POETRY

I Can't Talk About the Trees Without the Blood

Univ. of Pittsburgh. Sept. 2018. 80p. ISBN 9780822965589. pap. $17. POETRY
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"For me, trees will never be just trees. They will also and always be a row of gallows from which Black bodies once swung." Thus does Clark explain the title of her Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize winner, which viscerally imparts the trauma visited on the African American body—and therefore the African American soul. "I carry so many black souls/ in my skin," she says in one poem prompted by her white mother-in-law's wish for the family to be photographed at Carnton Plantation. The plea, "Can't we just let/ the past by the past??" is resoundingly answered throughout in the negative. In the unsettling and ambitious "Cottonmouth," the snake's gaping mouth evokes both being swallowed and the dilating vagina, with the speaker finally "[giving] birth to myself." Yet the struggle to claim herself against physical and psychic violence continues, as she hears the incessant echo of racial epithet and, in the affecting "Tim," identifies with a terrified baby goat.
VERDICT An honest, punch-angry portrait of being American while black.

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