Journal entry from this date one year ago

December 28th, 2014

Reading The New Jim Crow on the flight from Tucson to Las Vegas. With the plane descending, the white woman beside me asks about it. “The prison industrial complex, “ I say, “Ferguson,” and “mass incarceration,” she seems interested. The white woman next to her also seems interested. Both say that they are definitely going to read it. The woman in the aisle seat leans in and lowers her voice to a whisper when she says “black people,” then brings her voice back to its usual volume to finish the sentence. She gives me her drink voucher. I already had one. I thank her. I see her once more in the women’s restroom. She says again that she is definitely going to read it. Again, I say thank you.

Boarding the connecting flight to Oakland. Empty middle seat between a black man and a black woman; I think of Claudia Rankine’s poem on the perpetually empty seat beside the black man on public transit. I sit down in the seat.

The woman has driven AC Transit buses in Oakland for 35 years. She asks if I am from Oakland. “No, I say, “Virginia. Just outside DC.” I ask if she wants a drink voucher, that I have an extra one. She does. He is wearing headphones, grey track pants, grey hoodie. I reach up to the comfort panel above me; i loosen an aperture and cool stale air streams against the palm of my hand.

I tire of my own dialogic realism. How much is not said in speaking.

We sit quietly in the context of our shared colonial history.

We arrive in Oakland.

This morning before leaving, you loaned me The Address Book by Sophie Calle. “It is on you to remember to return it,” you say leaning across the table, “I will not remind you.”


Inter•pellated: Day One

On September 10th, I underwent gender reassignment surgery. Today, my mother came to visit. For one day of her visit, I attempted to transcribe every instance in which I was interpellated as “she,” as female, by her and by others.

Day One

“He said, I’m going to to see her in November—”

“She wanted one for hers”

“It’s her doing”

“She was 15, she was pretty mean. She couldn’t talk things out in a civilized way.”

“I think—she, Emji, used to be T——I got upset that she changed her name. That hit a nerve with me. I took it as an offense.”

“I was ready to X her out of my life. It was a one minute moment. Was she devil-possessed? I don’t know.”

“It was a huge decision and she shut us out of it.”

“She has some depression issues and that’s something that she—you—has to deal with.”

“We are supportive of her, but we are shut out.”

“No—I don’t think that I feel guilty as to how I brought her up.”

“She feels that I don’t understand and not knowing herself, what those feelings are.”

“She obviously feels that her feelings are hurt that I wouldn’t use the pronouns you use.”

“It’s okay. I love her anyway.”

“It was walking distance from where she lives.”

“She could spend the night. Have a girls’—oh, slumber party.”

“One senior ticket, and one for her—uh. I’m from North Dakota, and she—uh, and, lives here. I’m visiting my kid.”

“She’s a resident of San Francisco, I mean, him, I mean, they are.

“I thought she’s writing it down—”


“You might have been a little girl—a little toddly toddly kid.”

“Do you remember when you were a little girl? You used to put olives on all of your fingers?”

“She can put an ice cube in it.”

“She can have it. She can take it.”

She’s clumping hers all together.”

“She just can’t reach right.”

“Denver omelets, and she had grits.”

“She wanted to know what kind of traits I got from my mom and dad.”


Code Dependence (with Ted Rees)

The benefits of the air’s suggestive unbreathability include allusions to hope, prancing in reddish form atop the foothills.

As if air is breath is allusion is hope is red is form is foothills

Here’s a caption: If it could still be called a poem, the poem, leaning up against a tree. Bare, bereft of cotton insulation, between its fractured slats the grey of the road now visible. Deflated, almost. The poem’s skin hangs in puddles on the ground. A suitcase peeled open beside the poem on a patch of dirt lost amid the wash of grey. Its contents unzipped, exposed. Voyeur, you look inside. A bit of orange, perhaps it’s a shirt. Something, white, shiny, plastic. A deluge of blue usurps the edge. A point of contact with concrete. You pass this daily.

A quotidian of discard is ever and always ongoing: crushed Bubble Tape containers, weaves tumbling and intact, rot gut personals, treated compressed remnants of what was pine, bleach sprinkled fabric shreds, off-white or perhaps beige gallon tins rusted, fenders, faithful baggies, doll parts, as in I am big veins, their minutely detailed rummaging history.

