Ibo is dancing and it is 1999,
summer and Sunday, and he remembers
his body and its unapologetic reflexes
to the drum and the bass. And Chris and I
form a semi-circle arc to his sacred rhythms.
We don’t know how to
move to this music,
part jungle beat and electron pulse.
We marvel at Ibo’s pure surrender
to this siren song of funk and thunder
that takes him back to paradise.
And for a moment, we surrender to the bass
our knees buckle in sync with the pulse.
Months later or earlier,
I can’t truly recall now. Memory is a pair of butterfly wings
all flutter and swift,
just outside full view, but he does
tell me of a place called Paradise Garage.
points me to a website on Geocities
where survivors from the gay plague
as we called it then
blind to their unnameable and open suffering
remember and remember
all the beautiful bodies
their curves and arcs
their sweat, their rhythm, their funk
their ecstatic joy in their Zion. The place where
they were most themselves,
before the virus flowered in their bodies,
before he would join them years later
when the cancer flooded his blood,
years after the towers fell.
I still see him dancing
as I see him now in the helicopter,
surveying the wreck,
the smoldering heap of concrete,
charred steel, twisted wires and gnarled veins,
the shattered spine of those magnificent buildings.
He’s sitting in my office
on my pinned cushioned chair,
his dulcet admission that
there was no way anyone could survive that.
I hear his smooth bass
when he calls me to tell me the test results.
I feel him willing me to whirl Chris
round and round and round and round
on his wedding day we never thought would come
and it had come
and we are dervishes, spinning
a holy blur of laughter, saffron and light.
How is that we got here so far past
the beauty of watching a body flail and sway in light?
Ibo, my first audience in the working world
to my clumsy imagining that I could be a writer and succeed.
You, who taught all there is know
about the ancestral capital of the African Diaspora,
the interlocked and connected genius of the grid,
the timeless façade of buildings,
the protector of histories that people would sooner
annihilate into oblivion.
SYREETA MCFADDEN’s recent piece for NPR’s Code Switch on Claudia Rankine’s CITIZEN is the best we’ve seen about this extraordinary book. Syreet is poet/photographer (she took the shots accompanying this article), whose writing has appeared in the Guardian, New York Times, BuzzFeed, Feministing, NPR, and Huffington Post. She is the managing editor of the online literary magazine, Union Station and the Moral Center of the Universe.