The Fire Next Time

JASMINE WAHI

in the beginning, there was fire.

perhaps, in the end, there will be fire too.

and at some point in between- the bittersweet space of the not to distant past and the not so far future, a cycle continues.

there is a smoldering and grey disintegration- snowflakes borne of fire.
and then

an emergence from the glowing ash a being is born- raw, and pink,
cloaked in a thin placenta of memory and pain and joy and struggle.
and this being,
both alien and familiar;
rigid but boneless;
hiding secrets within the catacombs of it’s interiors,
but with it’s sticky viscera exposed in an exoskeleton to capture every
floating thought and particle of matter, grows and shapeshifts
to fill every crevice of a city-
from the rafters cathedral basilica of the sacred heart,
to the underground tunnels of the belcher ogden mansions.

only to crumble in the licking flame again.
to be reborn anew.

***

newark burned, or so they say say.
it did, in fact, burn.
ablaze in solidarity with the spine of the northeast corridor
tyranny of systemic race-based violence

(as they say: believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything)

there is no reason to dwell upon the past cycle of flame:
save for the threads it provided in weaving the garment for a new generation in a beautiful city
painted with the earthen hues of the human spectrum.

newarks new art scene persevered from and through the flames.
a fire manifest within the belly and heart and hair and solo of the new mother, gladys.
from her came objects
and opportunities
and more fire

the same heat burns through another mother, amina.
she spat fire
she spits fire
she will continue to spit fire,
tendrils of steamy smoke curly-quing and paisleying from within.

gladys had/has/will have a fire in the belly.
amina had/has/will have a fire in the belly
newark has a fire in the belly.

a mothers,
a woman
a black woman
a black woman in a forgotten town
a black woman in a forgotten town with her fire in the belly
… spread her embers like seeds in the ash laden dirt

from these spicy seeds.
hot. fire. flames.

a lava laden path ruptured and splayed open like a healing scab
drops of spessartite garnet, and ruby hot mucus forming into a vision.
a femme/female/feminist/fempositive/
queer/black/brown/white/colorful/male/nonbinary
vision

a vision and a reality of a collective creative expanse
pushed forth by its mothers and its adoptive daughters: too many to name
making space
making place
making work
all with the sparks flying from the flints of their fingers, and glinting of the chert of their lashes

pushed forth in spite (or because of)
the new steel beams forged in fire to buttress the economic upcycle that laps at the iron and brick clad bounds, also flaked in a kiln, of the great city.

pushed forth from the belly of the city.
a roiling mass that cannot be contained within cavernous caldron of the central district
flame always spreads quickly.
ask california.
ask ferguson.
ask newark.

the fire in the belly is infectious.
what it does not destroy quickly
it will simmer and bubble and boil and create
ask california.
ask ferguson.
ask newark.

the fire from the belly will spread to the cities other wards.
to the spaces and places who have been stoking the kindling tinder
and letting a new spark enter through the ground and spread its warmth
needling through
the toes
buzzing through
the legs
winding through
the bowels
radiating through
the chest
blasting through
the cool crescent of the cuticle beds
pulsating through
the neck
and up up up out
vomiting out
of the mouth of the north/south/east/west wards
re ingested by
the slippery baby phoenix of a new generation of firestarters  

***
the artists flame is femme
ask gladys.
ask emma.
ask evonne.
ask rebecca.
ask amina.
ask dom.
ask patricia.
ask bisa.
ask nancy.
ask bumni.
ask adrienne.

though born of women, the artist flame burns
without a thought to gender.
without a thought to age.
ask akintola.
ask kiyan.
ask lisa.
ask jali.
ask nick.
ask victor.
ask the students art arts high.
ask the students at rutgers.

***
fire is a funny thing.
it is wild.
it is beautiful.
it is angry.
when it touches skin
it scorches and blisters
leaving a raw redness like a screaming bloody newborn.
when it touches skin
it chars and flakes
leaving a crunchy crumbly nothing to be blown like a dandelion

fire is a funny thing.
it is what pushes the past into the past.
it is what heralds in the future.

fire is a funny thing.
it will give you life.
it will kill you.

newark is a funny place.
it is wildly beautiful.
it is angry.
it is bittersweet.
it is joyful.
it is wary.
when it touches you
its essence burns so hot in your lungs
you remember a history that may have never belonged to you

when it surrounds you
its foreseeable future fills you with a fury and vigor and vim
you long for an osmosis of whatever makes it so rich

you feel the urge
to claw out your innards and lay splayed and naked in the hopes that the complicated history will wash over you and leave behind the trace elements of what makes it so beautiful and so dark and so light all at the same time.
you feel the woven cocoon of a million histories, and a million colors, and a million narratives from one of the american land masses most diverse cities.
you feel honored to be allowed into such a rich space.

***

when i die
the flames will engulf my body
in the tradition of the people that came before me
the hope is that
from the ash
something will rise.

when things burn
new things are born
cloaked in the coating of our foremothers.  

***


JASMINE WAHI IS A CURATOR, ACTIVIST, AND THE FOUNDER AND CO-DIRECTOR OF PROJECT FOR EMPTY SPACE. HER PRACTICE PREDOMINANTLY FOCUSES ON ISSUES OF FEMALE EMPOWERMENT, COMPLICATING BINARY STRUCTURES WITHIN SOCIAL DISCOURSES, AND EXPLORING MULTIPOSITIONAL CULTURAL IDENTITIES THROUGH THE LENS OF INTERSECTIONAL FEMINISM.