Citizen: An American Lyric

Citizen: An American Lyric Summary and Analysis of Section V


Words smooth the transitions between intention, gesture, necessity, and reaction, but the body remains as it is. A cry from the voice might be intriguing, if only to know what you sound like.

The modes of expression grow more abstract. A "body given blue light, a flashlight" enters the room and it turns out to be nothing more than your imagination (62). You contemplate the colors blue and black. You then consider what really makes ‘I’. The closer we are to the stuff that makes ‘I’, the further we are from it. Sometimes it does not exist until it simply is.

The narrator begins to converse with somebody who has suggested that "we should use our skin as wallpaper knowing we couldn't win" (63). This person appears to be completely different from the suggestions he/she makes, wearing fancy clothing and brushing right past the narrator. Nevertheless, the narrator invites this person to sit down alongside her.

The past haunts us in ways very difficult to parse. The narrator converses with another somebody who wants to argue that the past is not the death of the present. The narrator calms this other person by saying that "you don't really have anything to confess" (64). Again, she asks this somebody to sit down with her in this abstract realm.

Indeed, the next page has a sketch that is pitch black aside from a black woman sitting on a stool. This woman has angel wings and is surrounded by small demon-like creatures. To the side, a small man is pushing against a small set of steps.

The narrator contrasts yesterday and today using highly metaphorical language that references much of the rest of the book, such as sighs, the color blue, leaves, and eyes. There is talk of a storm, of holding onto a guardrail, of the changing from dusk to dawn, and from blue to red.

In a drugstore at the cash register, a man walks in front of you and the cashier calls him out for cutting you in line. He genuinely did not see you, and emphasizes this as you offer for him to go ahead.

A man at a bar shows a picture of his wife to you. You say she's beautiful; he says she's beautiful and black.

You pour yourself a bowl of cereal, but you aren't hungry. You have some red wine instead. Then you have more red wine. At the gym, you spend an hour running in place: "just you and / your body running off each undesired desired encounter" (70).


Like in Sections IV and III, Rankine puts special focus on the body and its potentials to be made known. In particular, the narrator considers what her own voice sounds like. This has many meanings. The voice is a symbol for the self. We often say that somebody is trying to develop their 'voice' when they are writing a book, or that one should 'voice' their opinion. It is a symbol for the physical capacity to speak, but also for the capacity to be an individual.

Again, the black body becomes problematic as well. Whereas one character seems to be fetishizing blackness, another does not see black bodies at all. This brings about a theme that has been a part of African-American literature since Ralph Ellison's The Invisible Man: black bodies straddle both invisibility and hypervisibility in the public eye.

At the beginning of the section, the narrator seems to be talking to somebody, but this person is never addressed. We can see this as addressing the many people who do not wish to be addressed, such as the narrator herself, and as addressing the black community who feels a similar pain. It represents an internal conflict for both the self and the community, whether to aggress or to ignore in the face of racially charged injustice. Essentially, the whole book seems embattled with this issue, perhaps because it is one of the most difficult questions to answer.