Piece from Jasmin Johnson

Brief Response to Mindy Ohringer’s “The Man in the Yellow Hat”

As writers we often enter from left field and exclaim there is no center! We speak here of grief. Loss before it occurs. Where we meet an entangled affair where identities collapse into one. Mainstream for Bestseller vs. The Promise of Writing. Here mainstream is positioned in the hands of the older. An odd form of tradition is in the hand of the young. Writing promises erasing. It promises exploration, wonder, and tussling with concepts. At the end of life, the aged character encourages his client into writing less vague. The vagueness that writing requires in order to be considered writing. He offers a sense of directness as if to be vague is not to also be direct. The young writer, who loves him, is in expansion and search for turning this performative platform of literary fiction away from the grips of entertainment consumption that shields from the process of exploration, questioning and wrestling that happens behind the curtains. Written in response is an intentionally vague poem, that speaks of the direct experience of baptism, an experience that transcends mainstream and tradition. As baptism is a way to the paradise that commercial routes are known to offer, it withstands a tradition of freedom as a release from death into an eternal life. Hint the line: The body is portal. I speak from the experience of my relationship with my
deceased father who encouraged me into a mainstream heaven that would deny all parts of my tradition of freedom that my queerness, blackness and woman-ness offers me.

Opening Sanctuaries

I saw the world from my father’s hips like it was a mountaintop. Heavy birthing ones. Can still taste air
ventilating between my teeth as I tilted my head to see
parades of white hats and tired faces-where the sea does not move. Nor the congregation.
but only by the spirit. Through thin pews we slithered. Collapsed at an altar or three.
Took a long slurred walk
while babies to the front where the altar lied.
Hands shook the floor
from thin air, we’ve all come from
An aisle covered by tears and wrapped in deacons.
Baptism shrunk my hair, breath clogged my chest breasts flattened by a holy sea.
Pledged to god and only his gender.
So I told the Lord there is no aisle between me and my sin.
Take me to the water in my bed. I asked her to come home with me none but the righteous shall see
That body is portal.
From the mountaintop of my father’s hips, the altar resembled salvation.
But from the altar, there was no.

 

Jasmin Johnson 

Research Fellow | Mellon Mays Fellowship
Center for Experimental Humanities | New York University
Jasmin is the author of The Ghetto of Eden and about to release a new title, Tender Mercies. She’s a Black queer femme who recently moved to Portland from New York. 

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