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Embraces Against Empire: Review of JH Phrydas’ Levitations



First published in Medium by Jacob Bolda




Because protest is also an open hand, Levitations.

JH Phrydas’ new book opens with the embrace. The queer embrace — which is sustained sustains and is sustained by the floating body of and within the book. The Queer Embrace which is one of many faces, many mouths, bound by a political poetics — that of community, flawed as it is — that of family, flawed as it is — that of language, flawed as it is.

That the queer body which supports and is supported by other queer bodies stands as an antagonistic force against Empire.

To turn the page and find an eyelash tracing the fold. This little thing rests on the page as if resting on the knuckle of an outstretched hand. An eyelash, which implies all the gentility and phenomenal force of a face or many faces — as does each of Phrydas’ poems. Rather than rise and fall like waves, the bodies of Phrydas’ poetry simply continue to rise. Each one affording another inch of levitation to the floating community. Another inch up from Empire’s asphalt. And yet the city is as much a home as any: a site at which these gestures of care, these extensions of language continue to extend.

I want a politics which extends from the body instead of the reverse,” says Phrydas. Rather than imagine language as vehicle, Phrydas casts the book with a biological substance — an ectoplasmic means by which to expand the body, and to offer care. This is the protest. That the queer body which supports and is supported by other queer bodies stands as an antagonistic force against Empire.

Love is this involuntary response to the universe — elemental participation in gravity.

But I feel the weight of my body in this room. As I have always felt it. As every queer body has felt its weight. “I dreamt I was sitting in my mother’s lung” begins the book’s first section, Decente. But can the spaces the queer body occupies become queered? An architecture against architecture blooming in the center of the city — rooms which, with open hands, pin gravity to the wall and allow our bodies to be pulled sideways or upward rather than down. Feeling our reoriented weight as the outlines of our bodies opening.

Phrydas describes this movement from room to room (lung to lung?). Bodies pulled up from the floorboards and given a space in the house. Bodies which, outgrowing one small box, may move horizontally in order to occupy another. And always, the expanse: the body’s boundaries defying whitewashed walls of Empire, thick walls and flimsy walls, those of family, those of community. A body always requiring containment may always receive containment. Walls upon walls meet the body with a kiss.

Care is our manifestation, our alchemical power to act on love — to pin gravity to the wall, to open the body to another, to reveal in desire, the sublime protest of the open hand.

These filmic pans through Phrydas’ city reveal those that occupy these spaces — trapped by smoke or light. Sweeping or holding out a hand or not at all. And as they multiply, the language expands to contain them — pronouns, like eyelashes, reveal as little or as much about the bodies to which they belong as anyone sitting in any room might imagine: we can say that they are there and they leave their traces, and this matters. And so the camera turns on us too and, suddenly, there we are — a hovering body in a city which struggles to contain us, and which falls like a paper wall before the embrace.

And where we might imagine the book drawing to a close, it opens further. With all the levitating weight of a city of queers, the language spins itself into a lyric — promises of protection and care. And this, too, is important because care is not love. Love is this involuntary response to the universe — elemental participation in gravity. Care is our manifestation, our alchemical power to act on love — to pin gravity to the wall, to open the body to another, to reveal in desire, the sublime protest of the open hand. There is shame and there is pain — the broken roots and limbs of a lily left bound in a pot too small, but there is also hope: a hand bathed in light run over the petals, and a wide earth wet with morning and mourning.

And Fred says maintain false pretenses.

And NourbeSe says make a ritual for the dead.

And Alexander says find the post-apocalyptic now.

And Hortense says read the flesh.

And Thomas says pray and resist.

And Claudia says notice the rage.

And James says auto-sacrifice.

And Omise’eke says remember the ocean.

And Melissa says trace the horizon.

And Bhanu says enter the mud.