Written and performed by Carl Hancock Rux

Directed by Carrie Mae Weems

Commissioned by Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts 


The Baptism is the artists' tribute to the monumental impact of the late statesman John Lewis and minister C.T. Vivian, two towering figures of the Civil Rights Movement who stood at the front lines of the battle for racial justice in the 1960s. Visit to view the film, as well as an intimate interview with poet Carl Hancock Rux conducted by Carrie Mae Weems. In this telling conversation, Rux shares the profound and pivotal moments of his life that shaped him as a person, activist, and artist who grew to find inspiration in leaders like Lewis, who “found a tongue, a language, a means of articulation, a way of speaking to the universe and through time.”

“...I could only realize that as a Black man in America, I owed a great ‘thank you’ to the many men and women who had already confronted the world, and did something in order to change it.”

—Carl Hancock Rux, Poet and Artist


CARL HANCOCK RUX is an American poet, playwright, novelist, essayist, actor, director, singer/ songwriter. He is the author of several books including the Village Voice Literary Prize-winning “Pagan Operetta,” the novel, Asphalt, and the Obie Award-winning play, Talk. Rux is also a singer/songwriter with four CDs to his credit, as well as a frequent collaborator in the fields of dance, theater, film, and contemporary art.

Widely renowned as one of the most influential living American artists, CARRIE MAE WEEMS examines how our society structures power through deeply embedded stories, images, and ideas. A gifted storyteller who works porously between text and image, Weems has developed a revolutionary approach to the expression of narratives about women, people of color and working-class communities, “conjuring lush art from the arid polemics of identity” (The New York Times).




The farmer knows death is another stage of life. Nothing really dies. We transition like Japonica, like quince. The bush blossoms in spring, but some winters--buds early with a cold frost. New buds of Japonica manifest another generation of flowers. There is a great parable where one asks the Japonica flowers: “Are you the same flowers that died in the frost or are you different flowers?” And the flowers reply: “We are not the same and we are not different When conditions are sufficient we manifest and when conditions are not we go into hiding. It is as simple and is as complicated as that. When conditions are sufficient things manifest. When conditions are no longer sufficient things withdraw. They wait until the moment is right to manifest again. We do not die. We are always becoming. We become air and molecules. As soon as blood circulation and respiration stops, excess carbon dioxide causes an acidic environment, causing membranes in cells to rupture. The membranes release enzymes that begin to nourish themselves on nutrient-rich cells and these nourished enzymes become many gases of sulfur-containing compounds and bacteria returned to the earth. The microorganisms and bacteria produce an olfactory of scents as organ, muscle, skin liquefied. Protest. When all of the body’s soft tissue decomposes, we become byproducts of our earlier form. We are never born, We never die. We transition. The day of nourishing steps is here. The lifeblood of transition, one city to the next, story upon story, house to ho0use, our wanting always cleaning the air, nourishing the soil of insistence. Every being is a building with music-- grace upon grace upon grace.


And now both hands baptized in blood. The sharecropper’s son. The Boy from Booneville. The first shall go. The last shall come. Age comes. The body withers. Truth comes as itself, a dissembling of the thing, an entity of narrow precincts. Truth opens among ventured things. Of blood in perfect light excluding loneliness, finding company. Tenant farmers know about hands in soil, and water on earth; know the life span of tobacco crops, and what ice herds hanging over an attic window means the sky, and all its balconies, vis-a?-vis a higher place, a terrace. Another room above a room, taking form, catching hold of the torch glow. I am not me. I am watching me, realized as two tall shadows sinking into the hardened earth. Not even the slightest trace of blue dust will tell of the descent of man, our hours passed into the dim light of half eaten moons. So long a journey, yet brief. After due time we return again, if we nurture that which we have planted with great concentration as a witness opposing autumn. Farmers know the moisture of a night coat and quilted wet against translucent soil; the constant swelling of hands and feet, followed by complete consciousness. Plant planter’s plant. Build, builders, build. Take a knee and baptize imploring succor from the breast of God for a voice, a tongue, a language, a means of articulation. This soil, this civility, this right of man, must be guarded until we die, and birthed again. This proclamation belongs to our walking and our wondering. Walk, walker, walk. Sing, singers, sing. Even when the roads are bad and the bridges blocked and the city’s gates locked against us. Be quick with your questions and slow with
your answers, as you approach the tilling of the tilling of this field. You are its caretaker, inheriting an old masonic hymn of migrants who compel thoughts, and fear not jail, nor noose, nor knife. We are not alone in this music. It is an andantino sung with four wind instruments of blues. It is a flute, an oboe, a horn, a bassoon. All manner of stringed instruments coming from within our throats and the sound we produce. Cavatina for the mother of the dead lost to a mirror, cloaked in darkness and impenetrable misery.


This is the nature of baptism. A thank you of water in company with the web of Reason, entangled to it. Nothing can be wasted. Artistic, cultural and personal relationships to urbanity and regenerative architecture fosters intellectual, human, and financial capital in restoring and replenishing resources of a historical past, a sustainable present and a wellspring of future opportunities. They are two men as a building. No building is wasted. Regenerative design thinking ahead, where architects must design the future, reverse the damage and create a net-positive impact on the environment at the macro scale of sight. Let the storm water run off the roof of your house, and make your house stand beneath this ceiling of our responsibility. A place for permanent dreamers. A crop field for tenant farmers, tenants of their own land and winds. Remember them well. They are over and over, and never die. Almost clear now. Storm resolving its fury. Sheer stocking of light coming over, coming through the floodgates. Two strokes of copper arching over dayspring. Almost clear now. Keep on! Keep on! Clouds braiding over the moss basin, shaking the valley, glistening its illusions. Everything washed clean soon, even the soot-stained air. Keep on keep on.

©Carl Hancock Rux, 2020

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This program is made possible with support from the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, including Council Members Eric Dinowitz, Althea Stevens, Kristy Marmorato and the Bronx Delegation. Additional support is from Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson, the NYS Council on the Arts with support from Governor Kathy Hochul and the NYS Legislature. Foundation support is from Con Edison: The Power of Giving, The New Yankee Stadium Community Benefits Fund, The Lincoln Fund, and private donors.

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