Playing house, the small human chews, digits caress strange nylon manes and lips move in dialogic attempts at narrative, collected sorts of gutturally spittled tiny gesture.

But no: let’s just smoke it all right now and sloganeer on every wall:





Almost instant buffing, shallow threaded shoulder dewed & flexed amidst new sidewalk, heaps being cleared daily along the thoroughfares brazen with rumble, the off narrow of the gallery.

As if sidewalk is heap is thoroughfare is rubble is gallery

“how our languages are frothing,” you write in the text that is not this message. And how I imagine you is walking through the landscape, built and emergent. I also have been walking in a way less disciplined. A habit, or an obsession in varying states of decay. We caption these encounters: This is what an orgasm looks like. Here, though, for you, I will transcribe these accumulations.

Here’s a caption: Through the tear in the poem’s skin, peeled back to expose the curling, yellow beneath and peeping through like jaundiced petals, you see the poem’s slim ribs parted, structure rising to the surface of awareness—its process as yet invisible—the dark mouth gapes through. Oh well. You step inside. Into something unidentifiable. Some withered pink instance barely visible against the drought-choked backdrop of another day.

Almost instant.

Minutely detailed.

Replacing these words for other words, I come

to the conclusion that “This poem, like any poem, is mute.”

Or, as Susan Sontag writes in On Photography, “It talks

through the mouth of the text written beneath it.”

So then, is this what we’ve been seeking?

What is written beneath:

Or babbled, a shredded amalgam of forces slinking the sidewalk, phantoms huddled over dice games, bone rolling.

“What kind of place can an alley be?” Will commemorative plaques be placed when the rubble is cleared? I do not fear time, she sings. I listen and am lachrymose from uncertainty that I could ever say the same. Whatever withering doesn’t faze, but the slim ribs of architectural memory pierce and collapse the lungs that loathe but breathe still.

As if place is alley is plaques is rubble is time is uncertainty is the same is whatever withering is ribs is memory is lungs

It is not time, but the shepherds that guide it along towards a cleansed repertoire that spins kicks at my solar plexus. It is a violence that will always overshadow the repeated muggings of investment-minded honkies at 9th and Center.

There is difficulty in walking around with permanent resting thizz face, and the occasional wish for stunna shades dark enough to prevent witness is problematic.

For now, though: a siphon, more dog shit than grass, post-modern ticky-tacky,

oh burnt shells and jasmine,

oh ice cream Cutlass,

that Kirkham stench,

that grocery corporations lose millions of dollars worth of pilfered milk crates every year but          fuck ‘em

we need some place to sit and smoke and stroll from.

we need some place,

and we are seeking it at the margins.

we are seeking it in excess,

and we are seeking it in refusal.

In Usufruct, Thom Donovan and Rob Halpern re-imagine the poem as “a materialization of communications’ excess, a useless obstruction,” as “the waste of the system, or whatever refuses proper integration.”

“Around it,” they write, “we gather.”

Written collaboratively by Emji Spero and Ted Rees
Oakland, February 2013

The Body and Violence: An Interview

Gabriel Ojeda-Sague interviewed me this Summer for Jacket2. Our conversation meandered, touching on almost any shit will do, personal trauma, queer longing, surveillance states, public/private access, the Baltimore riots, and Exhaustion, my new book on violence as the static and quotidian.

Here’s an excerpt:

Ojeda-Sague: Right, and there’s something kind of erotic about what you’re describing, like, knowing that your body is in the same space as somebody else. And that has its political and social connotations, but — as well as just being in the same area and having those bodies touching. And you’ve talked about the almost ritualistic return to the site of trauma as something that has a certain kind of erotic energy. Would you mind talking about that? Like, what is the motivating energy behind that?

