994: ACT! pose with fingers as though cigarette (puff puff)

994: ACT! pose with fingers as though cigarette (puff puff)

994: ACT! pose with fingers as though cigarette (puff puff)


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

If I could change careers as an artist, I’d likely want to become an actor — something about all those voices and the power of speaking in relationship to my feelings and those of others — to have all those characters bouncing around in my body. I’d relish the absorptive pleasure of remembering lines and immersing myself into the worlds they create. I’d work at a precision of movement on stage and meticulous facial expressions to carry whole scenes.

My worry as an actor, however, would be the risk of sublimating my true self beneath layers of characters — that I’d lose a sense of me. That is, I would struggle to manage the barrier between my real life and the stage. I fear my personality and emotional responses would become an amalgam of my favorite characters. I realize this is a projection of the fear of losing myself in the performance of being human.

Today’s poem shows that, beneath the underpinnings of the art of performance is a real person who strives to define themselves while also achieving expressive feats that become, in the words of Jorge Luis Borges, “the shapes of [our] dreams . . . everything and nothing."

ACT! pose with fingers as though cigarette (puff puff)
by India Lena González

once more unto the breach once more mama
has  a   bad  habit  of  snickering  every  time  i
say the word  theatre.  (thee-ate-her). jimmy
assigns  me  marriage  to  james.  james goes
belly   up   trying  to   love  me.   i  stare  at  him
deadly.  jimmy  believes this is  quite  sensual
of us  (we never  even touched).  i am told  to
perform  the  role  of erykah badu  head  wrap
&   the  creation of  incense.  opening  shot  &
my   hips  are   too  small.   the  little  black  girl
inside   me  dies  a  little  (o  mama).  the  next
class   they  tell  me  i  have  tuberculosis,   so
die   already.  i   ask   them   politely  to  supply
the  gun shot.  next  class  they  tell   me  i  am
wild-haired  virgin   in   the  bronx  who  offers
myself   up   to   first  ding-a-ling    to   call   me
savage    in    limbo.     other    schoolgirls     are
such  clementines,   stelllaaaa,   juliet  with   a
sky of  flesh-cut  stars.  i  am  clov  with  post-
apocalyptic   limp.   clov   who   is   black  dust.
clov nursing  his  teeny  tiny light.  clov  trying
to make  an  exit in  jungle hat,  but god bless
us,   there’s   simply  nowhere   left.   i   scrape
baby  hairs  back.  pencil  in  faux  moustache
for   devoted  effect.   twin   tells   me   i’m   not
busty enough  to be  an opera singer,  a good
one  at  least  (insert  high  note).  i  let  james
fling  me  down  on   tables  during   rehearsal.
classmates   really   love  this  concussion   of
mine.  &  this  stye  in my  eye  is  a  testament
of nostalgia  (Dr.  E  believes  such  swelling is
a  sign  of  severe   loneliness).   twin  reminds
me that  women with  a light  dusting of  acne
have always  been  her favorite.  director asks
if i  have  ever felt like a let-you-down.  & sure
jimmy,  sure i  have.  haven’t we all?  on  stage
i’m   trying  to   simulate   some   internal   pink
some veiny  placenta truth.   i’m  left  thinking
of  baby tigers at the  national zoo.  how  pale
& soft  their tongues are.  &  do these  stripes
on display also cry? i’ve never seen it.

“ACT! pose with fingers as though cigarette (puff puff)” by India Lena González from FOX WOMAN GET OUT © 2023 India Lena González. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of BOA Editions.