BathHouse Journal

Rosamond S. King, Gabrielle Civil, & Madhu H. Kaza

HYPERBOLIC

Hyperbolic was the second performance of the No 1 Gold Artist collective, a tiny, unknown group of three women of color (“those black girls and the Indian one”) founded in New York City, at the tail end of the go-go 90s.

Hyperbolic was written and performed in 2002. The collaboration involved not only the script and its performance but also the way in which we were in process together making sentences, gestures, and meaning in order to form ourselves as writers and artists. The notes indicated in color here — red for Gabrielle, magenta for me, Madhu, and blue for Rosa– added fifteen years later in 2017, are our edits and annotations from the future, where we are still in conversation. This collaboration, then, is also a collaboration with time.

 

Performers: Gabrielle Civil (GC) aka GFC, Madhu H. Kaza (MK) aka MHK, and Rosamond S. King (RK)
Tech: Slide projector, audio, general lighting
Props: a typewriter, a pail, rice, cloth, books (Ovid’s Metamorphoses – 2 copies, 1 with pages ripped out and stenciled in gold w/ No. 1 Gold text – to be handed to the audience midway through show)

 

We didn’t put in a line for costumes. I don’t remember what GFC or I wore, but MHK’s hair and the bird in it are legendary to me. (Rosa, that was Chimerical, an earlier performance we did, not Hyperbolic. I wore a beautiful grey cotton kurta for Hyperbolic — oddly simple given the show’s title.)

 

Performers are separated on the stage, speaking in each other’s directions, but without seeing each other. Echo

 

I was teaching in a summer program in the Hudson River valley and had to sneak off and take a train to get to HERE on 6th Avenue in NYC where the performance took place as part of the American Living Room Festival. By then, I had officially moved to the Upper Midwest, and so our artistic and conceptual experiments had occurred at a distance.

 

We built the show by each contributing a sentence.

 

GC

We are actually already legendary.

MK

I never learned the subjunctive.

RK

Is this a job, or is it work?

Fifteen years later, I’m blown away by how those sentences still resonate with our personalities…

Yes, GFC, I am still asking this most pedestrian question.

Gabrielle, always already starring. Me, worrying language. Rosa laboring.

(RK standing, looking at the typewriter. GC is reading. MK is washing her hands over a pail.)

RK

 

Is this a job or is it work? Some people get paid to be professional audience members, clapping and laughing at the right times. But usually that’s for Jerry Springer and Ricky Lake. This shouldn’t be a job or work.

Those TV shows SO date this piece!

MK

(RK begins typing.)

Were I to love the boy that (beat) who stole my red chinese bicycle . . . If he was here, if he were here, he stole my red bicycle and if he were a boy, he was Uraguayan and if he stole my bicycle, I would want, I would have wanted, I should tell him, I would have wanted to tell him . . . I would have wanted . . . would have . . . I never learned the subjunctive

That/who. That who. I can see now how much the “that” which is also a “who” has stayed with me. In the novel I am writing now, there is a moment where the narrator says, “Every time I say ‘what?’ I mean ‘who?’” What is in the past, what is in the future?

 

GC

Hi, My name is Gabrielle. My name is Jesus. My name is Persephone. My name is Asher Lev. My name is Daniel Webster. Your life is amazing. Not as amazing as mine. But we are actually already legendary.

 

A flashback. Walking into the St. Mark’s Poetry project and having a world unfurl. A troubadour playing poetry on a violin, a pun slam, a poetry machine (operated, I discovered later, by an Ugly Duckling), a typewriter inferno in which a person shouted things at you through a megaphone while you typed . . . This Anti-Reading by the Loudmouth Collective exuded wonder, sensuous language, wacky artsiness, fun– everything that I had imagined New York City could be, what I missed, what I had longed for even when living there. It was a problem of recognition. Couldn’t they see that I belonged? That they were my cousins? That they were art stars? That young and plump and brown and bespectacled, I was actually an ART STAR!

