True Black (II)

Thom Donovan



–for Glenn Ligon, Sanford Biggers,

and Tyrone Williams





I see you in silkscreen stages
The wrong nigger to fuck with
Getting beaten for what is real
Social practice and what it belies
Immanent like paint writ over again
Or Walter Benjamin comparing his theology to a blotter soaked with ink
Or a text all these pictures might be worth
Meted into false equivalence
Some bodies aren’t the same as others obviously
You took the black light literal that was your invention
To shine in this inversion of America like a blotter soaked with ink
Repeated until we are whole or blind with presence
Immanent like no description passes for witness
Repeated until we are one with violence
Until God is the nation no negation of negation
Or via negativa will do what we do
Just the sublime despair of cultural production
Messing with you in a white cube
Another name for this tomb
Repeated until we are resurrected or struck through
Until living labor can really live or art is allowed to die
Your own blotter shines like sunlight out of sequence
Playback of what was never felt the first time
Summoning the viewer




Cheshire cat smile
Joker’s smile
When you disappear
Every gleaming tooth is
Every light bulb flashing your word
Every word
We’ll ever say
Or write down being the same
Like a language for our disappearance
Reappears again
Queen presiding
Some other powers that be
Chop our
Motherfucking heads off
Climb up a tree
And smile your head off
Until surveillance is
Just a dream
And this mask becomes the costume it is
Climbing trees that will never be
Just trees
Inverting Brecht’s admonishment
Smiling our asses off
This is of course in reference to lynching
Not symbolism
Not the tree of life
Just signifying
All the masks we put on and
What else?
What the smile won’t
Make its property
It overdoes
Lips shine a way
Through night
Flashing lights fucking with our heads




Trees rush by like equal signs
Blur a Detroit, a Cincinnati of the mind
No need to allegorize when bodies beat the fuck up
Do all the talking
Freeze frame on a stack of money
Worth more now as art
So a drive-by are we?
Chain gangs formed from broken signifying chains
Dip-dip-die (but mostly die)
Until we are socialized
Or drown, other voices run our mouths
Follow the money
Incorporate everything
Supposed to be a people
Follow it down
Into a nation language, uneducable
I heard symbols saying things I could not
The dozens do sublime
Damage to refrain
No equal signs form an action here
Snow sweeps down then there is no more music
Striving for protection in a music
Of contestation
Becoming uneducable the mouth
Opened-wide, keyed to black rage
Like in Candyman, all those empty
Mirrors we can’t wake up from
Don’t know how we got here
Music why be alive
When for all eternity it’s like he says
Rhyming will right our names
Bees fill the mouth with muthology
Phonocentric, buzzing before the image captures
Spirit and image
Of our separable selves returning
Noise decorates what context debuts/
Refusals in projects housing
Music though this is not music
Keyed to white rage blowing-up
The spot we howl
A national unconscious
No equal signs tis of thees
Demolish refrains, appropriate and detain
Why be alive when all we do is dream/scream
Educate the mouth to love noise.


Thom Donovan is the author of The Hole (Displaced Press, 2012) and Withdrawn (Compline Editions, forthcoming). He coedits and publishes ON Contemporary Practice.

[Image is Glenn Ligon’s “Untitled (If I Can’t Have Love, I’ll Take Sunshine),” 2006, Neon and paint, Courtesy of Luhring Augustine]