In a collection of carefully orchestrated poems titled Sleeper Cell, Michael Quess Moore constructs a text that brings forward palpable sense within the body. On the page these words stop the eye and ask to be read again and again and again. On the page these words will make the heart race.
Michael Quess Moore also takes Sleeper Cell to the stage as a work of performance that made a powerful and successful debut as part of Infringe Festival in New Orleans in 2017. This is a poet who can capture our attention and speak directly to the places inside us that knows when we hear something truthful.
This writing is exactly the kind of dangerous American culture needs. Words, beats, movements that disrupt our acceptance of trauma and how it resides in the body and the actions of that body are dangerous works in all the right ways. Any work that teaches the power of identifying pain and feeling the grief of loss, any work that actively moves the spirit toward healing and its inherent dignity is dangerous because it shifts our attention from shaming targets to naming crimes and the perpetrators of those crimes.
From the title piece, Sleeper Cell:
rekindled in kind
in kinsmen through thyme
and this is our season
to unearth truth like treason
from each root to each region
of a family tree ablaze
Readers are carried forward from here on a trip through time and feeling that seeks, and often forges, the right sequence of words and ideas that open pictures too vast to capture any other way.
On the page these words lead the reader through a series of revealings and juxtapositions that build both an urgency to consciously acknowledge and dismantle the white supremacy so deeply rooted in the ‘American Dream’ the hum of it resonates in everything we touch, and the assurance that disruption of the notion of that same dream has its own hum.
In performance this collection builds an emotional grasp that spans centuries and locates the consistency and relentlessness of white supremacy from circumstance to circumstance, from generation to generation, from system to system.
We hear the poetic field notes of a frustrated educator:
our children are a poisoned harvest
ripened out of season . . .
who will tend this garden better . . .
than those who sprouted from it themselves . . . ?
We are gifted with a letter to Whitney Houston that anchors her memory in what she gave to the world and shines a light on the way media narratives directed its audiences (i.e. all of us) to view her as a clown in a tragic circus. These words refuse that command and reach out to her spirit instead:
your song remains, evergreen
will sing us through seasons to come
we don’t know what torturous angles
broke your heavenly wings angel
turned your temple to cage
you felt you had to flee, but your spirit
has finally escaped its vessel
and is from . . . to life everlasting
Readers are taken to a world half-dreamed and half lived where ancestors tell the stories that were never recorded, tell of desires still lingering, and wrongs so long and complete no amount of recompense will suffice in the face of what otherwise might have been. Ancestors and bones speak and the earth rumbles.
In performance the piece titled Obesity lands perfectly and hits hard. The hungers that can not be fed with food are well established and placed on a landscape of scarcities of every variety save low nutrition and highly addictive foods. The trap of it is made so very clear in this work, a handful of lines delivers a full picture because that is what the best of poets can do when they work.
Michael Quess Moore is a performer with presence and power. You will heal something and break something, some will learn and some will meet within a shared pain. This is the best of poetry on a stage and I hope a recording will be forthcoming from this artist.
Sleeper Cell is both immediate and archival. Memory and story have been carried by beat and rhyme and meter for centuries of human life. We need these stories in just this form as a record. As American history sheds its ‘image’ as a colonizer in the continued colonial project to erase stories of brutal and genocidal oppressions even as these atrocities increase in intensity and scope, we need archives we can carry in our minds and bones.
You know how truth feels when you hear it. Michael Quess Moore will help you remember how to use your natural senses as compass.
Sleeper Cell is a collection of well crafted poems, a necessary archive, and most importantly a key for those who need his words as a mirror of self in the world. This is a book that reads as if you can hear it and the work translates beautifully as a passionate song presented fearlessly and alone on a dark stage.
Read Sleeper Cell and give it away too. Especially to the young people in your life.