Born in St. Thomas, U.S.V.I. and raised in Apopka, Florida, Nicole is the author of Ordinary Beast, forthcoming from Ecco in fall 2017, and The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named, winner of the 2015 Drinking Gourd Chapbook Poetry Prize.
You can learn more about Nicole on our Speakers Page.
JOHN MURILLO is the author of the poetry collections, Up Jump the Boogie (Cypher 2010, Four Way Books 2020), finalist for both the Kate Tufts Discovery Award and the Pen Open Book Award, and Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry (Four Way 2020).
You can learn more about John on our Speakers Page.
>> Sorry, one second. Hello, everyone. My name is Amanda Singh. I'm a recent Humber graduate, and today I have the pleasure of introducing the artist performances for today.
When posting about the conference, use the hashtag culturescompass 2020. I have two dynamic poets with me, Nicole Sealey and John Murillo.
They'll be our first performers for the day. Born in St. Thomasvirgin island, I in coalle Sealey is an author of a winner the 2015 chat bookpoetry prize.
Nicole is the former executive director at Kave cannonfoundfoundation and received many honours. Stanley Kunitz surprise and herrecent Rome surprise for literature.
Joining her is John Murillo the author of the poetry checks ofupjump the boogie that was the finalist for the pen open book award. John hastwo Larry Neil writers awards, a patient of push cart prizes and the Jay Howardand Barbara M.J. wood prize. He's an assistant professor and teaches in the lowresidency program, the MFA program at Sierra Nevada university. We'll have ourfirst performance by Nicole and following that, John Murillo.
>> Thank you very much, Amanda.
Thank you to Humber, Jennifer and Kyla and everybody there.
Thank you for the invitation.
Sorry about that. And all of you in attendance. I'm going to reada few poems and then John will follow. The first of which is a poem from mymom. It's called the first person who will live to be 150 years old has alreadybeen born. Scientists say the average human life gets three months longer everyyear.
By this math, death will be optional like a tie or dessert orsuffering. My mother asks whether I would want to live forever. I would getbored, I tell her. But she says there's so much to do, meaning she believesthere's much she hasn't done. 30 years ago, she was the age I am now, butunlike me, too industrious to think about birds disappeared by rain. If only wehad more time or enough money to be kept on ice until such a time, sciencecould bring us back. Of late, my mother has begun to think life short lived.
I'm too young to convince her otherwise. The one and only occasionI was in the same room as the Mona Lisa, it was encased in glass behind what Iimagine were velvet ropes. There's far less between our spells and oblivion,skin that often defeats its very purpose, or maybe its purpose isn't protectionat all, but rather to provide a place similar to a doctor's waiting room inwhich to sit until our names are called. Hold your questions until the end.Mother, measure my wide open arms. We still have this much time to kill.
Hysterical strength. When I hear news of a hitch hiker struck bylightning yet living or a child lifting a 2-tonne sedan to free his fatherpinned underneath, or a camper fighting off a grizzly with her bear hands --bare hands until someone, a hunter perhaps, can shoot it dead, my thoughts turnto Black people w hysterical strength we must possess to survive which I fearmany is a freak occurrence. This next poem was inspired by a work of art by theartist Thomas Ershelam and the piece likes like -- it's a bunch of mannequinswrapped up in tape and lifted on a wooden structure. So this is a poem inspiredby that piece. It's called candle an rawith heads.
Can I not brought with me my mind as it has been made this thing,this through of mannequins coo cooned and mounted on a wooden scaffold might beeight infants SWADled and sleeping. Might be eight flushy fingers on one hand.
Might be a family tree with eight pictured frames such trees occurin brand. You see them hanging. Their shadow is a crowd stripping the tree ofsouvenirs. Skin shrinks and splits and can you smell them burning. Theirperfume climbing as Wisteria would a trellis. As witsteria would a trellisburning, their perfume climbing fat the colour of yolk. Can you smell them.Skin shrinks and splits. The bodies weep. Is the crowd stripping the tree ofsouvenirs. You can see them hanging? Their shadow frames.
