by Julian Randall
There’s a hum that accompanies survival, and so too a hum that accompanies threat. In this suite of poems from Kassidi Jones threat is the lover composed of flies, it is what is reached for, and in the attempt to name, to touch, they scatter. What I admire in these poems is as numerous as the flies that Jones presents as both mercy and invader. “I taste like honey or rot” writes Jones and in the caesura I can see an entire lineage occupying, as Black folk are wont to do in America, that space between honey and rot, between the overt sugar of our living and the rot we can be made without warning. This the hum. Jones navigates the swell of this danger with the precision of one who has survived it; or maybe more accurate to say that it is the precision of one for whom survival is rarely a past tense experience. Take for instance Jones’ Ocelli: “They bullet around a room gravitating / toward me hungry as a gun itself” Let’s pause here, appreciating the lyric appetite of the gun and how interesting; the impulse to make a bullet of the living who require the dead. These flies, which offer Jones’ speaker salvation from “a tasteless death” by attempting little mouthfuls of her at a time are endeavoring to spare her from the world. But in doing so, Jones knows as a whole lineage of Black writers before her (not least among these Jones’ ancestor Audre Lorde) that a nation’s hungers are exposed by its most disposable. Only here can the hum of threat stop for “nothing dissipates a hum like hunger / and dry heaving.”
How can one hear Jones write “I hunt flies for being black” and not hear “Allowances” amidst the hum? Clifton’s “cruelty. Don’t talk to me about cruelty” shadowing the pen? Jones’ speaker is occupied; by flies, yes but also by the well curated voices of her forebears and contemporaries; the long history of Black writers’ complex relationship with insects. As Lorde wrote in the poem that helped bring us these brilliant sections of Jones’ writing life; “I / Is the total black, being spoken / from the earth’s inside.” The Blackness of being the total anything is rife in these poems “I collect all my sweat and dead / skin and that is how I keep myself.” And it is apparent in this moment that the flies impulse to scatter as much as the speaker, that each is caught in a mutual lonely with the other. It is, I think, so very lonely to be the total Black. These are poems that are holding a wonderfully complex series of “I’s” together. I read these poems tense through each caesura that the poem’s architecture may scatter, abandon the self but always Jones sews her way back to the I, and I am grateful for these poems on days where I too find my body startled by depression, where I too “can’t name all the things that want / to hurt me today” where I too can’t seem to escape the ever-present hum, but the self holds together anyway.
“I feel like a mother when I am invaded” writes Jones and it is another occupation, another series of flies, every hum a form of obligation. What is it to shed the hum, even briefly? Perhaps, it is what follows the enjambment, “I rest among the dead and dying.” This echoes in interesting ways the poem’s earlier statement “There is room for life in the space of the dead.” These poems, though trafficking in threat, in the space between honey and rot, between a nightmare of being birthed in by flies and the nightmare of becoming the fly itself, these poems also have their own rules for survival. They have found a place in the dark, they have found an I and no matter the humming of the world, they refuse to scatter and I am immeasurably glad for it.