Stranger (Full Text) #2

17 Dec 2021
Glenn Ligon’s ‘Stranger (Full Text) #2’ (2020–21) at Hauser & Wirth New York, 22nd Street © Glenn Ligon. Photo: Thomas Barratt
17 Dec 2021

A poem in conversation with a painting by Glenn Ligon, the newest entry in Ursula’s ‘Antiphony’ project, commissioning poetry in response to works of art

                                 I toss my stencils
to the neon fire and begin to build,
stacking obsidian dust,

a text that betrays the shape of a tone,
a semblance of pitch,
the opposite of rubbing down
                                 onto a headstone.

The mirage of white dawn on treated black,
                                 wavering then solid states,

hovering over the exact spot
where the sun
                                 strikes a songbook in tablets.
Wandering the edge of a crypt of lines and
having to carry them all back (still unseen).

Before every reading I was asked to quietly
rebuild the field of composition (wood and thin wire)
                                 but always in a public corner
the audience was allowed that tiny bit of footing

before demanding my disappearance,
restricted to the few syllables that I could float
                                 through the door.

More of a crook in the mouth,
the sweep of the tongue that floods the canal,

the water was a single cursive crossed out line.

Keeping language lit and locked up,
bronzed or betraying its wear pattern,
                                 a galaxy spiked with mist,
cold tin type
                       clouded red with black.

                                 I fashion the gate
toward one arm of dystopia,
                                 the concrete index
sold off as bits of poetry.

A system bent on interpretive orchestration,
the stacking and rubble of debris,
                                 then scoring its outline.

All slivers angle toward the beloved,
sparking the end
                                 of the tip of the night,

the light never quite settles.

Detail of black oil stick and coal dust in ‘Stranger (Full Text) #2’ © Glenn Ligon. Photo: Thomas Barratt


Cedar Sigo is a poet and member of the Suquamish Tribe. His books include ‘Guard the Mysteries’ (lectures) and most recently ‘All This Time’ (poems) both from Wave Books. He lives in Lofall, Washington.

‘Stranger (Full Text) #2,’ renders James Baldwin’s 1953 essay, ‘Stranger in the Village,’ in its entirety and serves as the cornerstone of Glenn Ligon’s exhibition ‘It’s Always a Little Bit Not Yet,’ on view through 23 December 2021 at Hauser & Wirth New York, 22nd Street.

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