Blackout.

MK

Hyperbolic: those black girls and the Indian one. Cooing, wondering, burning. Has she fallen? Have you ever thought so hard that the world has cracked open like an egg? Enter strangeness.

I remember the pleasure of coming up with this language together (which was also the official description of the piece). I am embarrassed by “Cooing, wondering, burning. Has she fallen?” now, perhaps because of a romantic strain in it. But it feels true, too.

Slides projected (10 consecutive blank bright blue slides)

Lights fade up. MK comes over to RK, who tries to teach her to dance and do pirouettes. MK practices the steps but is bad. She is not listening to RK’s words and begins to speak as she continues to practice.

MK

RK does not hear her speak. GC goes over to the typewriter, which does not work.

“Why don’t you say what you mean?” a man said. He, she, they, their mother, her neighbors, their friends, the postman, the president say, “just say what you mean.”

If I should . . . If I could say what I say and mean what I mean there wouldn’t be a need for trees, beyond shade. There wouldn’t be trees beyond lumber.

GC

Damn typewriter!

MK and RK ignore GC. MK dances away from RK, who begins to stretch.

                                                                           

MK

There shouldn’t be bicycles that are red and shiny . . .
There shouldn’t be the tiny parts, gossamer threads bundled into nerves. If there be trees. If there be dust.
If troubadors and if saints; if recorders and if bells.
If girls with red bicycles and not red dresses.
If icicles. If gold.
If torrents. If bulbs.
If it be impossible and maybe.
If maybe.

RK dances across the stage to the typewriter, doing pirouettes. She is much better than MK.

GC

Trying to fix the typewriter.

Primitive technology! Who invented this thing?

 

Recently at the end of a reading, a man approached me with a smile. “We haven’t met, but I was the one who loaned you the typewriter,” he said. “That was a very sexy typewriter!” I responded. It was red and sleek and Italian. “Thank you so much!” I had borrowed this typewriter to write public love letters in a bookstore to celebrate the launch of my first big book, one that talks a little about No. 1. Gold. This man worked at a publishing house that had rejected my book. His kindness helped reduce my grudge as well as the fact that time moves on. His sexy typewriter worked well, although I didn’t recall that the letter L doubles for the number 1. Instead, I turned to exclamation points. Gabrie!!e Civi!

 

Gabrielle gets up & goes off stage. Rosa sits & speaks to and/or types job letter:

RK

To Whom it May Concern:
This letter is in application for the advertised position. I need a
job, an activity daily or not for which I receive money and health
insurance. I already have work — that to which I have devoted my life
colon space space words movement silence stillness. . .
All of this is still true.

MK

Eating raw rice; after she begins eating the crunching sound is amplified, sounding not unlike a typewriter.

RK

Your (prompt?) attention to this matter is sincerely appreciated. As stated above, I already have work that pays in satisfaction, if not dollars. I need a job. Sincerely

RK continues dictating softly to the typewriter.

MK

 

                  Stops eating the rice.
I like the littleness and hardness of it. (Pause).
                   MK pours the rice into her skirt.

RK

Leans over MK’s shoulder and says

So, if you’re with someone, and that person loves you more than you love them. Is that intimacy? Yes. Is that a job? No. Is it work? Yes.

                     (exit MK and RK)

GC

Halo
There was a girl telling a story when she needed to run.
There was a girl telling a story arms extended across the table.
There was a girl and a three foot piranha and it was thiiis big.
Your prompt attention to this matter is sincerely appreciated.
Have you ever loved someone so much and so hard,                                        
you had to kill them from you? A dagger stabs into her
On the walk home. A deviled egg watches her picking flowers,
I always think daisies, I always want roses but it’s really pansies lilies,
or where I’m from erosion deeper surface under over or a thick glade
wet with coconuts, spears, bicycle horns. I digress, she delights
in her basket of flowers, baked eggplant, he lifts his eyebrows.

