I sing against profit | Jason Magabo Perez

8 mins read

so that I may invent my lungs



call this radicalized

grief call this rigorous

animality call this 

divine sorrow 



in which there is no innovating 

loss in which dead batteries

flatten under the weight of car 

in which I ask for nothing but 

to live in this suffering in which 
skull itself throbs against baton 

in which history is murky in 
which we murk history the ways 

in which these deliverances happen: 
I have not a desire but a need to be 

this nobody who knows no one 

or nothing on the way to nowhere 



I ask for your tenderness, for there collects a 

redundancy, figures in search of the wept, 

figures in search of those that history violates. 

These figures remain nonpropertied. These 

figures need no permission for such savage 

alleyspeak, for these bodies of want. Tell me 

of current pleasures. Tell me of our midnight 

drives from Chula Vista back to City Heights. 

Tell me we will always pass ten to fifteen 

Somali men convening joyously outside the 

little market beside the banh mi shop. Tell me 

this outside capital. Tell me this is better than 

a war of maneuver. Tell me of this war for 

position. Tell me this block won’t get hot. 

SWAT executes a Southeast Asian man 

who earlier allegedly shot and killed an older

Latino man who perhaps a month ago heard 

about the stabbed Latino man hobbling down 

our street. Refuse language that describes this 

city as killing itself. No matter how marxist 

this text might bend, down our street, through 

our alley, no matter the redirection of traffic 

these days to make us dodge a scene, these are 

family histories. No matter how craft incites 

gentle rumination, we are fish in a flood, flood 

of bodies, flood in crosswalk—ruin of state 

apparatus. Yes, Black freedom! Yes, even 

middle class brown and white youth duct-tape 

handwritten cardboard signs to their new 

Hyundais and rap the fuck out of “Fuck tha Police.” 

Show me everything anti-imperialism. Show me 

this historiography of feeling: Black and brown 

refugee and migrant families line University Ave

during this caravan protest because they know, 

so intimately, the surveillance, the threat, they 

know, so intensely, that police terror is routine. 

Let us stop pretending. Let us become neighbors 

against and outside of state. Some poetics 

pretend a non-rhetoric to let language do its 

own work, and in such pretending such poetics 

fail to read poetics as a work doing work in the 

form and content of wake, of tattered trash bag 

capital, chewed water bottle caps, Abolition 

Now! pins, and perfectly inflated birthday 

balloons. Teach me to fight against ethnographic 

impulse, to cancel the descriptive, the snapshot, 

the spectacle, the grace of rigorous solitude. I 

may be super annoyed, but something super is 

happening next door—a youth gamer is 

screaming at the screen: Fuck the police, Bro!

And yes, Bro, show me hella Muslim cabbies 

double-parking their Priuses all along this alley. 



I give you this labored breathing. 

I give you wreckage from material 

joy. I give you miracle of collapsed
rapture. I think of my cousin who 

works as a crying lady. Each day, 
he wakes up to perform a mourning 

for wealthy strangers. Each day, 

an unrelenting fetishization of sorrow.  



What remains is a temple of internalized

rupture. What remains are scraps of

syntax. What remains is vulnerable to

wage theft. I sing against profit. I sing

lost against return. I sing estimated 

antagonisms. What is blessing but bluff 

and confusion, a weight of need versus 

a weight of disrepair? All that is different 

maddens and thrills. All that is this 

absolutely dead smell in a river of 

dank weed and the nonserious kinship 

of isolation. There is something gentle 

in rethinking revolution itself, shrapnel of 

afterlives, disposabilities of heartbreak, 

vinegar of paranoia. In workshop, I sing

as replaced tenant, against hello, with 

cranial guitar strings strummed hella hella. 


The epigraph is from Aimé Césaire, Return to My Native Land, translated from the French by John Berger and Anna Bostock (New York: Archipelago Books, 2013), 78. This work samples from, remixes, and/or is deeply informed by the political-intellectual energy of the following sentences, fragments, and phrases, and the larger works within which they are found: “divine sorrow” and “radicalized grief” in Neferti X. M. Tadiar, Things Fall Away: Philippine Historical Experience and the Makings of Globalization (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009), 370, 15, respectively; “there is no innovating loss” in Claudia Rankine, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely (Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2004), 57; “I have not a desire but a need for solitude” and “I ask for nothing but to live in my suffering” in Roland Barthes, Mourning Diary, translated by Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 2010), 91, 174, respectively; “war of maneuver” and “war of position” from Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci, edited and translated by Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (New York: International Publishers, 1971), 239; and “cranial guitar” references the gorgeously resonant title of Bob Kaufman, Cranial Guitar (Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 1996).  

Jason Magabo Perez serves as San Diego Poet Laureate 2023-24. Perez is the author of Phenomenology of Superhero (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2016) and This is for the mostless (WordTech Editions, 2017). Perez’s work has recently been featured on NPR’s Here & Now, and has also appeared in Witness, The Feminist Wire, Entropy, Marías at Sampaguitas, and Interim. Perez is Associate Professor and Director of Ethnic Studies at California State University San Marcos.