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Poetry: "which art? what fact?"

"what histories are natural & what artifacts art? / how do we decide the borders of a country / or an era or a solar system? when did we decide / our planet meant only this collection of green?"

Posted on March 21, 2018, at 11:05 a.m. ET

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Art Institute of Chicago, November 2016

everyday i act permanent: a silly collection of carbon
& oxygen & sometimes heart & too often cruelty
or callous or i just wasn’t thinking, my bad.

each week i move around
as if nobody will steal me
again, or my things again.
& i ponder if which museum
we end up in is a matter of power,
who hangs & who does the cutting.

after all what is science
but a set of contemporary creation stories
what histories are natural & what artifacts art?
how do we decide the borders of a country
or an era or a solar system? when did we decide
our planet meant only this collection of green?

what i mean is this: take this bowl
the people used to mix & eat.
what of the clothes the people wore
to say let us be one
on this day of marriage? what of this
staff the people made to love
their gods? what of their gods
who are maybe our own with the names that lost,
the prayers that got colonized away?

in the section of the museum for the darker people
i make sense. in the museum of Chicago i have always been
in the section for the darker people
& i presume once this president or the next wipes us up
perhaps our everyday particulars will be art.
the afro pick i push in the naps of my beard
might one day have a name & a plastic box for preservation.
maybe the cheap dress shoes i spun in for my first
high school homecoming will be a prime example of primitive garb
for worship. maybe my mother’s coffee cup with lipstick
kissed on its chipped face will be one of these art things in its next life.

O whatever God or whatever ancestor that wins in the next life
i pray let me be an artifact of use. let all my poems be
bowls or thrones or hairpieces or marriages.
let everything i make, if it should survive, tell the next world
mine were a people of faculty & faith. let them know
we were a race who prayed with our legs & sweat.
let them know that even when we are just art
we were here
& we still are.


Courtesy of the author

Nate Marshall is from the South Side of Chicago. He is the author of Wild Hundreds and an editor of The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop. His last rap album, Grown came out in 2015 with his group Daily Lyrical Product. Nate is a member of The Dark Noise Collective and co-directs Crescendo Literary with Eve Ewing. Nate has received fellowships from Cave Canem, The Poetry Foundation, and The University of Michigan. He is the Director of National Programs for Louder Than A Bomb Youth Poetry Festival and has taught at The University of Michigan, Wabash College, and Northwestern University.

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