It is interesting how easily homes are transformed into museums, but maybe that is all homes are actually. I was at Paisley Park on the first day of public tours—not a sign of my dedication to Prince fandom, just that I happened to be in Minnesota at the right time with six hours to burn. The tour of the complex began in the west atrium, and arranged there in the center of the space were Prince’s ashes collected in a miniature replica of the Paisley Park compound. The day-one docents gave us no warning. We walked around it while they talked about the dove cages, the office, the kitchen in which he supposedly liked to watch the Timberwolves play. Then: By the way, have you noticed that reproduction of the complex? Well, Prince’s ashes are housed in there. The consistent message throughout the tour was that Prince was around and watching you. We walked beneath a mural of his eyes to enter the home. He wanted you to know you were under observation.
His indoor basketball court had been dismantled and transformed into the Purple Rain exhibit. That decision did not sit well with me. I was on a basketball court when I learned Prince had passed away. A kid ran onto the court reading off his smartphone, “Yo, Prince died.” We paused, then decided to keep playing, like that line in Komunyakaa’s “Slam, Dunk, & Hook” (When Sonny Boy’s mama died/ He played nonstop all day, so hard/ Our backboard splintered). Well, maybe not that hard, but we played to affirm and protect the therapeutic potential of the court and the game—a potential I believe Prince must have understood and likely relied on when he needed it and when his body allowed him. Seeing the court in his home become a Purple Rain palimpsest—in a complex with so much available space—left me conflicted.
We did not get anywhere near the elevator where Prince’s body was discovered, which is to admit that my visit to Paisley Park had little to do with this poem, one I had been drafting over the six months between Prince’s passing and my trip to Minnesota for the MotionPoems premier. Although, to go back to basketball, there may be a connection via the idea of rising. The symbolism of Prince expiring in an elevator haunted me, which I also took as a clue that the intersection of rising and death was what I needed to interrogate if I was going to try to put into words my feelings around Prince—death, or transcendence, as that “go crazy” impulse when “the elevator tries to bring you down.” As much as it saddens me that Prince, like Michael Jackson, died in such pain and loneliness (and, yes, what does it say about us that we need, or dismiss, this brokenness for our entertainment), I hoped to avoid sadness and find wonder.
“IT SEEMS THIS ROOM IS ACTUALLY AN ELEVATOR”
The standard residential elevator is designed to accommodate 12 passengers, all of whom we assume to be of average weight and form. This is the Occupant’s Fallacy.
~Theoretical Elevators, Vol. 1*
I have never changed my name, though I am
an artist. I can only appreciate genius
pppppin the context of the miscues and false
starts and tries that alter us, reveal. Your first
attempt a departure failed. Your private
pppppjet cruising through the public
sphere of sky. Your instinct: to achieve proper
altitude, trajectory. But now a convert, a Witness,
pppppyou no longer believe in lofty soul. Afterlife
sung now as Kingdom of God, and you—
having invested yourself in good work—
pppppexpect another life there, the end-
less happiness and sunshine. But
you are Prince, regardless of what
pppppyou now call god. Prince can
only perish in an elevator—nervous
system crazed with pain and fentanyl
pppppas your digits solo your cane’s fret.
You would die in an absence of lilac.
You would die in a sexless gyration,
pppppwhich gestures back toward a career
in which the pelvis reigned, in which purple
was never rare nor royal.
pppppLet me thank you for the gashed
masculinity you passed down (the skin
exposed through pant seats,
pppppmoons sliced out) for all
that baroque badassness and coiffure.
All the surface contradiction of that
pppppwhich you promised to be: neither.
Boygirl. Motherfather. You with little patience
for the norms many assumed,
pppppyou built a sound-cab, a sacrament
of vertical oscillation—ascents
and stops improvised like strummed
ppppphalf- or quarter-notes.
You would die between floors,
between measures. The unaltered
pppppchord of your body found at ground level,
but this thing called Prince was rising
already—beloved and black.
ppppppppppto be taken,
ppppppppppto put in the truck.
* Theoretical Elevators is an imaginary book whose text is interspersed throughout Colson Whitehead’s novel The Inuitionist.