The PdS Black Voices Series Presents: JUNIPER CRUZ
The Color of Being Heard: After Aunt Viv
For Jesse Williams and myself
if i wish you redbone, then
i wish you a pain that is
the absence of your brother’s suffering—
how he has always known to be a giver,
but has not shared this with you.
i wish you confusion— a comfort
not too loud and listened to.
i wish a nigga would
call a motherfucka white, again.
i wish you ignorance— a second mouth
a new God— a guise
of we all black. a violence
well-practiced like you
making ghosts out of
the house slave— a forgetting
so deep that
it is the bullet
calling your brother’s
name out of your mouth
and onto this poem.
The Doves Cry for the Fly Black Birds Boys
On Halloween night, 2014
Call me Prince.
I was in heels. My jacket was covered in sequin: shimmering teeth.
fifteen minutes in on my walk home, four boys noticed me.
These boys were blades, as boys often are.
I wear my birdhood as if I slit another’s throat.
As they will to me.
Say faggot. Say switchblade. Say nigga. Say nigga in heels. Run. Say run because you ate your feathers. Say run despite your heels. Say cracked pavement. Say twisted ankle. Say fall like a stunned bird.
Their headlights filled my feathers with white light.
When doves cry, it sounds like
a revving engine and the words, “Imma stab the bitch outta you”
On Halloween night, 2014 when the police sirens blared and the boys drove away,
Call me queen.
above me: a crown of black birds, king me with feathered skin my muscles have tried to swallowed its own wings.
The boy in me still wants to slit my throat and, when I am not looking, he skins me then feeds me my feathers.
I hold him like a lord holds their peasant and sing:
A man and a woman Are one. A man and a woman and a blackbird Are one.
A few good words with Juniper.
(Editors note: Juniper identifies as a transwoman, but was using he/him pronouns at the time of this interview)
PdS: Both of these poems address black masculinity in some way—colorism, queerness, and the violence done (or undone) on/to the raced black body. I feel like it’s really important to engage with because readable “lightness” and/or perceived queerness are integral predictors in the safety or danger of black male-presenting bodies. Does performance of black masculinity speak to your ethos as a writer? How so?
JC: As a queer Afro-Latinx, I think of the performance of black masculinity quite often. Particularly because, in terms of performance and presentation, being a queer black man is somewhat a paradox— or perhaps more of a series of similarities within differences and differences within similarities. What I think I mean by this is that, on the surface, blackness is presented by an immediate physical threat, and queer folks (queer men in particular) as not a immediate physical threat. However, both are targets for violence in order to perpetuate dominance of the hegemony. So, there is a balancing act that comes with queer black men in which we can’t be too unmasculine less we be subjected to the violence from masculine forces and we can’t be too masculine less we be subjected to the violence of white forces that will deem us too aggressive and murder us.
However, these balancing acts are still somewhat arbitrary (to an extent) because such hegemonic forces will inflict violence regardless. However, I think all minorities attempt to perform their identities in the “right ways” in order to suppress violence. It’s a coping mechanism, really: to think that we are agents in the violence inflicted upon us. That oppression is the oppressed problem. Though, there are obviously ways in which minorities can perform to perhaps not be subjected to violence— I’m kind of thinking about being queer and flamboyant vs. being queer and flamboyant. However, I do think that even performing one’s identity the “right way” or the “safe way” still contributes to the violence of said identity as it is often weaponized and used to validate the violence against another of said identity.
Sorry that this is a long answer, but this whole subject is extremely frustrating. And I think that frustration is what particularly speaks to my ethos as a writer. This need to fulfill this balancing act of performativity, but also recognizing that such act still contributes and even sometimes validates the violence of people with shared identities. So, I think my poetry speaks this frustration to make moves away from oppression being the oppressed problem. I don’t want readers to think, “Well, if the speaker didn’t dress as Prince, he would have been fine.” I want them to think, “Damned if they do, damned if they don’t.” And start thinking of violence against marginalized folk less of a response and more of a system.
PDS: In “The Doves Cry for the Fly Black Birds Boys,” you use imperatives like “Call me Prince,” (which to me, reads as a call for your reader) and also ones like, “Say faggot. Say switchblade. Say nigga” (which seem like a possible threat to the speaker’s attacker). I wondered how you say these addresses functioning in the poem—do you see the speaker in the poem talking to the audience, themself, the group of boys?
BLC: Sorry if this sounds like a cop out, but I think it’s all three. The speaker in this poem is struggling in a lot of different ways, but one of those struggles is the struggle for subjectivity. That he wants some sort of agency. And these lines are imperatives because he wants to command every agent in this poem: the boys, the readers, and himself. It works as an attempt to get every agent to fully understand and recognized him on his terms.
PDS: What book of poetry do you want to read while listening to Prince’s Purple Rain?
BLC: I love this question. I think Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds would be my choice. I think there is a lot of tension with intimacy and identity in both pieces that I think are bound together through their intimacies with romantic partners and family lineages. I also would probably read Night Sky with Exit Wounds to about anything, if I’m being honest. It is one of those books that fundamentally changed the way I act and react to the world. Prince’s music did the same to a few times, once when I first heard him, and again in high school years when I was first exploring my sexuality and also coming to terms with my racial identity and all of its ambiguities and fluidities.
Juniper Cruz is a Queer Afro-Latinx Muslim poet from Hartford, Connecticut. She is currently an undergraduate English Major at Kenyon College. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, Hika, and Blue Minaret.