Review: Maybe the Saddest Thing, Marcus Wicker. Harper Perennial; 2012.
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.
i got my teacher pockets
full of golden tickets,
a crumpled paper airplane,
unfolded; blue and green
a pen cap, black,
a chewed pen, blue.
there’s always juice-
from the bus ride home.
i got back pocket pencils
point end down, for prevention,
they always end up broken.
i take home scissors,
repossessed for reason.
string, yarn; that day we made
masks from paper plates.
like mardi gras,
their perfect black faces
outshone bright glitter and beads.
Gideon Young is a native of Connecticut. His poetry has appeared in Obsidian: Literature in the African Diaspora and The Long River Review. He earned a Master’s Degree in Elementary Education from North Carolina State University and Bachelor’s in Literature from the University of Connecticut. Gideon lives in Efland, North Carolina with his wife and their two cats.
Fan Letter to Spiderman
~after Lucile Clifton
You were on TV last night, saving folks from falling
to their deaths when that giant lizard tossed cars
off the bridge. You must hate the way those villains
assume it’s your job to clean up the mess they leave behind.
The tabloids said you showed your face to the little boy
you rescued so he could see you were just like him—
human and scared—but his father said he’s too young
to know what really happened.
You don’t want everyone to connect the man
to his good deeds or thank you for doing a job
none of us want to do. You want to be left
alone to carry the burden all by yourself.
I wear a mask too, but in the daytime to guard
against a world that wants to pound me into my place.
Your mask gives you a freedom I will never know
because underneath it, the spider’s bite has changed you.
At night, I lose all superpowers and go back
to being just a woman—black, bleeding red.
Can you teach me how to do what you do? Balance
your life on a thin thread, hanging upside down?
Pam Taylor is a Cave Canem Fellow. She holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She recently created a blog for poets with non-literary careers called, A Poet’s Double Life at http://www.poetsdoublelife.com/. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in …and love: Poetry Anthology, The Best of the Fuquay-Varina Reading Series, 2012, Cartographer Literary Review, Mused: The BellaOnline Literary Review, and Revista Fórum Café.
I put you in between my legs and breathe
into your mouth like you’ve
swallowed too much of me
and now you might die
you trapped in your skin
all by yourself, too proud to
tell me to squeeze the
suffering from your lungs
this is always a poem for you
we are interchangeable
in some ways, the stars
started falling out of the sky
and we forgot which
direction we meant to say
in the first place
take me out of your eyes
and i will place you in the armoire
with the glass doors, next to the good
china, instead of in my chest
up under my ribs
next to the longing
Joy KMT is a 2011 Macdowell Fellow as well as a recipient of a Heinz Endowment fellowship. Her poetry has appeared in Check The Rhyme: An Anthology of Female Emcees and Poets, Amistad: Howard’s Literary Journal, and bloodlotus. She has performed at Cave Canem Pittsburgh Readings, the Ujamaa Marketplace, Words So Fly and the Shadow Lounge. She also produced and performed in the interdisciplinary poetry and art show Her Voice: The Stories, Tales and Myths of Women of Color which premiered as a part of the Sunstar Music Festival at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater in 2012.
One Poet in Chicago
This city is scary and supreme.
Its shiny lakeshore with white yachts
and seagulls and herons tilting
quietly upon the marble waves.
The hard-blowing wind
licking the rind of the imposing trees.
Those crazy and beautiful people
walking up and down the streets,
as the Sears tower pierces the alabaster sky.
A long time ago, in some small house,
Carl Sandburg was writing his dreams.
Not too far away, Hemingway learned
his way with the shotgun.
This city of butchers, gangsters,
and sky-drinking poets.
This city of uncertainty
and misunderstood simplicity.
This city of fondness
and knives leading to oblivion.
But it is still early…
One of these days when you wake up with words
in your head transforming into money–
unallowable poet’s dreams…
God did not give His permission to each and every scrivener.
Cup of coffee or the unsolved color of the whiskey–
which absurd will the poet pick and choose?
This city will take care of it!
Back in the day, you could see the little Gwendolyn Brooks
skipping rope with the words forming in her head.
Now, the slam joints are full of screaming typesetters.
This is your place under the sun. City of destiny!
Do not leave it…
The stones of the ruined city wall
will never say: Goodbye!
Peycho Kanev is the Editor-In-Chief of Kanev Books. His poetry collection Bone Silence was released in September 2010 by Desperanto. A new collection of his poetry, Requiem for One Night will be published by SixteenFourteen in 2013. His poems have appeared in more than 800 literary magazines, such as: Poetry Quarterly, Evergreen Review, Hawaii Review, Cordite Poetry Review, The Monarch Review, The Coachella Review, Two Thirds North, DMQ Review, The Cleveland Review, Mascara Literary Review and many others. Peycho Kanev has won several European awards for his poetry and he’s been nominated for the Pushcart Award and Best of the Net.
pronunciation of her name
found in Toni Morrison’s Sula
each time she said the word me
there was a gathering in her
where all sorts of people dropped in
or read you a dream
there was a gathering in her
like power, like joy, like fear
or reading, a dream
oh jesus make me wonderful
like power, like joy, like fear
but on the other hand
jesus, make me wonder. full?
she knew exactly what she meant.
But on the other hand
all sorts of people dropped in
she knew exactly what she meant
each time she said the word
Ask Lani Guinier
A double bop for Clinton after Morrison’s Jazz
where is the black
in that Arkansas grin
in that smooth talking jowl
in that slave fattened chin
in the make up we help him
swab over his sin saying
hit me but don’t quit
ask Hillary ask Lani Guinier
what it takes to buy coons
in election year
at convention time
happy darkies all cheer
kiss on the cheek
does it smear
nobody does me like you do
Bill is a name for a teenage law
that might make it through
a shackle built building
that don’t care at all
and don’t want you to survive
hit me but don’t
and a Bosnian war
and a heated intern
and the march into workfare
what didn’t we learn
from not asking not telling
and Lani straight burned
is it drawling or diction
that still makes us yearn
nobody does me like you
what is it
about a white southern man
that makes slime seem so sweet
and critique seem so bland
that the daughters of slaves
would fall for the scam
like nobody does
Alexis Pauline Gumbs is a prayer poet priestess with a PhD in English, African and African American Studies and Women and Gender Studies from Duke University. Her poetry appears in several anthologies including: Does Your Mama Know?, Leaving Home Becoming Home, Growing Up Girl and Encounters and a number of journals including Make/Shift, Everyday Genius and Turning Wheel. She also has poetry forthcoming in Kweli, Vinyl and Reverie. She is the founder of the Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind Community School and the Mobile Homecoming Project, an experiential archive project amplifying generations of Black LGBTQ Brilliance.