There’s a negative space of censorship — the unseen, noisy place where the action is, all the books that didn’t get published, or all the pages that were excised and the lives and narratives and details that were buried in a Potter’s Field of history — and Chester Himes’ Yesterday Will Make You Cry is a slim window of opportunity to enter that space and look at a future that largely isn’t but in this case, so happened to be.
In the introduction of Cruising Utopia, José Muñoz says, “Both the ornamental and the quotidian can contain a map of the utopia that is queerness” (Muñoz, 1). Jimmy, the incarcerated protagonist and his lover Rico, also incarcerated, hold the map and pass it back and forth in their everyday exchange as they “in the evenings sometimes… stand beside Jimmy’s bunk with a magazine between them and read to each other” (Himes, 297).
Together, they look out a prison window as the sun dips down. Jimmy prods Rico in conversation: “You sound like you’ve been a lot of places.”
“I have,’ Rico sighed, ‘But that horizon was always there, between me and the other side.’ After a moment he added, ‘But since I met you something is happening to me. I don’t know myself just yet what it is, only I know that the horizon doesn’t matter anymore because it’s all inside of me now.’”
In his now famous articulation of queerness-as-horizon, Muñoz says:
“We may never touch queerness, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality. We have never been queer, yet queerness exists for us as an ideality that can be distilled from the past and used to imagine a future. The future is queerness’ domain. Queerness is a structuring and educated mode of desiring that allows us to see and feel beyond the quagmire of the present. The here and now is a prison house. We must strive, in the face of the here and now’s totalizing rendering of reality, to think and feel a then and there. Some will say that all we have are the pleasures of this moment, but we must never settle for that minimal transport; we must dream and enact new and better pleasures, other ways of being in the world, and ultimately new worlds” (Muñoz, 1).
Even before he goes to prison, for Jimmy the not-queer, uninterrupted present is not enough. “He wanted all of his dreams to come true overnight. He did not want to wait for them; he could not bear the thought of long and tedious years of work throughout his life. It gave him a feeling of being trapped, as if eternity had left him stranded” (Himes, 138). Himes draws a through-line between Jimmy’s dissatisfaction with life before prison (with the domestic, 9-5 labor, with the idea of patience for a future he did not desire, earned through a present that bored him) to his psychological dismantling in prison, where “the past and the future were meeting, the one had stopped and the other had caught up — fusing together into red hot chaos like a furnace in his brain” (Himes, 248-249). The queerness in Jimmy seems as unquestionably headed to the disciplinary site of the prison as the queerness of the circa-1952 Yesterday Will Make You Cry manuscript was headed for the cutting room floor.