The Hold: Or, Charleston USA (A Poem for the Emanuel 9)

J. Kameron Carter with a poetic commentary on the Charleston tragedy


The Hold, or, Charleston USA

(A Poem for the Emanuel 9)

there’s ludic limbo in the hold, the limbo’ed limbering of a form of life that though held up —

disembarked in dispossession: a slave market’s violent unrest

shot at the mother church: amniotic leakage of oceanic waters

spattered blood in bible study: charleston’s (no, the USA is) an auction block;

a flag’s half-staffed melancholic salute: the weary, weary postracial blues

denmark (vesey, i mean) is another country: ante-american feeling from a churchical underground

branded with a “religious tattoo,” somewhere it was said: the cross & the lynching tree

 — is nevertheless and primordially un/held.

       (black) life can’t be killed.


behold the hold, be (a) hold; behold the held, be(ing)held up in holding onto

no.thingliness, while held in gentrified state holds. un/held life: seizures against the

state, release of what’s uncapturable and only asymptotically approachable; un/held

life: the light of darkness, illuminations of black interiority; un/held life: a

paratheological project, maybe it’s the projects; un/held life: slain (in the spirit)

because the deregulated spirituality of extra-ceremonial life was refused. we refuse

the refusal. dylann tried to slay it but though wounded it can’t be slain.


be.hold, held up in the hold, which is to say, suspended or upheld in un/held life: “held,”

that is, “but not had, there but not to be had,” sang the “new night choir,”

phonographic diaspora of flesh, motoring on in deregulated wandering from

town to town from charleston to baltimore and back. time travelers of an other

time. off beat tempo out of step with state time un/held in a phonographic hold,

held up in the négritude church. dis/believers sangin’, folks be chantin’ in

“churchical girth.” the “almost-there” crew head tossed-back in slow motion

instasy ecstatically balancing im/balanced dancing in modal drift toward an

other world at the end of time where time done timed out and so begins what

Césaire was talking about, “the only thing worth beginning: the end of the world

of course.”


be.hold therefore of another sort. ante-hold, i call it. anterior embrace, interior unction,

posterior caress to propertied-holding. improper property’s unsignifiable,

untrespassable self-holding (“you took something from us” but it still has us, ethereal

blackness it is): non-proprietary hugging, the unbinding “bond of an abatement,” it

was said at the alter.nate. blue fasa’s semi-weeping, semi-singing, ready-dancing,

ludic-living the practice of an outside-in slipped inside-out, the outer inside of an

inner outside exceeding state holds and most especially the hold that that south

carolinian cyclops (“you rape our women and you’re taking over our country. you have to go

. . .”) tried to guard, the hold of racialized subjection. that’s what identity’s about in

the american tradition, which the governing because proper and normative citizen,

having property in itself to have property in things and over others, crystallizes. it’s

an american storm, but only because there’s first a congregational (in)surge(nce) of

un/wet tears from a mother’s womb.


be.hold of another sort, i tell ya’. liturgical ante-hold, held up in having but not owning

un/held life, (“we welcomed you with open arms into our bible study…”). ecumenical

blackness is ecumenical sharing, target of a drone attack, an other i-maginary, an

other i-conomy, an other icon-onomics, an other i-mage, an other i: the remythified

flesh of i-insofars as we-insofars in fractured touching, it was said at an alter.nate



“Insofar as there / was an I it wasn’t hers we heard / her insinuate, of late begun to be / else- / where, the late one she’d one day be . . .”


but hold up for a second, ain’t that just the question? “What will blackness be” when it has

“no thumbs to hold on with?” And yet, not uptight, hold itself together, it must; be

with others, it does; “multiple and ‘many-voiced’,” it is; be.hold up, négritude held up

in barricaded ludic life, citadel of futurity on extraterritorial hold ambulating down a

ferguson street, in black study in charleston’s mother (emanuel) in the hold up on

lock down, waked up to its own wake that it’s in but not of ‘cause the wake holds a

harbored faith in ludic faithfulness to revolutionary feeling.


be.hold of another sort. suspended in an extraceremonial hold up where

black churchicality precipitated an ek-klesial black out(sider)(ness), a fall out

provoking a shoot out to take out lawless lovers. outlaws holding out for an alter.nate

liturgy: a sanctuaried sanctum of the sanctified otherwise. (w)holiness in ossuarine

fragments makes me think about the blessing and the wound and the relationship

thereof, what i call négritude’s pre(in)comprehension, aka, the (black) mass(es).

convocation of un/held up property interrupted, partakers of an ante-rupted liturgy,

the queered communion of the unprepossessively possessed, a movement of

improper property at a baltimore CVS and in a charleston mother’s (emanuel’s)

womb. their serrated paraliturgy of parapossessivity sarah.nate.s me: “swing low . . .”

unsang the ensemble of self-possessed i-insofars and we-insofars, re-singing an

unsang sorrow song. blackness is a wounded love song of unencroachable

parapossession against dispossession, a ludic song of lewd statelessness sang

together by some life together refugees.


be.hold, Emanuel AME, un/held life in memoriam[†]


Cynthia Hurd, 54,

Susie Jackson, 87

Ethel Lance, 70

Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49

The Honorable Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41

Tywanza Sanders, 26

Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74

Rev. Sharonda Singleton, 45

Myra Thompson, 59

[†] There are many spiritual “coauthors” of this poem with whom I’ve tried and continue to try to think through this latest in a serially ritual string of American, all too American violent and deadly obscenities. The perpetrator of the horror or the “storm” of 17 June 2015 at Emanuel AME Church of Charleston, SC may have been caught but what he represents remains afoot because it founds this nation. No pulling down of the confederate flag in South Carolina (an action I support) will change that. Another ceremony, Sylvia Wynter rightly said some years ago now, must be found.

References and allusions in the poem are to Sarah Jane Cervenak’s “Holding On: Para-Possessivity Against State Holds” (forthcoming); Aimé Césaire, Notebook of a Return the Native Land (Wesleyan University Press, 2001); James H. Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2011); Nathaniel Mackey’s Bass Catherdral (New Directions, 2008) and Blue Fasa (New Directions, 2015); Fred Moten’s “there’s a religious tattooing” in hughson’s tavern (Leon Works, 2008) and In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2005); M. NourbeSe Philip, “The Absence of Writing or How I Almost Became a Spy” in She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks (Gynergy Books/Ragweed Press, 1989) and “Notanda” in Zong! (Wesleyan University Press, 2011).