Suzi Q. Smith at the inaugural ‘Mixed Taste’ in the Seawell Ballroom on July 5. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.
‘Know which voice to listen to
when it’s time to fly,
when it’s time to land.‘
By John Moore
Senior Arts Journalist
Mixed Taste is a weekly tag-team lecture series that paired playfully unrelated topics on Wednesday nights throughout the summer in the Denver Center’s Seawell Ballroom. The Museum of Contemporary Art Denver is now collaborating on the popular series with Off-Center, the Denver Center’s most unconventional programming arm
Local slam poet Suzi Q. Smith was the series emcee. As part of the fun, she created an original poem as each evening progressed to connect the dots between two featured but seemingly unrelated topics. She read them at the end of each night, and we have been publishing them here throughout the summer.
On Glimmer and Flight
By Suzi Q. Smith
Lecture Topics: Air Traffic Control and Drag Queen Activism
Lecturers: Bruce Goetz and Shirley Delta Blow
There are so many ways to approach a runway.
Fast, heavy as a skilled boxer’s glove;
Precise as a jeweled manicure
or a highlighted cheekbone;
Clumsy as the first time in heels.
It takes time, coordination, and practice
to get it right.
What I love about the airport
is the vastness of possibility:
every terminal filled with dreams and stories,
beginnings and long kisses goodbye,
every face choreographed
into magnificent ballet – and who
serves more face
than drag queens?
and eyebrow raise
is worth at least
56 square miles of
We must remember that certainty
when we find ourselves mid-flight
in what could be chaos.
Listen: there is a small voice lending us direction –
the runway is yours, darling –
and if we listen, that voice keeps us from disaster.
Step to the front
while flashing lights sing
in reverence to your every eyelash.
Sashay when they wave you on,
ignore the flailing arms
that offer you no welcome.
Know which voice to listen to
when it’s time to fly,
when it’s time to land,
know who keeps you safe,
keeps you airborne amidst roaring winds
that would have your wings
if you let them.
Let your pride swell.
When you hear the sky calling, fly.
let the breath of those who love you
be your wind,
let their voices be your beacon.
You, brilliant shimmer,
land on that runway
like you mean it.
On Perspective and Relativity
By Suzi Q. Smith
Lecture topics: P.T. Barnum and Infinity
Lecturers: Kathy Maher and Diane Davis
I first used the term “infinity” as a means
to compound an insult
on some schoolyard playground, as in
“your mama’s ugly”
“you’re ugly times a million”
“your ugly times INFINITY”
my Sunday School teacher said infinity
was like carrying a bucket of water
from the Atlantic Ocean
to the Pacific Ocean,
pouring it in, refilling the bucket
and carrying it back,
repeating this process until all of one ocean
had been poured into the other entirely,
and I stopped using it then
as a weapon.
It seemed a cruel use of vocabulary.
Speaking of cruelty, I can’t help but weep
when I consider the life of Joice Heth
whose body, even in death, was someone else’s spectacle,
whose suffering was no less than infinite,
heavy as endless buckets of water colliding into a gulf
a grand showcase of laughing waves, crashing the shore
and winking at the grains of sand for their pretense of grandiosity.
Maybe it is all perspective, bending with time.
Is time a line, or a circle?
Are we standing at zero or infinity?
Is it ingenuity or exploitation?
Is an elaborate hoax to be scorned or celebrated?
Neither the sand nor the stars are infinite,
but they offer a grand show.
A brilliant display of possibility,
a quantifiable image to lend this vast vocabulary
to the dream of something greater.
And what is greater, more infinite, than our dreams?
Are we not the most stunning display of blue and bite?
The most illustrious outpour of story and song?
May we learn from our history.
