My Summer in Cape Town: Or I’m Sorry for Using You

by Alok Vaid-Menon, ’13

They will ask you
Whether your project can inflict ‘harm’
And you will respond: “minor discomfort” to expedite the review process

Her name is Cym,
And the arc of her smile mirrors her painted eyebrows,
On Mondays she asks you what you did over the weekend.
You do not tell her.
You are guilty of the conversion rate, how you can afford a club, a skin, a language that she never will.
She wants to know what it feels like to live in America
If you have a handsome boyfriend there who will buy you dinner sometimes

In your field research class they will teach you about the importance of obtaining consent.

Cym cannot sign your form
So she communicates with the earnesty of hazel eyes
Smiles, tells you how she used to let heroin and men
Inside of her and sometimes couldn’t tell the difference,
Laughs
Tells you how the cops would beat her in men’s prisons

In the international research workshop they will tell you not to get involved in your subjects’ personal life.

Your palms are sweaty, do not let them smear the ink.
Keep writing as she laughs and encourages you to ask more questions

An aneurysm is a blood-filled bulge in the wall of a blood vessel.
When the size of an aneurysm increases, there is a significant risk of rupture, often resulting in death.
A researcher is an ambitious distraction at the back of the room.
When the amount of information increases, there is a significant risk of an epiphany, often resulting in a published paper.

She will die suddenly nine months after your interview.
You can still remember the scent her smile

One.
Dear Cym: In America I am learning how to think that I am better than you.
In fact, I am majoring in you. Don’t worry, they don’t use your name, keep it confidential

Two.
I am turning your body into a new theory
Academics work like Johns sometimes don’t worry,
Don’t worry they will pay me to use you,
I will cut you some of the profit in my acknowledgements.

Three.
My thesis will be in English,
In the accent you heard on re-runs of Friends,
Cym I’m sorry we weren’t friends, but I wanted to keep it pro-pro, pro, professional
I promise I will print it on the whitest paper I can find,
So they can see the black in your words

Four.
I will bury you in a library,
I hope you will find home there
In this haunted house of quotations
Hanging on the shelves like skeletons

Listen to the recorded transcript on repeat,
Feel her laughter crawl into you,
Watch it spark the timberwood of your bones,
And Burn your paper in the flames
And cry because we refuse to let people inside of us in fear of imploding
And cry because you have the story of a woman nested in the back of your throat and you do not deserve it.

What I really meant to ask is:
What theory did you use to stay warm at night?
Is, Can you teach me?


alok vaid-menon is an activist who

creates art that envisions what ifs and
other alternatives. you can read some more
of their work at: subalternrage.posterous.com

 

Alok is currently sharing his poetry across the East Coast of the United States. His next event is tonight at Yale University:

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2 thoughts on “My Summer in Cape Town: Or I’m Sorry for Using You

  1. qed says:

    That was such a good poem… I have nothing more meaningful to say about it that wouldn’t seem trite, but I have a feeling it will stick with me for a long time.

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