Such trees occur in the brain.
Might be a family tree with eight pictures. Might be eight fleshyfingers on one hand.
Might be eight infants SWADled and sweeping and mounted on awooden scaffold. This brood of mannequins cocooned as it has been made. Had Inot brought with me my mind, who can see this and not see lynchings.
This next poem was inspired by the last poem. In my chat book theanimal after whom other animals are named, the suggestion of editors, Iextracted the last line who can see this and not see lynchings, but in myfull-length, I decided to include that last line, because I thought it wasimportant. So this poem is speaks to that decision to include that last line.It's called in defence of candle an rawith heads. If you've read the candelabrawith heads in this check and the one with the animal, thank you. The original,the one included here is an example and told of a poem that can speak foritself but loses faith in its ability to do so by ending with a thesisquestion. .
Why eats said a poem should click shot like a well-made box.
I don't disagree. I ask who can see this and not see lynchings notbecause I don't trust you, dear reader or my own abilities.
I ask because the imagination would have us believe much likefaith, faith, the original candelabra lots in things unseen. You should knowthat human limbs burn like branches and branches like human limbs.
Only after man began hanging man from trees and then setting themon fire which would jump from limb to branch like a bastard species of bird didwe come to know such things. A hundred years from now, October 9, 2116, 8:8:00p.m. when all of [not audible] are good and dead may someone happen upon thequestion and question. May that lucky someone be Black and so far removed fromthe verb lynch that she would be dumbfounded by its meaning. May she that call upher candelabras with heads. May her imagination not memory run wild. This nextpoem takes its title from the motto of equinox, which is a luxury gym. And it'scalled its not fitness. It's a lifestyle. I'm waiting for white woman in thisoverpriced equinox to mistake me for someone other than a paying member. I cansee it now as I leave the steam room naked before my wooden ring, she'll askwhether I finished cleaning it. Every time I'm at an airport, I see a birdflying around inside, so fast I can't make out its wings. I ask myself, what isit doing here.
I've come to answer what is any of us. Medical history. I've beenpregnant. I've had sex with a man who has had sex with men. I can't sleep. Mymother has, my mother's mother had asthma. My father had a stroke.
My father's mother has high blood pressure. Both grandfathers diedfrom diabetes.
I drink. I don't smoke. Xanax for flying, propana love foranxiety, my eyes are bad and scooped by wind. Cousin Lilly died from ananeurysm. He was hit by a car as if to disprove whatever I write and Iunderstand the stars in the sky are already dead. Here's a short one. It'scalled heretofore unutter. As if God despite his compulsions were decent andhad the tendency to throw off all appearance of decorum, here I am, admiringthe single violet orchid. How lucky am I to go unnoticed or so I imagine, whenat this writing, 32 a red-tailed hawk somewhere tracking the soft shrills ofnewborn song birds. I think I just have a handful more. Which is to say three.3 more.
Imagine happy. Give me tonight to be inconsolable so the deathdrive does not declare itself, so the moonlight does not convince sunrise. Iwas born before sunrise, when morning masquerades as night, the temperature ofblood, quivering like a mouth in mourning. How do we author our gentle birth?
The height we were, were we God's rolling stars across a sun dotsky, the same as scab abs.
We fit somewhere between God and mineral, angel and animal,believing a thing as sacred as the sun rises and falls like an ordinary beast.Dear Smith before leaving, elephants encircle the tusks and skulls of theirdead and then wanting to leave the bones behind, knowing their leave willlessen the loss. But birds pluck their own feathers. Dogs lick them.
Allow me to luxury. Give me tonight to cut and salt the open. Giveme a shovel to uproot the mandrake and listen for its scream. Give me a facethat toils so closely with stone, it is itself stone. I promise to enter theflesh again.
I promise to circle to ascend.
I promise to be happy to model.
Even the gods. Even the gods misuse the unfolding blue. Even thegods misread the wind flowers nod towards sunlight as consent to consume.
