Poem of the Week | August 15, 2022
“In Which I Dream that I Sing like Lianne La Havas” by Gustav Parker Hibbett
This week’s Poem of the Week is “In Which I Dream that I Sing like Lianne La Havas” by Gustav Parker Hibbett.
Gustav Parker Hibbett is a Black poet, essayist, and MFA dropout. Originally from New Mexico, they are currently pursuing a PhD in Literary Practice at Trinity College Dublin. They are a 2022 Djanikian Scholars Semifinalist and a 32 Poems Featured Emerging Poet. Their work can be found in 32 Poems, The Stinging Fly, Banshee, River Heron Review, Adroit, Pigeon Pages, North American Review, Poetry Ireland Review, and elsewhere. You can also find them on Twitter (@gustav_parker) and Instagram (@gustavparker).
In Which I Dream that I Sing like Lianne La Havas
In “Ghost,” there is a staircase Lianne climbs;
spiralled, gilded, effortless; royalty on their way
to bed; earthy marble steps in rabbit slippers.
A voice entitled to itself, to ease. I dream,
one night, that I am singing along to this,
my notes there next to hers. A palace guest,
I am timid but accurate, a shadow sidecar
on her sheet music while she walks the halls
with nowhere else to be. She stays, until
the crescendo, in my range—and I manage
mimicking everything except her ease,
the carefree way her timbre drapes a robe
across its shoulders. On the first chorus,
she takes the first few steps: up a few,
then back down. Poses sitting with a hand
across her forehead, head leaned backwards.
And I follow in these acrobatics, near the best
I’ve ever been when I’m awake. I almost believe
that I belong here, cloaked in opulence, pearled
with impromptu grace notes. But the next chorus
comes soon after the first one. At the stairs already,
she turns again to climb. I have only ever stopped,
dropped an octave here and matched her motions
from the ground floor, shadow cast across a fall.
But this time I begin with her, always with the ghosts
of us in tow, swooning at the base of the stairs,
and when she starts to climb my voice moves
with her, is her. Clad in femme divinity, I am
grand and satiated shameless, celebrated
without need to be; my triumph like the time
a ballet dancer takes to float before they land.
Until I wake, I’ve proven everything I ever
needed to. My performance here is not a ticket
into more rooms I will have to sing to stay in.
Growing up a Black scholarship kid at private white institutions, always feeling pressure to prove my worth beyond “diversity points,” I envied those who’d learned to shape socio-political spaces around themselves through what looked like effortless grace. With so many interactions feeling like tests or auditions, I never felt secure in myself, and it seemed like any legitimacy I garnered could slip away with just one mistake. I was, at times, hyper-aware that the way people perceived me could heavily influence the way they treated me, and I wanted more control over that process. I wanted to be smart and beautiful by my own definitions, and I wanted those definitions to be so arresting that they became self-evident, overwrote Eurocentrism.
With this poem, I’m trying to articulate that self-assurance I still find my inner child chasing. Especially as my gender identity continues to evolve further and further out of the binary, I want to be able to exist fully as myself, without feeling like I need to prove that I deserve to. I’m eager to finally get to a point in my life and career where it doesn’t feel like the things I’ve achieved can be easily made moot or pulled away from me, and where I’m confident enough that my own definitions are what matter most to me. After I woke up from the dream this poem is based on, I was surprised by how happy I’d felt achieving something as simple as singing like La Havas. How great it felt to have her voice’s grace, its ease.
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