Cameron Awkward-Rich is a trans/queer poet and scholar whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in Vinyl, cream city review, The Journal, The Seattle Review and elsewhere. Cam is a Poetry Reader for Muzzle Magazine, has been on multiple National Poetry Slam teams, and holds a BA in Creative Writing from Wesleyan University. Currently a doctoral candidate in Modern Thought & Literature at Stanford University, he is the author of the chapbook Transit (Button Poetry, 2015). His debut collection, Sympathetic Little Monster, is forthcoming from Ricochet Editions in January 2016.
Theory of Motion (6), Nocturne
for them all
I’ve tried not to write about these ghosts.
As if this too does not turn a child
to narrative. As if this too does not
demand a kind of work. But boy
after boy after boy after boy after
girl after sweet shadow of a boy—
& have you ever known a body
to not be haunted? Ever known
a black body to not be riddled
We buried my great-grandmother in 2008.
She was 95. She survived so much.
If I have to tell you what I mean, then she’s
not yours to carry. If I have to tell you, well,
here’s a door opening in the poem.
Here’s an exit. Walk through.
My great-grandmother was named Violet.
Violet. She had six sisters, a garden
of black girls. Imagine naming your girl-
child for a flower. Imagine doing this
over & over again. Imagine a flower, how easy
to ruin for want of a little color
to decorate the kitchen. Imagine tearing up
handfuls of blossoms. Imagine pressing them
into a girl’s dark shape, to say this is you.
This is what the world has made of you.
Now imagine she lived
& she lived.
Once, I was a girl
who took a black boy’s name
into her mouth. I don’t know a thing
about bullets, but I sure do know
Essay on The Appearance of Ghosts
The photograph was invented in the mid-1800s. Human fear has not moved passed this old technology of ghosting—the little girl dies & becomes an image.
Last week, I changed my voicemail after three years of a girl haunting my inbox. You could say I threw her down a well but she refused to be shut up.
It is strange to be a girl growing up to be a ghost. In 2002, she is watching a film about the ghost effects of film—sever the image from the body & it becomes a monster. In the poem, the little girl grows up to be a little girl & also a bat & also a boy & also a shadow, a pure effect of language (or light) passing through another body.
Language was invented; who knows when. But it’s true that the first writing was image. A picture of a slaughtered animal standing in for the animal. Such melancholic technology— mark a loss & therefore avoid it. Remake the world as wreckage & leave it somehow unchanged. Pay attention. What is an alphabet but a way to give sounds little bodies? What is writing but the preservation of ghosts?
When The Ring came out, the little girl on film shared a name with the little girl in my phone. One letter difference. One little black body.
Vivian Sobchack—a scholar of monsters, embodiment, & technologies of image—writes: The photograph… functions to fix a being-that-has-been (a presence in a present that is always in the past). Thus, and paradoxically, as it materializes, objectifies, and presents in its acts of possession, the photographic has [new stanza] something to do with loss, with pastness, and with death…
But it isn’t until the 1980s that all the ghosts catch up with us. When we begin fashioning bodies with no reference to a real, suddenly it seems that images might have worlds that do not refer to our own. Might be able to reach through their screens. Might be able to touch.
In the movie, the protagonist is a journalist in search of the real girl behind the camera. She wants “the truth.” In the end, the girl is as monstrous as her image. The moral of the story? Something about the fact of evil? That truth won’t set you free? Maybe. Also, though, it’s a story about the dangers of sympathy. Don’t sympathize with monsters, unless you want to become one. Even if we made them. Even if they are little girls.
It’s true that fear of the girl in the well is a species of nostalgia. The little girl dies & lives on as an image. So what? The image distorts the lives of everyone who looks. So what? Isn’t that called capitalism? Isn’t that how it works?
When does the little girl learn there is something wrong growing in her place? When she changes the channel? Opens a picture book? Looks in the mirror & sees herself in parts?
The first device that could record sound was made from the ear of a stolen corpse. Like the photograph, the phonograph is a technology of ghosts—for the first time, the voice floats free of the body it signifies. But go back far enough & you’ll always find a skeleton, a madhouse, a strange girl thrown into the dark. The story of [new stanza] modernity is a ghost story, after all. The dead walk into the room, whisper in your ear: How do you think we got here? How do you think it’s going to end?
When she is twelve ______ the little girl who lived in my phone, still lives in all the photographs in my parents’ houses—watches The Ring & then begins hiding behind the dark curtain of her hair. What queer kid doesn’t know that she is the monster in the movie? The one who delights in the death of the golden boy. Who talks to horses. Who drives her parents mad. Who is killed, sure, but returns as a specter haunting every ordinary family. That’s when the real story begins. Sympathetic little monster moves into the body of your child. Demands: Love me.
Sympathetic Little Monster (Ricochet Editions, 2016)
Transit (Button Poetry, 2015)