How to speak of j/j hastain’s SOS: Songs of Solomon: A Queer Translation? There will inevitably be as many experiences of SOS as there are readers of it. Perhaps, for some of us who decide to fully enter the dimensions and matrices of SOS, witness will end up being a more proper term than reader. As a reader/witness, it is hard to come away from this physical object—a thick, hybrid intersection of photography and fierce poetic meditations about loves, genders, sexualities, spirits—without having felt invited to project oneself into it. In addition to a book, SOS is a hand, potentially open, filled with secrets about bodies and beloveds. If you allow yourself to be love-filled and tender as you hold your hands open in return, from the other side of the book/body, you could receive a secret. “All this love in order to be part of the incarnate, sentient language wherein grief and fulfillment no longer need to be at odds with each other.”
hastain summons witnesses with the second person tense throughout: “Perhaps intimacies within a book obsessed with the beloved can lead you to your beloved in form? Would you be forlorn during each of the necessary translations?” Translation from book to body. From body to beloved. The beckon of the beloved as friend, lover, self, secret, reader; beloved as witness; beloved as an act of shamanistic return. “It makes you beloved to me that you can hear my interior echoes.”
I’m just one of the reader-witnesses of SOS, and there’s no way of knowing what manifestations of SOS I haven’t accessed but that you, or you, or you might discover and decide to navigate on your own. I find this wonderful. SOS leaves spaces in which the told and untold point to each other deliberately and with care. Many of those spaces exist between the words and the photographs that tattoo the book/body’s paper-skin. SOS is decidedly mystical, written on itself with images of disjointed body parts, dreamscapes, and various unspecified holdings. Its words and images weave ribbon-like through countless definitions and enactments of love—love as fear, as ecstasy, as spirit, as sexual practice, as ancient elements, as “gender from the ground up”. This book/body resolutely invites, sometimes implores, the “you” into the profound, open-ended environments of genders.
All these bound ribbons and their inverse liberations sing, draw out, mourn, and dance. They carry each other through countless modes: The sexual—tongues; skins; “an infinitude of virginities and coituses”. The earthly—birds; gems; sky-myrrh; “this one handful of water that I’m carrying”. The mystical and psychospiritual—“non-singular states in the spirit of confession”. No dance here can be disconnected from its Others. I experience SOS as both a home and a mystery—not a mystery to be afraid of, necessarily; a mystery that can be learned from, one that needs light here and darkness there, sometimes on its own terms and sometimes via the willingness of the “you”, of the beloved, to touch it. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the decision to be alive in this manner is a marvelous and worthwhile decision for a book to make.
Carolyn Zaikowski is the author of the novel A Child Is Being Killed (Aqueous Books, 2013). Her poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in Pank, The Rumpus, Eleven Eleven Journal, Sententia, 1913: A Journal of Forms, Nebula: A Journal of Multidisciplinary Scholarship, Everyday Genius, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Naropa University. She can be found at www.liferoar.wordpress.com.