 

I remember when GFC had to kill the idea of Rita Dove…
Ok, so we had Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” in the Hyperbolic mix, but what was the Rita Dove poem that GFC was connecting to here? I think it was “Persephone, Falling.”
Yes that’s the one. And I still love Rita Dove, although my work is not as influenced any more. (Or at least it doesn’t look that way).

RK

Interrupting

Is that intimacy?

And somewhere was the Metamorphoses winding its way through the crowd? With García Lorca in the ether and Kafka and Kundera and fairy tales and shange’s Liliane . . .

I just remembered that I was reading the Lais of Marie De France at the time and I think we had some pages of the lais also being passed around in the audience, but can’t say for sure. In any case, though I haven’t thought of the lais in more than fifteen years, I can read the raw charge of them in the energy of this work, my own reckoning with Romance and the questions of the literal and figurative, how a story asserts itself to be true.

 

GC

Yes!
He is more than a man, she is doing it for the other girls,
She is filling up for us, for you right now. We are actually already . . .
Ovid: “Dis saw her loved her, carried her away. / Love leapt in such a hurry.”
She needed to run. A split second, to turn, lamplight at first dusk, she runs throws a ribbon turns into a river, she runs throws a brush turns into a forest, she runs throws her spectacles reflecting pools. Too late, she is hedging. He pulls you in. She is captured. She lies, under duress, “she’d torn the shoulders of her dress,” “black tongues flutter.” Legendary lept and it was thiiis big.

MK

(MK rolls across the floor slowly –Hindu style)
I should wake to a day of declarations. I would be legislative in my manners.
I would say yes, I would say no.
If there weren’t the tiny parts, the sharp tastes.
If there weren’t bicycles that were red without tassles.
red without horns, red with no basket, red and no brakes.
Suppose thinking, speaking, feeling weren’t perpetual anxiety intensity.
If it weren’t disorder to be awake. Yes.
I can try this.
                   Blackout.
Slides projected: (3 orange slides )
Lights fade up.

MK

French lesson:   a. e. i. o. u.

Repeats the French vowels over and over with French pronunciation. Repeats the vowels faster and faster until they become an incantation.

GC

Moi, j’ai appris le subjunctif. [gc uses travailler in sujunctif]

Moi, j’ai presque oublié le subjunctif. Mais, je me rappelle bien l’espace de l’île Gorée, l’odeur des dictionnaires, le goût des pains au chocolat. . .

GC continues to speak in French, MK says the vowels slowly and then quickly as though they are an incantation. GC stops talking.

MK

Oui, je ne peux pas. Oui, je n’en veux pas. [Translation: Yes, I can’t. Yes, I don’t want it.]

Oui, je ne peux pas. Oui, je n’en veux pas. [pause]

Goes over to GC leans into her ear and speaks

a. e. i. o. u.

GC and MK walk offstage.

GC

From offstage.

Does this work? Or is it work?

RK comes onstage, folds a cloth, puts it on her head, then places the pail on her head and exaggeratedly walks around, swaying (like a distorted cakewalk) on the stage.

Your prompt attention to this matter is sincerely appreciated.

[This space intentionally left blank.]

GC

Comes on stage with MK. Points to RK and speaks to MK

Are you being literal or metaphorical?

 

MK

You say tomato. I say tomato
(Pronounces it the same both times)

RK

 

Puts the bucket down

                                     

Actually, we are already legendary.

MK

Is literalizing the metaphor is a sign of psychosis?

RK

Is this a job or is it work?

MK

If I collapse the literal and the metaphoric is that a sign of psychosis?

RK

Is this a job or is it work?

MK

Psychosis.
Where I live – the yes and no unsplit, unseamed, unwound. Ravel is unravel. The Uruguayan who exists. I sucked the lemons in his yard and they were lovely and he does not exist.

RK

Is this a job or is it work?

MK

Potato. Potato. (Pronounced the same both times)

RK

If this is a job does it cease to be work?

MK

Technology. Kill the metaphor.

