B Jenkins by Fred Moten
You get to write some for your Ma is the overarch of Fred Moten's appreciative memorial litany for his mother, B. Jenkins. That he kicks it out into the thicker work of naming influences and engagements that inform his radical black aesthetics and scholarly politics just tells you Moten's sense that even eulogy requires a dense baroque weave to be said right.
As ever with Moten, there is the duty—the roll is called and the work of pushing arguments and celebrations of black experience and its forms is done. Moten's work is often spoken of as a blues form but here there is less bend or slant, than a stepped-on that produces his questioning push. Its more of a chop—Moten's unique ability to cut down a line, to stop a thought short, that plays more as an ornate visual sketch than call. Out at the edge of semantics at a place that keeps stumbling over what punctuation and line break does to sound. Here's a short one for the drummer James "Peck" Curtis:
little more edge selfrising all
that edge and rim. some other time
you could walk the bridge tonight
brush Helena lula tap soft. that
water hit and wash light off the ground
every now and then. step wait there
free accident. cakes and pies. low
tremor underneath a squall on the corner
on a crate behind a toy kit. lever of the trap
door of the trap set hinge turn
release at the sidewalk crack slide
to the levee all the way down to
the bottom, the bottom of the ocean.
selfrising of this fall booms, g.
Half sound sketch, but propelled by what hangs out a second—"some other time," "tap soft. that"—before it gets down to description.
And the roll, however dutiful, slips, is precise to Moten's loves and sense of how wide black or the collective might be, where it poses the grrl thrash-rock trio Sleater-Kinney alongside the black swan of Eric Dolphy's horn, or remembers to pull Piet Mondarain's strange squares up into the air, like the El, hung around shout outs to the quiet, kept on brilliance of Joe Torra and Nate Mackey. And, each setting is both a takeoff—words don't go where you want or expect them to, and sense stays just off shore—and surprisingly tight when you get close.
And the eulogy is more than just frame for this wider excursion. Moten puts his Ma front and back, and as he starts to wander through his texts and his music, you go out into the deep difficult things that have nurtured and fed, different than a Ma, but just as maternal in their dark chora. In this way, Moten begins to get something about how a mother's body (and the body of their feelings and ours) stretched to make a shape we could flourish in and honors that. It's hard to get that far down with your Ma, and this gets some way to it.