YOU KEEP TALKING ABOUT SORROW, BUT YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW MY NAME
Reeling from the loss of a pillar of the poetry and activist communities, today I am wishing that the death of Akilah Oliver's son Oluchi McDonald, the graffiti artist "LINKS" (1982-2003), in a beleaguered Los Angeles hospital will not have been in vain. Temporarily uninsured, black, male, and therefore invisible, he was neglected and died for a condition that would have been surgically reversible. Akilah Oliver dedicated A Toast in the House of Friends to Oluchi. On this Tolerance Project page she writes about lamentation as rupture and rapture:
In approaching the subject, the death of the beloved, I enter into an investigation of the ecstatic in the dual sites of rapture and rupture. For me, an absolute rupture occurred at the time of my son’s death, so that the world broke open, in a sense, and I decided to follow the opening to wherever it led, rather than try to patch it or close it. The opening, this rupture, this state of the world breaking open and me, being broken open, did not lead to any one rapturous state (as if rapture, or bliss, were a desirable closure), but rather led me to want to continue to go there, off, beyond the limits of language and cognition to rapture (an intense pleasure of transportation from one place to another, as in heaven). I think for many poets, at least for me, to write is a kind of difficult dance with rapture; it is a way to beckon the day as a beloved, a way to talk to the dead, a way to collapse the known world into the impossible....
This book is really not about sorrow, but about being broken open and going down that passageway, or to transverse Janis Joplin’s adaptation of some other black blues motif, “you keep talking about sorrow, but you don’t even know my name.” Perhaps then, it is a book of naming.
In the "Visible Unseen" section of the book, she names:
I explore the signifiers of graffiti art. I am investigating the notion of ‘naming’ within graffiti as a public act of insurrection and naming as an elegiac gesture. Also I’m attempting to situate within this medium the notion of the body (phantom) and the author (transitory, unseen), as a way to talk about graffiti art as production of outlaw(ed) bodies, who by engaging in a largely illegal public art form, disrupt public space and discourses about the primacy of the identity of the author.
And she writes about action:
Universal healthcare advocacy and ritual performance. The two came together sort of organically. I wanted to present a collaborative performance, a stepchild ‘operetta’ for live audience in an attempt to hold a space of witness and to use these performances to raise awareness around the inequities in American health care. Some of the performances included speakers on health care advocacy, and then there would be the poets, musicians, tripping through the layers of the underworld. The performances became a way of showing a story about the body falling, literally and figuratively, through the cracks of the healthcare system. (My son and I did not have insurance at the time of his death, which did impact the lack quality of care.) These collaborative performances were presented under the title “Hold the Space”. They were an absolution of sorts, a way to take the audience and myself through what was an experience of witnessing.
We must make sure that these losses do not go unnamed.