Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Summer Reading: Abani and Shepherd

By chance I've been reading poems by men of color this summer: Chris Abani and A.B. Spellman, featured poets at 2010's Split This Rock Poetry Festival; Reginald Shepherd and Melvin Dixon, both no longer with us, found at a used book store in Itaca, NY; Terrance Hayes, who read at Sunday Kind of Love last weekend; Luis Alberto Ambroggio, who kindly gave me his new book, Difficult Beauty, at last month's Sunday Love; and Rafael Campo, whose The Other Man Was Me I happened to grab off the shelf to read the day after we got home from Italy.

Of course themes of identity run through all their books. Also masculinity and sexuality, the body. Abani is Nigerian, displaced by the Biafran War, exiled by his country. War, exile, the search for home are ever present in his work.

I offer poems by Abani and Shepherd below and will try to post work by the others later this week.

The New Religion

The body is a nation I have never known.
The pure joy of air: the moment between leaping
from a cliff into the wall of blue below. Like that.
Or to feel the rub of tired lungs against skin-
covered bone, like a hand against the rough of bark.
Like that. "The body is a savage," I said.
For years I said that: the body is a savage.
As if this safety of the mind were virtue
not cowardice. For years I have snubbed
the dark rub of it, said, "I am better, Lord,
I am better," but sometimes, in an unguarded
moment of sun, I remember the cowdung-scent
of my childhood skin thick with dirt and sweat
and the screaming grass.
But this distance I keep is not divine,
for what was Christ if not God's desire
to smell his own armpit? And when I
see him, I know he will smile,
fingers glued to his nose, and say, "Next time
I will send you down as a dog
to taste this pure hunger."

- Chris Abani, from Hands Washing Water


Kneeling Self-Portrait

Fluencies of light daily
with olive groves, pensive
green and silver leaves reflect on
noon lies. Unlovely Nemesis loves Narcissus

forced into fruitless bloom, and visits on him
the sins of bees. Strange boy
adoring water’s nothing, shadows
water captivates: this stream

shatters glass for every stone. Mirrors
are evil, held overhead as sky.
Persephone’s heralds string their gold
and black through pollen-addled air, singing

without respite, stinging light
into food for dead gods.
He doesn’t recognize his body
has no rights, no luck with bees.

- Reginald Shepherd, from Wrong

Excellent, thanks. I admire both these writers.
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