Still, you envy the horse that draws their chariot, bone of theirbone, the wilting mash of air alone keeps you from scaling Olympus with giftsof dead or dying things dangling from your mouth.
Your breath, like the sea, inching away. It is rumoured God's growor the blood of a hanged man drips. You insist on being this man. The godsabuse your grace. Still, you would rather live among the clear Cloudless white,enjoying what is left of their ambrosia. Who should be happy this time? Whobrings cake to whom? Pray the gods do not misquote your coveted post for chaos,the black from which they were conceived. Even the eyes of God adjust to light.Even the gods have those. And my final poem is for my husband John who is next.It's called object permanence. We wake as if surprised the other is stillthere, each petting the sheet to be sure. How have we managed our way to thisbed? Beholden to heat like dawn indebted to light. No, we're not soself-important as to think everything has led to this, everything has led tothis.
There's a name for the animal love makes of us. Name, I think,like rain for the sound it makes. You are the animal after whom other animalsare named. Until there's none left to laugh. Gaze will start with the samestartle and end with caterpillars gorged on milkweed.
Oh, how we entertain the angels with our brief [not audible], ohhow I'll miss you when we're dead. Thank you so much.
>> Hey hey. Can you guys hear me OK? Yeah. All right. Thankyou. Thank you, Nicole. I am the animal after other animals are named, shesays. Thank you aAmanda. Thank you, Kyla.
Thank you, Jennifer Gordon and Humber and everybody for showingup. This is fun. I also, while I have all these eyes on me, want to shout outanother poet that I've seen in the comment thread named Monica Sok whose buck anail the evening hangs on is a wonderful debut. She's a young poet who you guysare going to be hearing a lot from in the coming years. And she's part of thesame tribe as Nicole and I. If you like our work, you will probably like herwork.
Monica Sok. I'm going to highlight another poet, a poet you guyshave heard of, I'm sure, Robert Hayden. I want to read a sonnet of his intribute to all the people out there who have been on the front linesprotesting, people who have been in their home protesting, and doing what theycan to support those people. I think it change is afoot and I'm here for it.This sonnet is called Frederick Douglas. When it is finally ours, this freedom,this liberty, this beautiful and terrible thing, needful to man as air, usableas earth. When it belongs at last to call, when it is truly instinct, brainmatter, dicast oly, systole, reflex action. When it is finally one, when it ismore than the mumbo jumbo of politicians, this man, this Douglas, this formerslave, this negro beaten to his knees, exiled, envisioning a world where none islons lonsly, none is hunted, alien, this man superb in love and logic, this manshall be remembered. Oh, not with statues, rhetoric, not with legends and poemsand wreaths of bronze alone, but with the lives grown out of his life, thelives fleshing his dreams of the beautiful needful thing. That's Robert Hayden.
OK. So I have good news and bad news for you guys. The good newsis I'm only going to read two poems. The bad news is that they are the odysseyand the il-Yad. Just kidding. I stole that joke but I like it. These aren'tlong poems. I'm going to read two of them. They're both from my new collectioncontemporary American poetry.
The first is called unconfessionalism. Not sleep walking butwaking still with my hand on a gun and a gun in a mouth and the mouth on theface of a man on his knees. Autumn of 'quaint 89, and I'm standing in a section8 apartment parking lot, pistol cocked and staring up in the mug of an oldwoman staring watering the single sad flower to the left of her soup, theflower also staring. My engine idling behind me, a slow moaning baseline in thedark of a dead rapper nudging me on, all to say someone's brokenhearted.