May we transform our finite breath
into a stunning cascade of tomorrows,
may we build a world of infinite compassion, courage and creativity –
I believe it will be the greatest show on earth,
On Bob and booze
Bob was once drunk off power
off his hands and all they could spill
Thirty years before
maybe his family would have been driven
by his bust ’em up demeanor
to the voting polls
But then Bob got hooked on painting’s joy
before he fermented his feelings into
the nectar of inspiration
Was his voice
a rough and burning moonshine
a howling across brand new highways
while false McCoys raced in the distance
How many distillations did it take
to find the perfect smoky earthy pitch
lulling so many of us to comfort
like a perfectly aged red
Mr Ross is famed for saying
“there are no mistakes”
I wonder had he witnessed to the
dehydrated hypocrisy and
Overreaching amendment which was the eighteenth
Would he have maintained his floating
and free demeanor
Or would he revive his famed military fire
for access to the saloon
Maybe his only intoxication was the palette
Most likely he would have found a
(which should be called Bob Rosses
if time continuum allowed)
A single malt
Maybe a dear friend
Bob Ross was my bartender
the first to fill my cup with color
Replete with seasoned ice and
landscapes which burned so good going down
Temperance comes from the Latin word
temperar which means to restrain
Tempera is a form of paint and means
to paint in distemper
May we generate a toast
to the eschewing of prohibition’s temperance
less temperar renders us
each of us little burgeoning Bobs
Missing our happy little trees and forgetting
there are no mistakes
Just happy accidents
On Growth and Dirt
To grow asparagus, it must be planted deeply,
like an oil drum full of money.
It helps to have good real estate to bury it in.
It takes patience and skill to get it right,
with a nose for detail that must be studied.
Maybe banks are the best place to begin
the sprouts, they always have plenty
The Romans had a love
for asparagus as well as coin,
as both have been known
as aphrodisiacs, both have led to
suspicions and secrets, both traceable
if you know where to sniff.
I love asparagus.
Once, I ate marinated asparagus at a party.
It was so magical that I decided to recreate the dish at home.
Herbs, seasonings, oil, vinegar? Check.
I placed the ingredients in a casserole dish
and covered, then promptly
forgot about it.
Several long, hot, summer days.
When I remembered,
I excitedly removed the lid, ready to delight
in my first attempt at marinated asparagus, and
The worst smell I have ever experienced –
the kind of smell that expands the realms of imagination,
so bad that my brain had to activate new functions
just to accurately perceive this level of awful.
I grabbed the dish and ran outside to throw it in the dumpster –
the oils and vinegars,
and the glass dish they’d been conspiring in.
No amount of laundering would have saved it.
The crime was so dreadful
that I had to hide the evidence.
I fled the scene, packed up my daughter,
and stayed with family that night
because the scene was too ghastly to remain.
The word “asparagus” comes from a Persian word
meaning “shoot” or “sprout.”
I imagine I asparagussed my way out the back door
on that fateful day.
While it was once know for its reproductive effects,
I have yet to reproduce the marinated asparagus since then,
the evidence of the failed attempt left an unmistakable mark.
Both money and asparagus involve a bit of dirt,
a fair amount of work, but when done well
can sustain us for generations.
May all of our harvests be fair and clean.
On Ways and Words
By Suzi Q. Smith
Lecture topics: Giant Flutes and Celestial Navigation
Lecturers: Akio Lis and Jim Cook
I’ve heard that in Australia,
Aboriginal tribes used to navigate their land
through music. Each place had its own song.
I’ve heard it said that
while any person can learn to play a note,
it takes a true musician to know why to play a note, and when,
how to navigate a song and draw its map.
The earth spins at nearly 1,000 miles per hour,
so fast it almost feels like we’ve always been still.
Sound travels at nearly 800 miles per hour,
so fast it feels eternal, like we’ve always known this music.
Do you ever think about the fact that we are in space
right now? Do you wonder why?
Are we what happens when the momentum of
sound and orbit collide?
Does the weight and gravity
of our instruments help us to know
where our momentum means something?
When we look at the center or
the surface of the earth
and move toward the distant
celestial lights twinkling their hello
(or goodbye, as the case may be),
is it reasonable to still feel lost?
Is it reasonable
to bellow into the dark
and hope your breath will be enough
to carry you toward home?
