Cedar Sigo reading Stranger (Full Text) #2. Video: Joel Winter


Stranger (Full Text) #2

By Cedar Sigo

  • 18 March 2023
  • This poem was originally published on December 17, 2021, as part of Ursula’s Antiphony feature, which commissions new poetry in response to works of art.

Since its debut in 2018, Ursula has regularly commissioned new poetry. The magazine’s upcoming print issue for Spring/Summer 2023 will be devoted to poetry—our first-ever theme issue and our largest to date, a spirited gathering of poets and artists presented by The Poetry Project in collaboration with Nicole Eisenman, plus contributors such as Anne Waldman, Jeremy O. Harris and Mark Bradford.

To expand our poetry platform, we are pleased to launch a new series of original poetry-related videos and recordings. For our first video, we invited Ursula contributor Cedar Sigo to perform a reading of his 2021 poem Stranger (Full Text) #2, written in response to a work by Glenn Ligon. Stay tuned for more details on Issue 8, available on May 22.

                                 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.

Glenn Ligon, Stranger (Full Text) #2, 2020–21. Installation view at Hauser & Wirth New York, 22nd Street © Glenn Ligon. Photo: Thomas Barratt

Glenn Ligon, Stranger (Full Text) #2, 2020-21 (detail). Oil stick and coal dust © 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 10 November through 23 December 2021 at Hauser & Wirth New York, 22nd Street.