Claudia Rankine earned a BA at Williams College and an MFA at Columbia University. Rankine has published several collections of poetry, including Citizen: An American Lyric (2014), a finalist for the National Book Award and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry, the PEN Center USA Poetry Award, and the Forward poetry prize; Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric (2004); and Nothing in Nature is Private (1994), which won the Cleveland State Poetry Prize. Her work often crosses genres as it tracks wild and precise movements of mind.
Rankine has been awarded fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Academy of American Poets, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Lannan Foundation, and the Guggenheim Foundation. In 2013, she was elected as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, and in 2014 she received a Lannan Literary Award.
from Citizen: “Some years there exists a wanting to escape”
you, floating above your certain ache—
still the ache coexists.
Call that the immanent you—
You are you even before you
grow into understanding you
are not anyone, worthless,
not worth you.
Even as your own weight insists
you are here, fighting off
the weight of nonexistence.
And still this life parts your lids, you see
you seeing your extending hand
as a falling wave—
I they he she we you turn
only to discover
to be alien to this place.
The patience is in the living. Time opens out to you.
The opening, between you and you, occupied,
zoned for an encounter,
given the histories of you and you—
And always, who is this you?
The start of you, each day,
a presence already—
Slipping down burying the you buried within. You are
everywhere and you are nowhere in the day.
The outside comes in—
Then you, hey you—
Overheard in the moonlight.
Overcome in the moonlight.
Soon you are sitting around, publicly listening, when you
hear this—what happens to you doesn’t belong to you,
only half concerns you He is speaking of the legionnaires
in Claire Denis’s film Beau Travail and you are pulled back
into the body of you receiving the nothing gaze—
The world out there insisting on this only half concerns
you. What happens to you doesn’t belong to you, only half
concerns you. It’s not yours. Not yours only.
And still a world begins its furious erasure—
Who do you think you are, saying I to me?
A body in the world drowns in it—
All our fevered history won’t instill insight,
won’t turn a body conscious,
won’t make that look
in the eyes say yes, though there is nothing
even as each moment is an answer.
Don’t say I if it means so little,
holds the little forming no one.
You are not sick, you are injured—
you ache for the rest of life.
How to care for the injured body,
the kind of body that can’t hold
the content it is living?
And where is the safest place when that place
must be someplace other than in the body
Even now your voice entangles this mouth
whose words are here as pulse, strumming
shut out, shut in, shut up—
You cannot say—
A body translates its you—
you there, hey you
even as it loses the location of its mouth.
When you lay your body in the body
entered as if skin and bone were public places,
when you lay your body in the body
entered as if you’re the ground you walk on,
you know no memory should live
in these memories
becoming the body of you.
You slow all existence down with your call
detectable only as sky. The night’s yawn
absorbs you as you lie down at the wrong angle
to the sun ready already to let go of your hand.
Wait with me
though the waiting, wait up,
might take until nothing whatsoever was done.
To be left, not alone, the only wish—
to call you out, to call out you.
Who shouted, you? You
shouted you, you the murmur in the air, you sometimes
be no one but you first—
Nobody notices, only you’ve known,
you’re not sick, not crazy,
not angry, not sad—
It’s just this, you’re injured.
Everything shaded everything darkened everything
is the stripped is the struck—
is the trace
is the aftertaste.
I they he she we you were too concluded yesterday to
know whatever was done could also be done, was also
done, was never done—
The worst injury is feeling you don’t belong so much