The Operating System

4th Annual NAPOMO 30/30/30 :: Day 9 :: Amber Atiya on Lynda Hull

Cities are the most manmade of places, the most jammed with bodies, skin and steel. [textwrap_image align=”right”][/textwrap_image] Lynda Hull’s poems are the cities and their dwellers, wide-hipped lyrics, shadows in doorways drunk off whiskey and their own dark music, hymns of silk and silver rims, whole stanzas, sensate: touch a word and watch it shiver with disgust, delight.
In an excerpt from my favorite Hull poem, “A Suite for Emily,” she writes:
Sometimes I go back to walk the streets all shops
and swank hotels, the office blocks & occasional
burnt-out shell. So American, this destruction
& renewal, cities amnesiac where evening’s
genesis falls through vast deserted silences,
towers grown otherworldly with light
thrown starlike from some alien world. Gone the Show Bar,
the Mousetrap, the whole gaudy necklace
of lacquer-dark underground lounges, halls
of mirrors, music billowing dancers
clean out of themselves beyond the dead-faced tricks,
the sick voyeurs. The Combat Zone.
Replace Show Bar and the Mousetrap with Show World and the Playpen, and she could be writing Times Square at its seediest and most pure, before Disney and the New York Times left it sterile. Understand the urban center is a place of contradictions—million dollar condos; sidewalks spitting up glass and blood; a shopping cart full of soda cans chained to a lamppost; the suit who steps over its owner in shoes that cost more than your rent. Hull understands this, aligns herself with the people who inhabit “the ghost city/ beneath the city,” writes the truth of their lives with grace, without shame, with a sense of wonder, without pretension, with the heart and knowing of a hustler, a trick, a survivalist. She inhales the screech and scream of the streets, the sky’s black calligraphy (how it leaves dark folk to their fate) and exhales compassion, memory (real and imagined) sectioned into images, a cocktail of splendor and peril.
Neither I nor many of you will ever meet Lynda Hull who died in 1994. She was 39, five years older than I am now, life marked by the same beauty and hardship she wrote about. Google her name and almost half a million results pop up. Read the reviews, buy her books, borrow them from libraries. (I am grateful to have her collected poems, which I keep handy at all times.)
Her poems are cities, and her spirit resides in all of them at once. Now, ain’t that magic?
the fierce bums of doo-wop
amber atiya

chords soaked in gin jam
a crowd as liver-spotted
tourists muscle their way
in & outta shake shack
a rodeo of small-town
drawls rides a new yorker’s
ear   worse   than a bee’s
black and gold
pros   pocket   the picked
coin   dark haired mistresses
of hell’s kitchen   the drip
of feather & faux pearl
from stretched & triple
pierced ears tie up
what’s left of the payphones—
all of times square
spreads its legs for a spring
night   pesky blue-shirted
boys   inkpots along
broadway   hustle drag
comedy to sightseers—
praise the hunger
in their eyes   the air
laced with fear
of flesh policing flesh
of deportation
of the one-legged pigeon
shitting on your hair
of a razor
beneath a tongue’s
slick   & dead end
fear of the dead
in their ghostly
denim   of the sky’s dark
& humid hymns
of love’s swift
& aromatic fist   blessed
be the fist of midnight
the beggar’s corpse in a port
authority restroom
this island a capella
by moonlight   the mock
terror washed up
on its shores
blessed be the pizzeria
peddling pig’s feet
& chicharrón   blessed
be the psychic reader’s
scarlet sundress her vision
of kiwis & apricots—
blessed be the girl
lifting fruits
from the trash
cleaning each with a found
napkin   kissing
& kissing it up
(an earlier version of this poem was published in Black Renaissance Noire)
[textwrap_image align=”left”][/textwrap_image]Born and raised in Flatbush, Brooklyn, Amber Atiya is the author of the chapbook the fierce bums of doo-wop (Argos Books, 2014). Her work has appeared in Atlas Review, Black Renaissance Noire, Bone Bouquet, Boston Review, Nepantla: A Journal Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color, and elsewhere. She is a member of a women’s writing group that will be celebrating 13 years this spring. Amber comes to us via the vibrant community of the Women Writers in Bloom salon run by JP Howard, whose piece on Pat Parker graced our second series, and whose debut book, SAY/MIRROR, came out on THE OS press earlier this year.
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