ARACELIS GIRMAY ON MARWA HELAL’S ANTE BODY


Photo: Brian J. Green.

In the early months of the pandemic, at a memorial celebration of the great Kamau Brathwaite’s life, M. NourbeSe Philip reminded us of these drumsoundings, his words: “So much undone to be undone.” In this spirit, I make my notes toward poet Marwa Helal’s Ante body (Nightboat Books)so alive with plurals, so awake to a we-frequency—because it is part of a most vital and mystical practice of undoing. In her precision, she slits the grammars of empire, making language-openings that are brief refuges for her beloveds. On the pages marked “ante matter” are columns of text that read as simultaneities that undo the notion of a single orientation, even in the reading of a text. Another of these signals happens at about the center of the book in an image made by artists Betelhem Makonnen and Adrian Aguilera in conversation with Marwa’s work. Splayed across two pages, the image reads PEOPLE THE WE, the first words of the US Constitution, but reversed—the two projects annihilating each other like antimatter and matter. It is perhaps here, at this epicenter of catastrophe, that we are dropped into another vocalization of the passage that is this book. These pages are written in The Arabic, a form created by Marwa to be read from right to left, so suddenly I fly in new current with the “other each find who we / be me letting for you thank.” Those central antes and agitations name just part of Marwa’s stunning f(l)ightwork, which is both a breaking of thought systems and a continual practice of trying to be with her beloveds in collaborative flight—a practice that requires being vulnerable to, and awakening, each other’s hearts:

species Invasive i
Ante i
body
language own your in you

how look
light we
n
language
we so
fly
toni like
who elmaz taught
me taught

Aracelis Girmay is a writer, an editor, and a teacher. Her most recent book of poems is The Black Maria (BOA, 2016).

Angelia S. Rico

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