And this man with the gun in his mouth, this man who like me, isreally little more than a boy, may or may not have something to do with it, mayor may not have said a thing or two, betrayed a secret say that walk my loveawayaway, and why not say it? She adored me. And I her, more than anyone,anything in life up to then and then still for two decades after, and therefore,went for broke. Blacked out and woke having gutted my piggy and pawned all mygold to buy what a home boy said was a bereta, blacked out and woke, my hand onthe gun, my gun in the mouth, a man who was really a boy on his knees andbecause I love the girl, I actually paused before I pulled the trigger. Once,twice, three times. Then panicked not just because the gun jammed, but becausewhat if it hadn't? Because who did I almost become there that afternoon in asection 8 apartment parking lot, pistol cocked with the sad flowerstarestaring? Because I knew the girl I loved, no matter how this all playedout would never have me back. Day of damaged ammo or grime they clog thechamber, they of faulty rods or springs come loose in my fist, they day nobodydied. Why not hallelujah say amen or thank you. My mother sang for years ofGod, babes, and fools. My father limp node masses phasing from his X rays saidsurviving one thing means another comes and kills you. He's dead. And so Itrust him. Dead and so I wonder years about the work I left undone. Boy on hisknees, a man now, risen and likely plotting his long way back to me. Fuck it. Itouch my tool like the movie gangsters do, and jumped back in my bucket, coldenough day to make a young man weep.
Anch when everything or nothing changed forever. The dead rappergrunted, the baseline faded. My spirits whispered something from the trees. Ileft and then lost the pistol in a storm drain somewhere between that life andthis. Left the pistol in a storm drain but never got around to wiping away theprints. So that's one poem.
Thank you guys for listening.
This is really, really a dope idea, this conference, thisfestival. And we appreciate you making time for us this morning.
The second poem is another long one. But stay with me. And I won'tsay too much to introduce the poem. Nicole says I say too much about it. So Iwon't. But I'll only say that the title is a bleeding title, meaning the titleis the first line of the poem. Upon reading that Eric Dofy transcribed even thecalls of certain species of birds I think first of two sparrows I met whenwalking home late night years ago in another city not unlike this, the one birdfrantic, attacking our thought, the way she swooped down, circled my head andflailed her wings in my face, how she seemed to scream each time I swung, howshe dashed back and forth between me and a blood-red Corolla parked near theopposite curb, how finally, I understood.
I spied another bird also calling, his foot inexplication caughtin the car door, trying to bang itself free. Who knows how long he'd been thereflailing, who knows. He and the other I mistook at first for a bat. They calledto me.
Something between squawk and chirp, something between song andprayer, to do something, anything. And like any good God, I disappear, notindifferent exactly, but with things to do and most likely on my way home fromanother heartbreak. Call it 1997. And say I'm several thousand miles from homeby which I mean those were the days I made of everyone a love song. By which Imean I was lonely and unrequited. But that's not quite it either.
Truth is I did manage to find a few to love me but couldn't alwayslove them back. The rasta law professor, the firefighters's wife, theburrburlesque dancer's daughter, the sky was full of birds the day her daddydied. I thinker with widow said he drowned one morning on a fishing strep.
Anyway, I'm digressing. If you ask that night, did I Mengion itwas night. Why I didn't try to Jimmy the lock to spring the sparrow.
I can't say it had anything to do with envy as wanting a woman tocall for me as did these sparrows. I said something about the neighbourhood.Car thief shot a block and a half east the week before or about the men I cameacross nights prior sweat slicked and shirtless grappling in the middle of thestreet, the larger one's chest pressed to the back of the smaller, bruised andbleeding, both. I know you thought this was about birds, but stay with me. Ileft them both in the street, the same street where I leave the sparrows, themen embracing, and for all one knows, they could have been lovers, the onewhispering an old, old tune into the ear of the other.
Baby, baby, don't leave me this way. I left the men where I leavethe sparrows and their song. And as I walked away, I heard one of the men callto me, please or help or brother or some such, and I didn't break stride, notone bit. It's how I've learned to save myself.
Let me try this another way.
Call it 1977, and say I'm back west, south central Los Angeles, mymother and father at it again, but this time, in the street, broad daylight,and all the neighbors watching. One, I think his name was Sonny runs out fromhis duplex to pull my father off. You see where I'm going with this. My mother cryingout, fragile as a spar ole, Sonny fighting my father, fragile as a sparrow, andme years later, trying to get it all down. As much for you, I'm saying, as forme. Sonny catches a left, lies flat on his back, blood starting to pool in hisown wife wailing. My mother wailing and traffic back now half a block, horns,whistles and soon sirens. 1977, summer, and all the trees full of birds,hundreds, I swear. And since I'm the one writing it, I'll tell you they werecrying, which brings me back to Dofi and his transcribetranscribing. The jazzman, I think, wanted only to get it down pure, to get it down exact.
