On November 22, 2018, Onnissia Harries published a series of poems celebrating and mourning the completion of a relationship. The reader is given a hint in the title how this story ends, but that does not prevent Harries from creating an ebb and flow. She masterfully creates anticipation, hope and heartbreak.
Harries artfully uses the online platform to create a visual effect for the reader. As the reader scrolls down the black page, reading the stark white letters, the words drift above, as if floating. This artfully connects with the story of a woman yearning for growth and being tethered by an imperfect relationship. The reader feels both pulled down by the anticipation of the ending of the relationship and released by the possibility of a different ending.
There are no images, but you can almost hear the drawl of her lover, the temptation drips from the words. Harries scatters words along the page, like the kisses of her lover down the spine of the reader. The effect is sensual and sexual, but the shivers are almost ominous in the premonitions of the early poems.
i feel my being
into the stratosphere
drawn to the black
but you are gravity
Harries creates ominous feelings of romance, grounding and drowning in the same breath. The reader is not aware enough of her story to make a decision, but Harries allows the reader to sit with that uncertainty. This ambiguous tone does not sound lost or questioning, but rather withholding. Harries teases us with this mystery, drawing us deeper and deeper down the page. As we scroll down, we feel pulled down with her by the gravity of her lover.
and then he held my body
to his and we entered
a timeless black void together
Again, Harries uses space to convey a feeling of ominous uncertainty. Are we to believe the same woman who allows her soul to drip up the page, who yearns for an eternity of exploration, would be happy in a “claustrophobic, endless space of nothingness and infinity.” This line predicts the coming expansion and collapse of the relationship. As the two lovers come together, they fall apart. Harries defines her lover in paradoxes. A man who invites her to explore sexually but cannot leave his home. A man who dates a woman of color and loves her deeply, but jokes about racism, as if it is not a part of his existence because of his relationship with her.
Their passion is like a drug, luring the reader to a hazy arousal.
i treat his face
like a thrown
against my lips
Harries is unapologetically inspired in her sexuality. Her pleasure drips from her writing. She is sensual, she is sexual. Her poems are like a blood red satin negligee, seducing the reader; her meanings subtly slipping into the reader’s consciousness.
Harries expertly paces her poems. Just as the reader is lulled into a sensual orgasmic haze, she drops a heartbreaking poem about being forgotten in a parking lot. The poem sucks the breath from the reader, the rejection flies through the screen and settles in our throat.
In a subtle, but effective change in tone, Harries uses AAV and an almost 90’s inspired rap meter to confront her partner’s racism. She conveys her pride in her blackness in this brilliant tonal shift. We are transported into her mind; we feel this rejection from her lover deeply. We feel her defensiveness. It is almost as if we feel her swallow her anger as we get an intimate look at her freestyle thought.
In the next poem, she confirms this when she says she cannot acknowledge her resentment for fear she cannot unspeak it. But once you realize it, you cannot escape it.
In a brutal, short poem, Harries defeats the notion of forever.
today would have been five years…
and we failed.
we believed in us
more than anything
and we failed.
This poem, so artfully centered on the page, feels suffocating. The centering of the poem on the page makes the reader feel alone and hopeless. How can any relationship succeed when even people who work for their love fail. The feeling of failure settles in the readers gut and the loneliness encapsulates the reader.
Harries balances poems with journal entries and letters. It is not just Harries and her lover who time travel; Harries invites the reader as well. The reader is transported to the past, plopped within a moment. The journal entries give a startlingly intimate look into Harries’ soul. We almost feel we are trespassing through her story now. But Harries commands the reader to be present with her in her vulnerability. She demands to be seen.
Harries does not translate her breakup into poetry, instead posting the journal entry. The quiet, resigned, heartbroken. tired journal entry sits in a paragraph on a screen characterized by short, floating phrases. She commands the reader to witness the totality of her heartbreak in its unaltered form and we are brought into her again.
Harries ends her series with complication. There is no resolution to her grief, but rather it evolves. She knows she cannot be with him, but she also cannot unlove. And rather than relieve us of this grief, she leaves us with a heartbreaking congratulations. We are not the same readers who started; we have evolved along with Harries. She cannot escape this sadness so she does not allow the reader to either. We are left with a heaviness; the happy, overwhelming, sad nostalgia that washes over us with painfully pleasant memories lingers in the air and on the screen.
The series is part nostalgic, part tragic, part damning, and part redeeming. The reader feels the entirety of love and loss before being released. The lifetime of a relationship collapses before the reader and the reader can only watch, feel, and remember with Harries.