119.1: Joshua Kryah:: Holy Ghost People 119

Joshua Kryah invokes scripture to evoke authority. What he delivers in “Holy Ghost People,” however, is not declaration but oration. The act of speaking is more important than any other in this work. If you don’t believe me, just read it out loud. Seriously, I’ll wait.

This poem struggles to separate voice from body: “One enters the other, / othering.” The voice remains a closer indicator of self than the body, but the body sometimes gets in the way. In section four, a body is borrowed to permit the exchange when a distant second person must communicate with the speaker; however, the speaker must tune out the louder sound of his own heartbeat to apprehend the second person’s message.

Kryah might like to treat the body like a doll: pull the string in its back and it talks. Take the little voice box from the doll, put it in any other thing, and its selfhood remains unaltered. But in practice, Kryah’s voice and body overlap. His forward-moving thoughts recall Olson’s measure, the measure of the poet’s (body’s) own breathing. The measure is the draw back of the string, the way it retreats back into the doll’s body as its voice sounds out.

In the tireless pursuit of speech, Kryah finds sonic similarities that expose oppositional meanings. A part becomes its seeming opposite, apart. The voice is a part of the body at the same time that it remains apart from the body. So read this poem out loud. How does the poem’s voice occupy the space of your throat and the air around you? What self visits you then? S. Whitney Holmes

Holy Ghost People

Note: “Holy Ghost People” includes quotes and corruptions of the following voices: Charles Olson, James Brown, Myung Mi Kim, Ernestine Van Duvall, Sir Thomas Wyatt, Juanita Lumpkin, Charles Wright, Cornelia Parker, Samuel Beckett, Louise Nevelson, Gil Scott-Heron, and the Old and New Testament.


Make the body speak or say,

make it


This is where I live, where

I am told—

“tear me away.”

Selfsame, this scattering, a body

annulled throughout.

This berefting—

if one suffer, all suffer—

A part and apart, continuing

and canceling as you move along,

a kingdom laid to waste, encouraging

its own plunder and rape.

All this ambivalence, the body is.

People shout, words break, those gangsters

in whose anger arousing

I am a mouth.


Refuse to say, then
say it.

My body stirred, stricken—

if one suffer, all suffer—

Again, the reminder. As if here,

on the dirt floor, enraptured,

the two of us weren’t already—

for the body is not one, but many—

Dear thugs,

the body is innocent or

professes to be so

without blame. It never

hurt you, never

burdened your tongue

with more than it could not

(hauling itself up, making

itself, forcing itself to)



Each thing I say I unsay,

over and over,

and in circles—

“How many times

have I made it here?

How many times will I

make it back?”

This faltering, the life

it concedes,

liminal, unconstrained,

always somewhere else.

Smoketrees line the road, the road

hidden but for the trees.

Among them a judgment,

a reckoning—

come through the self-sieve,

bear me up—

To summon


To be so easily passed through.


And now the voice,

and now the body.

One enters the other,


“I resurrect things that have been

killed off.”

Where are we?

Behind, behind, the limping

rhythm of my heart, your voice

calling from such a distance as

the body is. Borrowed

for such an exchange—

“If I’m already dead, how can I live?”—

You have been seen.

You are known.

You will be paid.


Our bodies are not hidden
but revealed

precisely for what they are—

“He came back, never said a voice,

dead man”—

Permanence is without muscle,

that throstle song—

dividing into everything severally as it will—

Owning nothing,

owing no one,

self gives way, your voice

in my throatgut,

what burgeons, bludgeons. A gift

either perfect or monstrous—

“what people call by the word

‘scavenger’ is really a resurrection.”

Owning nothing, owing

no one.


Out of what has ceased into
what is ceasing.

Nobody’s voice, again. Such slippage.

How you find your way in.

And in and in—

“I just blown here, I just come here,

and this is my home”—

Supporting the whole weight

of your weightlessness,

the body of what I never was but have

now become, emerges—

chrysalis, supple husk,

(o use your gentle hands)

stripped now to my bare


What was left and leaving
gave itself over

to what would come. That moment

when your voice sounds so very close

to the sound of what happens

or is happening.

What is happening?

Close by, a conversation—

“But why don’t you let yourself

die?” “I have thought about it.”

“But you don’t do it.”

And round it, farther and farther,

dusk, this gloaming,

a seclusion that forbids any entrance

or departure, a distance

like that between

being freed

and freeing someone.


To rid itself, to rid

grant me clemency. To refute, to refuse.

As unable as I am.

So many thresholds, so much

veiling. I can never know

what I want to know.

There is no deep enough, no

end enough—

speak without words such words

as none can tell—

Tonight looks like Jerusalem—

“I’ma save my breath in case I have to
run from here.”