Katy Grannan, “Kamika, near Route 9, Poughkeepsie, NY,” 2003. Photo-Chromogenic, 48 x 60 in (121.9 x 152.4 cm), Purchased with funds provided by the ICP Acquisitions Committee, 2005. . This material is protected by copyright and utilized here under Fair Use.

Presentations of the Self

Desiree C. Bailey—

I was once invited to write a poem based on photographs of self-presentation housed at the International Center for Photography. One photograph stood out to me perhaps because of the verdant background, or because the subject, whom I perceived as a young Black woman, reminded me of someone I knew—an old friend, a long-departed family member, or some latent aspect of myself. There is tension in the ekphrasis, in the doubled gaze of both photographer and poet. Presentations of the self inevitably contend with perceptions imposed by the external world, narratives spun through the viewer’s assumptions, experiences and histories. The stakes of perception are of course compounded for the Black woman in an anti-Black, patriarchal society. Despite the inevitable gaze, including my own perceptions and impositions, I wanted to reinforce the subject’s independence and agency.

Say It
After Katy Grannan’s “Kamika, Near Route 9, Poughkeepsie, NY” photograph (above image)

Say it to the pine, to the firm back of summer exiting again:
You are yours. From black heel to rust-and-sunset stained hair.
The river a stone’s throw west been called many names
based on who has fished or warred in its brackish tides. And it flows
boldly in both directions. The dandelion, called a weed, still puffs up
its gold-petaled chest. Say it to the windborne seed,
to the police car’s slow haunt down Route 9. Yours. Keloids on the collarbone,
rat-tail comb part, name tattooed on your dark brown thigh in case you dare forget.

Desiree C. Bailey is the author of What Noise Against the Cane, selected by Carl Phillips as the winner of the 2020 Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize and recently longlisted for the 2021 National Book Award for poetry. Desiree is from Trinidad and Tobago, and Queens, NY. She lives in Providence, RI.

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