The way that wind holds a sail,
our breath carries notes
and we are transported.
I’ve heard conflicting tales
about the Pied Piper, and who he lured away
with a hypnotizing flute.
Music has always moved us,
even if we don’t know where its glinting guides us,
it is natural to follow what might still be light.
On Science and Magic
By Suzi Q. Smith
Lecture topics: Telekinesis and Sauerkraut
Lecturers: Professor Phelyx and Mara and Willow King
We train our kids to wash their hands
made by people who want to sell us something.
We all have a lot to unlearn.
One kiss is an exchange
of 8 million bacteria
invisible, moving beings
that could kill us
or heal us,
we all know kisses can go either way.
It’s amazing, the magic
we do with our mouths & minds,
or be broken – I don’t think I understand
the difference between magic and science,
when the same botulism that can kill us
can also stop stories
a living face might tell,
I suppose it’s a bit of both – wielding nature,
being wielded by it.
Maybe everything is cultural –
time, science, magic, movement –
like food, fermenting into medicine,
breaking and becoming more whole.
They say seeds break open to sprout.
They say people who are married for a long time
start to look alike.
Maybe it is like sauerkraut –
the more time we spend together, the better we get.
Maybe science and magic are the same thing.
Either theory requires a bit of faith,
even when we see it, even when we taste it.
Maybe it’s all in our minds,
or maybe only the best parts of each
On Language and Justice
By Suzi Q. Smith
Lecture topics: Esperanto and Trial by Jury
Lecturers: Orlando Raola and Fred Bloom
I have never served on a jury.
Have been left to share my opinions on stages,
and especially on twitter, which is
Somehow, I have never been invited to the party
no one else wants to go to.
I mean – I’d be a good juror, I think.
I’ve seen like every single episode of Law & Order at least twice.
And Ally McBeal, The Practice, and pretty much every courtroom drama
that Netflix has to offer.
When it comes to the wisdom of crowds,
the finders of facts, even standing in unpopular opinions,
I feel like I’d make a strong candidate.
My friends roll their eyes at being called for jury duty . . .
while I raise my hand, eager and polite
as any wallflower
wanting to dance.
Meanwhile, it sounds like jury duty is sometimes
A LITERAL PARTY!
Maybe I want it so bad
because I believe in the weight of words,
the intention and design of each syllable.
How our languages shape fate,
words as heavy as “guilty” or “not guilty”,
of course we should speak in planned language
when our words change lives.
I saw an article yesterday about a family
who was drowning in the Atlantic Ocean
until the people on the beach formed an 80-person chain
to bring them safely to shore.
Imagine if we all used the power of our words
in the same tongue.
If we all spoke together, listened and understood.
I imagine the harmony would make me weep,
I imagine the volume would shake the ground,
if we knew the weight of our words,
imagine how heavy we could be.
On History and Movement
July 4, 1776, some of my ancestors were enslaved.
One of my ancestors signed the Declaration of Independence.
What conversations they must be having in my unexpected blood,
emancipated and armed like Stagecoach Mary.
How unprepared they must have been for such “mixed taste.”
Sometimes, the most essential stories are the impossible truths, born of need.
Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention.
Stagecoach Mary was one of the Wild West’s urgent needs:
her six horses,
her mule named Moses
and if her story ain’t a burning bush
clearing our way, maybe we are ready
for some post-conceptual belief
stasis has never saved us.
Watch how we grow wild as sagebrush,
how we perpetuate our own movement like tumbleweed,
how we find new ways to show the unseen
as a means to survive.
See how our manifestation stays migrating,
maybe home has always been a moving target, the place
where we are best heard.
See how we make new language of color and moment.
I come from a long line of wild westerners.
Some who were enslaved and fled.
Some who were desperately poor and fled.
Some who’ve been here since forever ever ever ever.
All of them finding new ways to survive.
We are people who learn to make what we need.
We are people who pour ourselves over horizons in unmistakable color.
We both find, and have always been, the frontier.
What is art if not us?
If not the impossible conversations in my blood?
In this room?