Blood Dazzler by Patricia Smith is a book of poems that drizzles emotions and shouts in voices as strong as they are reactive. So often after catastrophes (Katrina! 9/11! Haiti!), people pop up on tv, books are written in the stacks, everyone wants to know, wants to say, what it is like. I'm reminded of my Mom's Oprah Love back in the day, and the weeks of post-9/11 guests, survivors, victims' families, firefighters. I remember listening more than I ever have, knowing even in my little 13 year old mind that important things were being said. Reading these poems, I figured it out again: Listen! Listen!
From "Man On The TV Say":
Go. He say it simple, gray eyes straight on and watered,
he say it in that machine throat they got.
On the wall behind him, there's a moving picture
of the sky dripping something worse than rain.
Go, he say. Pick up y'all black asses and gun.
Leave your house with its splinters and pocked roof,
leave the porck chops drifting in grease and onion,
leave the whining dog, your one good watch,
that purple church hat, the mirrors.
If we listen, we hear from the victims sure, but we also hear from other storms, from dogs, from relief workers, from Katrina herself. Sometimes we get tired of this stuff, I know. I do too. It's cramming our brains, too much emotion, too much reality, where are the wizards? But, when it is real, it is real. When Smith speaks, she speaks in voices that I can swallow again and again. No gimmicks here, just straight up personas glowing in phrases.
First section of "What To Tweak":
Italicized excerpts are from an Aug. 31, 2005, e-mail from Marty Bahamonde to his boss Michael Brown, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Bahamonde was one of the only FEMA employees in New Orleans at the time.
Aug. 31, 12:20 p.m. Re: New Orleans
Sir, I know that you know the situation is past critical. Here are some things you might not know.
Rainbows warp when you curse them. I have held
a shivered black child against my body.
The word river doesn’t know edges. God wouldn’t
do this. There’s a Chevy tangled in that tree.
Here, I am so starkly white. Sometimes bullets
make perfect sense. Eventually the concrete will buckle.
They won’t stop screeching at me.
I have passed out all my gum. So many people
are thirsty. A child breathes hot against my thigh.
He has named me father.
I finshed this book like a day ago, and I've been telling people about it. Like at Incredible Yogurt and it was storming real bad, but I was safe, eating my LARGE Blueberry Pomegranate Waffle Cone. What could my voice say! We know how hard it is to talk about poetry! It's even harder to talk about real stuff! Let's allow Patricia Smith to do the talking.
We all know I love Sestinas! From "Ethel's Sestina":
Ethel Freeman's body sat for days in her wheelchair outside the New Orleans Convention Center. Her son Herbert, who had assured his mother that help was on the way, was forced to leave her there once she died.
Gon' be obedient in this here chair,
gon' bide my time, fanning against this sun.
I ask my boy, and all he says is Wait.
He wipes my brow with steam, says I should sleep.
I trust his every word. Herbert my son.
I believe him when he says help gon' come.
Been so long since all these suffrin' folks come
to this place. Now on the ground 'round my chair,
they sweat in my shade, keep asking my son
could that be a bus they see. It's the sun
foolin' them, shining much too loud for sleep,
making us hear engines, wheels. Not yet. Wait.
I got one more thing to say: read this book.