The Athens Boys Choir isn’t a choir at all – it’s Harvey Katz, a trans spoken-word / hip-hop performer. I love his work since I heard Mourner’s Prayer, an intense poem about transition, spirituality and family. Later I discovered that he has many funny pieces, too, like Fagette and Tranny Got Pack (“I like to pack and I cannot lie!”). I think you’ll enjoy his work, too:
(lyrics for Fagette here)
Mourner’s Prayer, in particular, keeps drawing me to hear it again. The Hebrew chants interspersed throughout the poem haunt me -in a nice way- even though I’m agnostic. Katz said: “In it, I realized that there was a moment where I started to love myself. And I know that seems so loo-loo and New Age. But at the same time, it’s a revolutionary thought to have when you’ve spent your whole life not loving yourself. That changed me and how I write.”
I couldn’t find any lyrics for this; my transcription, after the jump.
Mourner’s Prayer by Harvey Katz
Across the bridge, there are a million lights and night rider I’m driving, New York City on my right. Steering wheel in my hand, journal tight to my thigh and that seventy-miles-an-hour highway line’s hypnotized. And meditative thoughts materialize where I’m chugging along the interstates, paraded by inquisitive nouns looking cock-eyed and inquisitive towns and wonder what this countrified city boy hides. And this time, it’s Raleigh to DC, New York and Philly; a love-seat on Monday; a pull-out couch on Tuesday. And on days this gray, I fold into myself like clovers after dusk; and on days this cold, I wonder what the road holds. I could beat a concept of home and I say the mourner’s prayer almost without thinking: Yisgadal v’yiskadash sh’mei rabbaw.
Yes, I do believe in God; and no, this isn’t Columbine, I’m not answering with my life on the line but when a student asked me this question, “do you believe in God?,” after an hour-long Trans 101 lesson, she was looking for a life line. ‘Cause her whole lifetime, she believed in water into wine, dying for your sins and walking on liquid; and here I was, taking Adam’s rib and turning it into something she had to question. Yisgadal v’yiskadash sh’mei rabbaw.
Your (Hebrew). The loss of a daughter without gaining a son; and like “wouldn’t it just, like, be easier if you just sort of, like, picked one?” For you? Well, probably; but for me, it’s all speculatory; for my family, yes. See, yesterday, I cut off the last parts of me recognizable in my mother’s silhouette; a pound and a half of flesh, and tomorrow yesterday’s trash; and I’m a little bit regret, and a little bit happiness. Witness self-hate. Witness mutation. Witness my father’s even breath breaking into hysteria and negotiation.
Witness, witness awakening. See, I went to sleep proud and woke up feeling like a sell-out, like I’m fucking the binary, like I’m putting out for a system that would put up with me. Like now, I’m part of this silent hierarchy settled for those who have transitioned medically. And really, well, that’s not how I feel at all, so I’m calling on this community to commute; to move past passing judgement ’cause it was twenty-six years before I saw anything beautiful in me. Twenty-six years, each with 365 days, and between, nearly ten thousand dawns of dysphoria; of waking under waterfalls, waiting to be washed clean, or carried off. And we are eighty percent water: fluidity seems only natural to change state into birthright. Isn’t that what we’re taught? That energy is neither gain nor loss; from lava to mountain; from fire to rock… Yisgadal v’yiskadash sh’mei rabbaw.
Sit out parts in the highway; where exits grow so far apart that what is conceptually just a little ways to go becomes fifty miles of road between you and your goal. Yisgadal v’yiskadash sh’mei rabbaw. It is a conversational prayer: the service leader says one thing and the congregation answers: v’yispaw’ar, v’yisromam, v’yis’nasei. It’s a dialogue for a pair; patchwork on asphalt; tar snakes are making peace. See, across the bridge, there are a million lights and night rider I’m driving, hoping instinct brings me to insight.