Perpetual Reckoning: An Interview With Kiese Laymon

“For me the blues is the perpetual reckoning with what should be agony, but finding ways of making that reckoning pleasurable. The agony and the pleasure exist right up next to one another. The question is how do we most effectively hold ourselves together through the pain, through the suffering, and through the agony? My history in this country teaches me that you have to do it through art. That doesn’t mean the art that gets sold. But the art of talking. The art of listening. The art of making sounds. The art of rhythmically manipulating repetition, which I think was really at the core of the blues.” – Kiese Laymon

Interview conducted by Josh-Wade Ferguson

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by Eleanor Kedney

When it was clear my brother
wouldn’t kick his drug addiction
and return to all the things he was great at—
baseball, tennis, downhill skiing—
he still played the harmonica.

Once, at a summer wedding, in the lull
between the toasts and dessert
he took the band’s mic,
tossed his curly hair to one side,
and put the blues harp deep in his mouth—
puckered lips, blocked tongue,
the bending sound like a train
going through a tunnel.

My mother stood and clapped.
That’s Peter, she kept
That’s Peter.

                                   His eyes closed
to everyone in the room.
“Not Fade Away” took all his breath
to play.

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