The animal racking itself against a car's sealed door, the animalsand the trees reporting, the animals we make of ourselves and one anotherflailing, failing, stay with me now. Days after the dust-up, my parents took meto the park, and in this park was a pond, and in this pond were birds. Notsparrows, but swans. And my father spread a blanket and brought from a basketsome apples and a pareng knife. Summertime. My mother wore sunglasses and longsleevessleeves. My father now sober cursed himself for leaving the radio, butmy mother forgave him and said as she caressed the back of his hand that wecould just listen to the swans, and we listened, and I watched, two birdscoupling, one beating its wings as it mounted the other, summer, 1977, Ilistened and watched when my parents made love late into that night, I coveredmy ears in the next room, scanning the encyclopedia for swans. It meant nothingto me. Then at least. But did you know the collective noun for swans isalaminitation, and is alamin daying not its own species of song? What a womanwails punch-drunk in the streets or what a widow might sing learning her manwas drowned by swans, a laminitation of them.
Imagine the capsized boat, the panicked man struck about the eyes,nose, and mouth each time he comes up for air.
Imagine the birds coasting away and the waters suddenly calm,either Trumpet swans or mutes.
The dead man's wife running for help crying to any who listen, alaminitation and a city busy saving itself. I'm digressing, sure. But did youknow that to digRES means to stray from the flock? When I left my parents'house, I never looked back, by which I mean I made like a God and disappeared.As when I left the sparrows and the copulating swans as when some day I'llleave this city, its every flailing, its every animal song.
Thank you, guys.
>> Thank you, again, Nicole and John. It was a pleasure having two highly regarded and accomplished poets with us today. And now we'llbe taking an hour break. We'll be back again at 1:00 p.m. with financial sustainability and fundraising.
Below is a log of the live chat that occurred during this talk. The format is:
Emojis that were used in the chat will appear between colons, e.g., :smile:
Hi everyone! so excited for this performance!!
This will be incredible!!!
So excited for Nicole Sealey!
And John Murillo!!
Thank you to the person who just told me about Open Cuture!!!
AHHHH! Hi Nicole and John!!
Hi Nicole and John! :kissing_heart:
:heart: :heart: :heart:
I see that t-shirt :eyes:
OMG the African Barbie doll!
Snap snap snap
For more information and riveting poetry, follow Nicole on Twitter, Instagram @nicolesealey!
*puts in cart and purchases*
I always love hearing you read, Nicole.
I hear the sound of waves in the background. I'm imagining myself on a moonlit beach listening to this enthralling and beautiful poetry.
Thank you so much!!!
:clap: :clap: :clap:
WOWOWWOW Thank. you!
Thank you Nicole!!!
Yes. & fab shirt
:clap: yay Monica!
Awesome, thank you
Awww thank you, John! Happy to be part of your tribe. :pray:
buying book now
Hi everyone! Thank y'all for showing up! Monica, hey! <3
Hi Nicole! :sparkling_heart:
This is incredible. Thank you for sharing!
Thank you! we're honoured
So honoured you're here!
Thank you for sharing! Such a great way to end the morning
I find the spoken word so soothing
hi, nicole & john :two_hearts:
i return to this poem so often
that was beautiful and so moving
LOVE TO YOU BOTH!!!
Wow. Incredibly moving. Thank you John
That was gorgeous! Thank you!
Thank you John!!! My favorite poem
Thank you both!
:purple_heart: :blue_heart: :green_heart: :yellow_heart: :heart: :sparkling_heart:
This was such fun! Thanks again for having us. Hoping to see y'all soon!
Our pleasure! And ditto, you beautiful humans