 

RK and MK begin doing the mirror patty cake (ie. no contact).

 

The machine of exact memory is the machine of exact memory.

 

This is not the machine that we were speaking of, but we all have fond memories of “The Poetry Machine,” a man (Matvei Yankelevich) inside of a refrigerator box who appeared at at least one of the “Anti-Readings” sponsored by Ugly Duckling Press (and sadly, held no more). Those events included “pun star” contests and all manner of writing, typing, performance, and poetry. They were exhilarating and were inspiration.

RK

If this is a job does it cease to be work?

MK

Stupidity.

RK

If this is a job does it cease to be work?

MK

Mysticism. My heart star shattered for you. Listen. My heart. Star shattered.

RK

It’s always work, but when is it a job?

MK

Mysticism. In my longing I would become as a tree. Should I be as a tree?

RK

It’s always work, but when is it a job?

MK

Art. My heart which is like a metaphor, is furtive and shifty & cannot be mapped directly but is visible in your oblique glance, like a star slowly pulsing that is like that a nocturnal tracery that is like the sea horse in birthing that is like the ache of all greening.

Or mostly it’s a man holding an egg in his hands.

 

RK

It’s always work but when is it a job?

MK

Fascism. Fundamentalism. (MK does a distorted cake walk dance as she says this and pronounces these words slowly and seductively)

 The literalization of the metaphor

RK

This is our work. Should it also be a job?

MK

Its where I live. Further north. Paperclips and cheese slicers and sleighs. Cold places with the smallest parts lost in drifts of snow.
And I could be a tree. Really. You must understand this.

RK

This is our work should it also be a job?

MK

Where I live. In the hinterlands, in Norden, as a tree, with the Uruguayan who did steal my red Chinese bicycle and who does or does not exist.

And if you have any heart at all you must attend carefully to language. There are no laws about understanding.

Recently I was sitting next to the artist and filmmaker Miriam Ghani at a performance and I asked if her current film project was fiction or documentary. She said it was both. I loved this answer as I have really become a person who prizes art that plays between fact and fiction. I think of myself as a writer of prose (fiction and non-fiction are not particularly meaningful distinctions in my work). I asked Miriam if the slipperiness between fact and fiction in her film was connected to its theme of Afghan politics. It goes further back, she said, to our folk tales. Arab folk tales begin, “There was and there was not…” Yes! I thought. Of course, and there must be other traces of this way of viewing reality and storytelling in all our histories.

 

RK

Is this work sincerely appreciated?

                   Blackout.
                   One blue slide projected.
                   Lights fade up.

 

Years later Gabrielle asked me about the blue slides in this show. What was that, where did it come from, she asked. I was very clear about the blue and orange slides that punctuated the performance. I answer once again collapsing the literal and the metaphoric: the bright blue slides are where I come from.

Then almost any space was a space of possibility. This was desire and loss and a lot of hot air. Incomprehensible not that a gigantic balloon could whisk you to other worlds but that I had never been on one. Except maybe I had. Each book an atlas or almanac or grimoire. Each beckoning transformation. How I don’t think I had read Anne Waldman’s “Makeup on Empty Space” before this, but somehow I was responding. How for sure I had read Jayne Cortez and admired her verve and relentless honesty and rhythm and powerful black-woman- writer-ness and how badly I wanted that. And how claiming it was trying it on and flaunting it and becoming.

GC

Fill the space with space. Fill the space with rice.
Fill the space with laughter, with movement, with allusion,
Pretense, pretension. With chicken bones. Fill the space without flesh.
Fill the space with hot combs better than potato lie
Fill the space with hot comb. Press. Molecular extinction.
Fill the space with overblown words: desire.
Fill the space obviously—with language.
Play. Repeat after me.
I am a rock star.

MK and RK repeat:

 

I am a rock star.

GC

 

I am the Hale Bop streaking across the sky.

 

MK and RK

 

I am a glorious meteor streaking across the sky.

 

GC

I am fucking amazing!

