Arts & Culture / The Reading Room / Vol. 1 No. 2

To Shake or Be Shook Down

Wangechi Mutu Le NoblenSavage

Image Credit: Wangechi Mutu, Le Noble Savage,
2003, ink and mixed media collage on Mylar, 91 3/4” x 54”.
Courtsey of the artist.

Once as a girl, she dreamed an urban kingdom.

In the time of the dream, women of the kingdom were squatting over toilets, over gold chamberpots.

There was one man—he was understood as the king—in all the imagined city. And this “king” walked among the women and among the pots. The king checked and talked as he walked. He was saying much of nothing, checking to see what was in the pots.

Into the chamberpots, the women were defecating or giving birth. Some children, some shit. Some children and shit.

Copping a squat over a pot, she was one of the women, there in the kingdom, lined up along errant walls like tchotchkes, laboring away. (What is a kingdom if not a collection of things that one can arrange across a landscape or a room or a factory floor? An arranged cohort and lineage. ) Constipated, she released neither a child nor shit.

The masses she felt inside her refused to be let go. And she refused to let them go despite not wanting to refuse, despite how much refusing hurt. This, one supposes, is desire. She cried about the lack of refuge, the lack of release, and still she held on because the hell that we know seems so much clearer than the unimagined heaven. And the nothing beneath her was cooling across her ass. She felt cool air passing in the emptiness of the pot. This is how what isn’t comforts.

It was neither day nor night but she knew, in the way one knows in dreams, that she had been there a long time. And nothing came of waiting. Nothing came of hoping. And this nothing was the air that she breathed. And this nothing seasoned the eggs that she ate, the stew that she stewed. It slid so easily off the spoon when she ate. And this nothing knelt beside her when she prayed. Though seasonal, it squatted inside her like an old woman. This nothing buzzed loudly against her windowscreen at night as if it had to ask for entry, as if buzzing were sufficient language, as if the window were sufficient barrier. In and out were nothing.

As if nothing. It whirls about her house and head. Nothing kisses her, even when her lips are chapped. She is filled.

To Shake or be Shook Down

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