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Brief Thoughts in Black Time — A Series of Non-linear Incompletions

listen. a woman just came into Community Futures Lab and told me that her son, along with three other youth, was killed this past week. she was a bit intoxicated, and selling hygiene products to raise money. asking for donations. we exchanged information and, before leaving, she told me she was single. that she might need to call on me / us for help.i had a conversation with a man today who told me that for every building that goes up in this neighborhood, two fall down. he does not want to see words on paper, to sit in front of notebooks in housing workshops. he wants to see these new developments fall, and for the hood to see the money that is being asked of it. he wants to see resources not on paper but real, tangible material. "this ain't sharswood. what is sharswood? this is columbia ave." i really don't know what to tell you at this moment. black ass beautiful people are under assail and our kids, we are being released from our flesh in these streets. i know this is and *isn't* common knowledge (cognitive dissonance does not count). i do not wish to trigger you. i just be so confused about what to do with this knowledge. about what to actually do other than sitting in front of my computer / ableton / a notepad and waxing poetic / musical / angry. there are so many facts missing, so many media files uncompleted, the ghosts of anger that undulate and rise and wane like bloody / bloodless tide. telling facebook of these narratives and making this a public post is no form of absolution. it is pixels on a telescreen, it is truth on the internet. i did not know these four youths. i met this woman and i met this man today. i am leaving the lab and i am headed to figure out a portion of my life. i am working on new things. i am in hoods i am not of (have my ancestors traversed these spaces?) trying to tell people who look like me that i am here to help them. i am here to help, and yet absolution is a heavy word on my tongue. liminality is where i stand. this is not absolution, but these stories will not be lost. these people will not be smudged out. they deserve every option, every opportunity, contact with every body gone ghost... fam...


if there's anything this election was supposed to teach me, i've missed the lesson. white folks want me and people who look like me abolished, which i laugh at. it's cool, i been known this. a nigga ain't go to Ferguson and walk all up and down Broadway for nothing.

i still ain't going nowhere, cept ancestral lands for that deep rejuvenation and deeper reckoning. then back up in this mug to raise a lil lot of hell, sing the graves open, and praise dance the sky red with every flesh ridden matrix of skeleton work released of spirit too soon. gon call apocalypse home and watch every silver spoon fed mouth salivate til they flesh dry up like ocean spray craisins and chime against they bones in the wind.

we been magic. been brothel and boo. been broke mosaic'd, re|paired and sometimes i lose myself in all this deep black and deeper blue. all this deja vu. and there is nothing wrong with the way indigeneity quietly shakes the earth i move along, a bump in every night. how i evade and give reason for sight. i strike fear and call every trigger by name.

it is hard for a bullet to hit you in the dark so that's where i bool at. no night vision. we ain't gon be alright but we will be black, will be indigenous. we have always been these things, have always been threats and that is why they want to turn our lights out, keep theirs on. it's cool. we live here in this subtle dark, are everything that comes before and after the tenuous flip of a plastic switch…


under the midnight haze of another philadelphia crescent moon, fishtown reeks of a similar scent to a close and recent sibling. i won’t conjure its name but will say it sits adjacent to — east of — a floating island we nickname the fruit that got us all here in the first place. another white man is president and this is the first time in (american?) history white folks speak of rebellion. some of us believed a white woman with a feminist lens and a penchant for planned parenthood centers would somewhat save us, and throughout her presidency i could not help but remember when a black gender nonconforming person asked her to apologize for mass incarceration, saying to Hillary’s face, “i am not a superpredator.”

dismissed. white hands tugging at black words, Hillary’s words, and all of this is and isn’t metaphor. how i have seen folks turn, so quick to palimpsest the sins of a new “savior” helmed and still holding blackness hostage. still ready to deport and decimate, to break families into states: cut, partitioned, bordered. adversarial even. my tongue is tired of waking up to name subjection, again.


faced with what has always been

before you —

a smoke screen,

a limber faith made of

stretch and pray

hoping the sky don’t go ghost

behind a blanket of red


on some day you have not

readied your soul

for flight, yet —

you don’t quite crumble

at the core from the crypt

of isolation;

more so, at the inefficiency

of language.

tones, vowels, syllables,

consonants, "english


all fall short of explanation

and how contrary of a

battle you find yourself


for the tongue beneath

the one

you usually use to talk something

serious or sexual

or even just punctuate

the salt that finds

exodus down your cheek

does not speak resurrection,

but remembrance:

like: to birth what has not lived.

like: to water a seed unsowed

like: the tear drop attempted

like: a deep and dark loin tempted

like: how many times you gon say

nanga def before your mouth

run away from you,

back to somewhere more flexible

like: why you focus only

on what you know

like: i got folks down south too

tho its soil is still a ghost to me

like: i’ve never worn a rosary


taking on the role of the ghost

while at vassar, i began to experience what felt like being cast into a space of ghostliness. what i meant by this (mostly) is that i was not seen by the white folks on campus.

the way i see being a ghost has since shifted, not so much to operate in binary opposition of "now i'm a ghost bc you white folks made me this," but an understanding of how ghostliness can be utilized as a space of regeneration and the activation power. in what i have seen, which is shaky, i mostly cannot see what the ghost is doing — much of their actions are cast into darkness and obscured. this is what i'm interested in. while we see the ways in which the ghost haunts and terrorizes (often but not always) settler colonial bodies, we spend so much time not seeing what the ghost is doing otherwise.

bullets go missing in the dark, so that's where i'm at. white folks and murderous cops ain't gon be shooting shit at me because they might end up shooting themselves. anything can happen in the dark. it is a space of expansive misunderstanding. the dark is faster than the light, which means all the things unimaginable in the light may be possible in the dark. time travel, every horrific monster, connecting with and feeling our ancestors and loved ones, love itself, so on and so forth.

i am coming to reckon with how as a black person, as a black queer person, i am always already navigating darkness from a "cast into" pov. while i am interested in that because it is apart of my experience, i am navigating further into what it means to intentionally trudge into and out of the dark at will — not solely based on other people's actions. i want to know what it means to know i am a ghost, to reckon so continually and deeply with this knowledge that i live and create both within and in spite of it. in some ways this way of operating draws on DuBois' theory of double consciousness. but that's the other thing about the dark: it is not limited by binaries because ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN. the dark can be an important space of presence, activation, and protection esp for marginalized folks who are always negotiating danger and the potential of our own (fleshly) deaths.


Bio: Cheikh Athj is young black ghost producing in the tradition of Octavia Butler, Henry Dumas, and loved ones who have left the flesh. Whenever he isn't theorizing, you can find him making music, crying, or watching black television shows on repeat.

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