 

MK and RK

 

I am fucking amazing!

GC      

 

Cosmos. Stop.

 

RK

There’s no need to be vulgar!

(MK is dancing.)

 

 GC

Once there was a boy who woke up one morning turned into a bug.
This really happened in Detroit–
Steam rising from manholes in plumes on deserted streets.
We listen to techno going under the bridge over to Windsor.
It was somewhat astonishing being turned into a bug,
But when you go out to have fun, there’s always sacrifice.
Some one else: Pizzicato Five says, if you want to be a groupie, you have to stay out until 5 in the morning. We’re a rock star, we’re a bug, and it doesn’t phase us at all.

ALL THREE repeat:

We’re a rock star, we’re a bug, and it doesn’t phase us at all.

GC

 

Equation: we worked it out sideways (hyperbolic) and scuttled ourselves right out the door. Well actually we may . . . have . . . . . . . died. But it was just a symbol. See ya suckers! And it was thiis big. And you walked into the circus and you knew. These are my people. We are my people. And there were slides and typewriters and lots of wine (see you after the show) and I said to Iggy: “Listen to me. We are recognizing your genius and you need to recognize ours!” The story we were making— making right now. Mom and Dad and Grete didn’t like the bug, but so what! We laughed, we cried. We used tropes with good humor, in excess, in abandon. “In lies, in lies.” We were and we were not the bug. We laid down the language for the future retelling. It was and was not labor, elaboration. It is and is not exaggeration. We are and are not true.

 

We are actually already legendary.

 

MK

I never learned the subjunctive.

 

RK

Is this a job or is this work?)

 

GC

Beyond metamorphosis. This is now.

 

Actually, it is then. The elusive slip. Then and now. The present past. Our memories overlap but don’t completely align. Multiple scripts confuse. How we wrote characters from memory, a Uruguyan with a bicycle, Iggy from the anti-reading, poor Gregor Samsa’s sister Grete. How we made characters of ourselves, built our artistic characters, writing and dancing and playing. How we desired and longed for and materialized–flashing slides of blue light, typewriter clicks, hips winding under the weight of a pail. How I love this play! Now and then. How I love Gabrielle and Madhu and Rosa doing it then and doing it now.                                      

So many of the phrases here have entered into my speech, my poems – I didn’t realize that before re-reading the script.           

RK

                                      (as RK speaks MK turns slowly and stretches up –swan like)

And they took it as a confirmation of their good fortune and fine intentions when, at the end of the ride, Grete stood up first and stretched her young body.

(blackout)

END

hyperbolic 1

 

hyperbolic 2

 

hyperbolic 3


 

Born in Andhra Pradesh, India, Madhu H. Kaza is a writer, translator, artist and educator based in New York City. She is the co-editor of an anthology, What We Love, and the editor of Kitchen Table Translation, a volume that explores the connection between translation and migration and which features immigrant, diasporic and poc translators. She directs the Bard Microcollege at Brooklyn Public Library and teaches in the MFA program at Columbia University.

 

Gabrielle Civil is a black feminist performance artist, originally from Detroit MI.  She has premiered almost fifty original solo and collaborative performance art works around the world, including a year-long investigation as a Fulbright Fellow in Mexico and a trilogy of diaspora grief works after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. She has guest-edited special issues of Aster(ix) and Obsidian and contributed to Small Axe, The Third RailArt21, Two Lines, and Something on Paper. Her memoir in performance art Swallow the Fish was named by Entropy a “Best Non-Fiction Book of 2017.” The aim of her work is to open up space.

Rosamond S. King is a creative and critical writer and performer whose work is deeply informed by her cultures and communities, by history, and by a sense of play.  Poetry publications include the collection Rock | Salt Stone (2017) and poems in more than two dozen journals, blogs, and anthologies, including Drunken Boat and The Feminist Wire. Her bookIsland Bodies: Transgressive Sexualities in the Caribbean Imagination received the Caribbean Studies Association best book award, and her research has also been widely published.