Spero: I feel like at its very basic level it’s an attempt to process it honestly for myself, just like the trauma of that. But I feel like so often the sites of trauma in our bodies become our greatest focal points of desire. So during this period I would try to inhabit that moment of being thrown to the ground, of becoming unconscious, of being … suddenly not within my own control. Like, in that moment my hands were behind my back, and I was thrown into the concrete. And then, I remember sort of waking up across the parking lot, like not in the space where I landed. So it’s like this sort of attempt to not be dragged from that space. So, during this period I would lay on the ground a lot, because like just after this, six months after that time period, whenever I would lay on the ground and press every point of my body into the ground in like my friend’s living room or wherever I was, I would start sobbing. Like, I couldn’t lay on my back without sobbing. So that was the very act of, like we were talking about before, of performing the corpse, or performing the immobile, in the privacy — not like in a performance context — but just in the privacy of my own, or someone close to me’s, space. It became this very charged site, and so there’s that moment where traumas don’t leave your body.

So I kept returning to it. I kept returning to it by throwing myself to the ground or laying on the ground by processing that … to like, locate it within the map of my body, and it shifts. It shifts, and when you try to approach it, you slide away from the moment. The moment is inaccessible in this way. And so I was just trying to map the sliding away. But still like attempting … so going towards trauma in this way I feel like is similar to the momentum towards that utopian longing, like you move towards it and then it falls away and you move towards it and it falls away. And it’s this repeated exhaustion of that, which I think causes those lulls after, you know, a ruptural moment or after a series of riots or marches, that period of time afterward where it’s just, like, almost sort of hopeless and it feels like you are having to do the less glamorous structural work [Laughs.] that enables the next moment to happen.

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Screen shot 2015-10-01 at 2.27.30 AM

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[Here the computer runs out of battery. I go to sleep]

from Aggressively Edited Interviews No.1


Well, actually I mean, in terms of Anyway, in that.

Well, you pub–publicity Um, Um, and like, I mean, but yeah, things, interesting things

people–you you know, um, Um, you know, you know,

And then the contingencies of, the contingencies of the sort of, you know, you know, uh, you know, aren’t–that are very, that are very–very Um, so, is, is, is you, you sort of–


Well, I mean, I guess the–the, the I mean, Uh, but there’s not, there wasn’t Um, it’s just a different–it’s just a different it’s just sort of not…you know, as well, um, sort of, or or you know, I don’t know, what–in order to, to produce

and that, sort of, um, attempting to sort of, you know, the sort of So um, a sort of how those things, how the form of those things, and so to sort of also, um, uh, a desire So it was sort of also a–I mean about, um, well, something again, in the, at least in the local And so, um, really, I mean, to ask–rather than like, sort of expected sort of ideas and and you know, Sort of like, well, and, um, and maybe kind of, more heightened, uh, So, not simply, you know, not that there’s anything, not that that can’t be uh, practice, in like, But also, you know, like people who, you know, bring Um,

and then also, I mean also, the, the, the thing that’s coming up, I mean, sort of–you can’t just like

anyways–the idea was sort of also, like, and sort of, well, what about–I’m also interested in you know, we talked about other people in other locations too.

I mean, um, well it’s, very–it’s not simply well, Right? So, you know, to delete, to, to, um, combat? Uh–


I mean, because, you–the police Um, and then that to–I mean, as I understand it, of course, you know, um, you wouldn’t, you know, I mean, you have here, but not formal, like, you know, you wouldn’t be like, I don’t know, Um, there’s not, like, a history of that, um, But, then–you know, And so, So, you know, and then, you know, and then, and of course, they play out–of course um, in terms of So, those kinds of things that are different, and then also, just the specifics You know, um, uh uh poets, sort of, you know, my sense is that like, so, anyways, at this point, but, I mean, I think that those, that would have been something that, if we had had more than two days, uh, in some ways it was Uh–


Yeah, my own–

My familiarity I mean, I know that–broad generalization, but–you know, changed very radically over the last, you know, eight, ten years. Um, I mean, that’s also very self-description. I mean, sort of met other people and got turned onto went a certain way, now, at the very least, Um, you know, you often get people who come here who aren’t necessary, who might be, but aren’t necessarily, that are, you know, uh, but because of, or just sort of the sense of what’s going on here But, maybe–gross generalization–it’s never, it’s a little bit.

But of course here, there were, you know, here, that weren’t I mean, that last day There’s somebody, um, and a couple people, uh, and I feel there were two or three other So, which is,

It’s quite, it’s quite, and you know,

Well, yeah, um. I mean that’s, you need

I mean, if we had the money, for sure.