, rolled through, strapped up his car, said hi to mom and family.
This is what I would have done differently on June 23rd—hindsight, 20/20 had we the additional funds or a State-matching program*: with an additional $5000, I could have paid two-dozen former volunteers $25/hr to brave the conditions and retrieve palm cards, folding chairs (optional), masks, sanitizer, and gloves from our base of operations, my stoop, and depart to one of the fourteen polling locations where they post up for the day. Had I an additional thousand, I’d have dispatched to each polling location a megaphone to blast truths about my campaign and my opponents, each of whom illegally electioneering within 100 feet of every polling location throughout the course of the day. I, in my foolishness, did not, out of respect for a nebulous nothing. I thought the police would, of course, uphold election law, and my rights—obviously not. By the third phone call, the Board of Elections was fed up with me and I had to spend precious time filing complaints that never amounted to anything. In retrospect, had people been chilling in lawn chairs nearby all day, comfortably denouncing the slumlords and war profiteers looking to benefit from this election, I know now would have made for the best strategy.
It took several weeks before the final tally was announced, due to the historic quantity of mailed-in absentee ballots. I held out hope at first, that I might stage a miraculous comeback, as several fellow insurgent candidates had, surging to victory on the wave of absentee ballots. I spent hours calculating what we’d need to win and the path was extremely slim, narrower still, when the Board of Elections disqualified 14% of the total vote, 31% of all votes mailed in and received, over a litany of bullshit excuses concocted to disenfranchise people of color. Postmarked late despite being mailed in time due to USPS error? Disqualified. Missing a signature affirming the affidavit, despite a signature being signed on another part of the envelope where the word “signature” had been typed and designated, (despite serving no official filing purpose)? Disqualified. Extraneous materials, such as a voter ID card, which a couple people included in their ballot’s envelopes to attest to their personhood, disqualified votes. Many voters did not receive their ballots in the mail until the day of the election, or afterward, they too were disenfranchised.
Ultimately, I learned that it was within my right to personally review each disqualified envelope, ignorant of the outcome cast, when I attended the first day of counting absentee ballots. So I did. Honestly, I marched right into the Board of Elections mail office building on a Saturday at 9am and asked that they wipe down the table and bust them out, which they immediately did. BoE employees presented me with about sixteen large trays of envelopes organized by Electoral District, and I had the horrific honor, as someone with unique privilege of access to this data, of going through all 1084 disqualified votes, to record and cross-reference them with our spreadsheets, in order to, later that evening, contact the voter to inform them their vote had been disqualified, the reason, and the contact for a lawyer I knew to be working on this case on behalf of other candidates. Leo joined me every day afterward to continue the count. A full five days of cross-referencing voters from our database and informing our voters they’d been disenfranchised late into the evening. The lawsuit, Emily Gallagher, Suraj Patel, Jillian Santella, et al.v. New York State Board of Elections and Governor Andrew Cuomo cited my Twitter spat with the Board of Election, in which the BoE revealed they’d known about particular discrepancies at the USPS, and their own shortcomings to address these issues, of which they were claiming ignorance. Ultimately, our most devoted voters, among the Plaintiffs, succeeded in their lawsuit, re-enfranchising (in theory) what I approximate to be about four hundred of the votes that had been disqualified in our district, though these votes were never officially tallied.
Save for in the legend,
the clouds of my world never parted
so we had no sense of the stars
we sleuthed for a truth about them
I was like a cherub straddling
a flightless dragon leading bullet
cabal to serpent’s treasure
for the chance to chalk an eternity
otherwise absent of our heroes.
we wandered until finally a crow
crowned Merak’s fiery address—
immense oasis—who’d known
the sword goddess the sunbeam
stilettoing my silhouette, remelting
my helmet’s metaphor, my flaming
corpse in a copse of many
Thoughts On Loss
If victory reinscribes the Other ‘loser,’ your enemy was always you.
In the final tally, I received just shy of 24% of the votes, while Mike Miller, the 11-year incumbent, whose campaign received an influx of over $50,000 in the final weeks from several of his fellow committee members in the Assembly, received 25%. The remaining 50% voted for Jenifer. Her team was exceptional about making calls in advance of the election—they certainly must have made well-over 100,000. Of course, there are a great many experiences and people to thank that I leave out of this piece of writing: the opportunity to perform alongside Bowen Yang, Jaboukie Young-White, Sarah Silverman and many extraordinary talents thanks, meeting the local imam, who moved with reverence, was so excited to meet and discuss a political campaign with a candidate for the first time—it was truly the best choice I could have made. I’ve tried to outline some of the lessons I learned in this piece, but surely fall short.
The campaign practiced me in the struggle of campaigning, making me empathetic to the efforts of comrades. There are campaigns that give me hope, but hope is like an incipient motion verging on visibility, so since my loss, I’ve involved myself to the max of my capacities, supporting candidates for City Council (Aleda Gagarin, Felicia Singh, Jaslin Kaur Sandy Nurse …) who share my abolitionist and harm reductionist values. A City Council featuring this caucus makes for the best chance at accomplishing the extraordinary feat of issuing a moratorium on the new jails otherwise slated for construction and closing Rikers Island and Vernon C Bain Prison Barge.
I opened a workshop I recently led through Liminal Lab with a free-write response to the questions, “How do you define abolition? What does the word mean to you? What are your anxieties about the word or the word in call to action? What role do you think poetry plays in the work of abolition?” The workshop was titled, “unsettling the wor(l)d” and ours was to imagine such an undertaking. I encouraged participants to think and write toward abolition considering poetics as practice of the former, as Ruth Wilson Gilmore explains, “Abolition is life in rehearsal.”
Might we think of abolition as a name for a set of imaginings in the call for complete and total eradication of systems (carceral, capitalist, imperial, militaristic, etc…) that perpetuate collective harms. The abolitionist assumes tasks toward totally unsettling the World, and the word’s role in the World’s legislation. In the call for abolition, we not only call for the end of policing and mass incarceration; we seek to abolish ontology and a brutal metaphysics our oppressors assume about themselves, things in the world, and us as things, and how these assumed predeterminations result in our shared obliteration. In other words, I, like many, work and falter toward the abolition of a metaphysics that situates a paradigmatic figure at the center of all things, a figure that has historically been overrepresented by the cis-hetero-white male, conferred his attendant privileges, for whom the status of the Whole is reserved to the exclusion of the subaltern, the non-human, the Black, the Indigenous, the Immigrant, those without shelter, and all the other categories by which we cleave ourselves from ourselves. Might an abolitionist poetics practice the skill of imagining a world in the aftermath of this one?
I am writing this piece from unceded Lenape and Canarsie Territory, in what I am calling the Tenth March, or the tenth month since Covid-19 struck New York City. Since that time, over 40,000 New Yorkers have needlessly died due to the virus, over 400,000 American have perished for not heeding the crisis that unfolded here—criminal negligence at every level of government. The days are monotonous and difficult, the routines and confinement demoralizing, but I write this piece heartened at the thought that a queer BIPOC feminist might read this and think, “You know what? I’m going to run.”
Last year, I was shocked to receive the 2019-2020 BRIC ArtFP Project Room commission. I am thrilled and honored to be included as their first virtual exhibition!
When the pandemic struck and personally struck me down, BRIC remained committed to honoring my creative work. I am so thankful to them. I am touched by the lengths taken to virtually recreate what would’ve have otherwise been. BRIC’s leadership and staff regarded me with such generosity, kindness, patience and care through the most painful and frightening days. Thank you!
In HOAX, I explore intersections of poetry (concrete, procedural, and lyric), interactive technology, mysticism and performance.