In the latest queer issue, Kima Jones wrote about holiness and bodies and Harlem and memory in â€œAD 2012.â€ We asked her questions about all of these things:
1. Talk a little bit about spaces that we canâ€™t traverse, or the ones we cross all too easily.
My first experience with forbidden space was, as a child, reading the story of the tower of Babel with my grandmother. Two things happened that shaped my perception of language and authority: 1. Not only did God confound language, but He scattered the people around the world. 2. When I asked my grandmother why God would do such a thing, she snapped the bible shut and told me not to question God.
That day I learned language was both powerful enough to erect a city toward the seat of God and make my grandmother turn her head away from me as if I had slapped her with my open hand.
I had enough good sense not to ask her anything further. Anything more would have corrupted that space. That day I learned how to watch my words, choose my words and grow my words upward to the Lord.
2. What makes these spaces holy?
The waiting area in language isÂ the holy space. The space between asking and receiving. In that space things grow toward each other out of a yearning, even if they arenâ€™t supposed to. It is the air between my lips and the lips of another when we lean in for the kiss. We may not be sure, but we need something, we are asking something of that space, and we can only get to it by going through. Â
3. On your website, it mentions that you â€œwrite for your grandmothers.â€ Can you tell us a little about this and what it means?
I spent a lot of years regretting lots of things, believing, that although I was loved as a child, I hadnâ€™t shaped up to be much of a grand daughter, presently. One of my grandmothers was snatched from me in the middle of the afternoon, out of nowhere. The other suffered through surgeries and chemotherapy. I think of our relationships and the little time I had with each of them. I wonder if they would want to know me now, if Iâ€™m the kind of woman they would have considered befriending, would they have invited me into their home, would they compliment me on my lip color, would writing books impress them, Â am I a woman they would haveÂ liked?
4. The language of this piece seems to pulse with a nearly visceral yearning. What is one place or person or something that you long to return to?
If I return (to that place or to that person), I couldnâ€™t be here. I canâ€™t do both. Some people can but not me. I choose solitude. Sometimes I choose loneliness.
5. Does the person this is written to have a name? What is it?
She does, but I donâ€™t get down like that. Sheâ€™s been a part of the process of writing this poem. I asked her what she remembered about the jeep ride when I was doing revisions. She mentioned the lemonade we bought and how terrible it was. I had forgotten! How she remembers what we shared is as vital to me as how I do.
6. The idea of place is very important in the telling of this piece (the memories from Harlem and Charleston, the passing time and bodies). Would you share how a sense of place informs or impacts your writing?
I have never been to New Orleans and I have never been to Haiti, and I never really will. Whatâ€™s there now is not what was. I will never really know those places as they are today; those specific geographies and histories are lost to me, forever. The knowing breaks me.
I write about Harlem a lot because itâ€™s a place I canâ€™t get back to. Canâ€™t afford it. Like so many others, the home I knew as a child is not a home I can return to. When I am there walking the same blocks I walked as a girl, there are new shopkeepers and new people and other buildings. Sometimes I have to strain my eyes to really see what I remember. I am scared that if I donâ€™t document it, I will lose it. Have you ever seen Art Kaneâ€™sÂ A Great Day in HarlemÂ - 1958? Â What about Gordon Parksâ€™sÂ A Great Day in Harlem SurvivorsÂ - 1996? Those are both histories of Harlem that informed my experience, yet they donâ€™t belong to me. I write about a very specific Harlem: David Dinkins was in office, I was scared of boys, Mother Hale was alive, you could buy steamed blue crabs on the street. The same is to be said for Charleston – my great grandfather was still a youngish traveling preacher man, turkeys roamed freely in the back, there was a fig tree in the front, Â no one had cemented the yard yet, there was no fear of accidents, Grandaddy played guitar and met me at the end of the road each afternoon as I departed the school bus. I used to have more memories.
I moved around a lot as a kid, as a woman. I donâ€™t want to forget any of it.