Review: Maybe the Saddest Thing, Marcus Wicker

Review: Maybe the Saddest Thing, Marcus Wicker. Harper Perennial; 2012.
by Adrienne Christian

Something’s wrong, I think when I’ve finished the first poem
in Marcus Wicker’s “Maybe the Saddest Thing.”
The poem is called “To You” and ends with these lines:

Say it sad and plain…this well is as far as your voice has ever carried.

Tough admission for a writer!

Because I am a writer, I read on with the hopes that poems 2-38 will discuss the writing life — how poems hardly pay, how editors hardly read, how loved ones are still a little peeved that we majored in English. I want to read such things because I want to know I’m not alone in feeling that my words are going nowhere.

Indeed, the poems that follow break the heart, especially “Everything I Know About Jazz I Learned from Kenny G.” Here’s a snippet:

…the morning my pops found Kenny G lying on my nightstand I did learn that a black father can and will enter a bedroom, only to find Kenny’s CD, bad perm and all, cuddled too close to his eight-grader’s head. He will tiptoe from the room, turn the knob, then kick down the door in slippers. He’ll drag the boy out of bed down two flights of stairs and toss him front of a turntable. Listen here, he says. When you finish a record put it back in the sleeve and you better not scratch my shit.

I curl into a ball…Breakfast folds into lunch before I move an inch: When supper rolls around I am shaking…Roy Ayers kneads and vibrates my chest…Pharoah Sanders shivers all over my face…I listen to Freedom Now Suite. It sounds like a welted voice wincing at the basement’s night. A voice my father hears too.

He does not cave the basement door. He walks a dirge down those steps. Gently strokes my neck. Asks, Why are you crying, son? Dad, I ache. Because I’ve been down here forever.

I have too!

But, this poem and at least one other one, Love Letter to RuPaul, make me reach for yet another connection to the text – one of sadness surrounding sexuality:

So that’s it! I say to myself. The speaker in the poem is insecure and has been in hell forever because he may be gay, and his father wants to prevent the may be from becoming the yes?

It’s a conversation I almost have with myself, but refuse to have because the poems are so well crafted, they’re above petty talk of who may or may not be gay. They’re like my friend, Lisa, who’s so full of light and goodness she won’t allow any gossip in her home.

Or shall I say full of greatness?

“Maybe the Saddest Thing” is a great book of poetry. Period. No wonder it was chosen by D.A. Powell as the 2011 winner of The National Poetry Series. It takes readers to the mountain. It connects us all. That is why, when I read “Love Letter to Flavor Flav,” I actually felt some love for that obnoxious joker. That is why, when I read “Love Letter to Dave Chappelle,” it made me smile instead of wince, recalling the coonery. Indeed, the craft is there.

What craft? Five hundred words do not allow for me to (in the words of Fat Boy Slim) “praise it like I should.” But the short version is this: The poems are lyrical and lovely, beautiful in the mouth and in the mind. There’s surprise. There’s the marrying of the emotional with the physical and the psychological. There’s story! There’s love and childhood and parents – the things, and only the things, we care to read about.

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