Escalation: phenomenon of something getting more intense step by step.
I’m participating in Spark: art from writing, writing from art. It’s an event in which artists and writers respond to each other’s works over a 10-day period. This one is from September 21 through September 31. Participants sign up and the organizer e-mails the inspiration piece for the works that will be created. Each person gets a different piece. Artists get words, writers get art for inspiration. This time, we had the choice of honoring a young writer who has participated in Spark in the past. She recently died suddenly. I didn’t know her, but her work definitely sparks emotions. In fact, when this poem was offered as one of the choices for inspiration I asked for more choices. The honest nakedness of it touched such a tender place in me that I wanted to turn away. But I realized that this is exactly what good writing is supposed to do. Good art should shake you, should linger in your heart and head, even disturb you. I hope I’ve done justice to her poem (which she wrote in response to a photo of a staircase) with this black and white pencil drawing that I call “Escalation.”
By Charisse Cecil
I’m standing in these slotted
shadows, leaning against this
cinderblock wall that is coated in countless layers
of paint vainly attempting to cover generations
of ubiquitous crew tags and psychedelic
Under this metal staircase, where I used to huddle
with my girls, harmonize to hip hop soul
pop rhythm & blues slow jams and practice
lyrical freestyles in an impermeable cipher
that the boys could not enter unprepared
for verbal battle.
The light shone through the slats and created
stripes across my loose-leaf paper,
shining on my algebra homework
brightly enough for T. to copy my answers
while I crushed on him so hard
that I didn’t mind doing all the work.
Tucked inside that acute angle under the stairs
with T., I tasted my first kiss – a heady blend
of heat, his sour apple Jolly Rancher
and my pink lemonade Bubble Yum
that made all those late nights of memorizing
theorems and formulas worth every
missed must-see TV show and girly conference call.
Whenever I hear the crunch of broken glass
and discarded Newport filters underfoot,
I remember the night L. forced me to my knees
under those stairs and pressed my face
against his open fly, when he was supposed to be watching
me while my mom went around the corner for groceries.
Under this stairwell, I learned one source of my power
that will take me beyond this stairwell and these shadowy halls.
The power is in my mouth –
to recite rules or rhymes,
to sing songs or wail battle cries,
to give ardent pleasure or exact excruciating pain.