Discovering the Relevance of Words
Sprinkle my ashes
across the north side of Chicago
& the surrounding suburbs.
the south side has seen
too many black boys
become the end
of a flame.
After reading the introduction to Nate Marshall’s Blood Percussion, I was deeply moved, but a little worried that the pieces would be so grounded in the world of Chicago, that I wouldn’t be able to fit inside the words. Then, I remembered, that’s a really dumb way to think about reading poetry – or reading anything really. The whole purpose of reading – at least for me – is to become the speaker, and feel whatever they feel in whatever context I’m able to relate.
when Michelle Obama was
asked about her fear of racists
killing her husband now that he was running for president
she said he’s a black man
on the South Side, he can die
any day. at the gas station
or grocery store.
– from “Mama Says”
The easy flow, almost jazz-poetic feel of Marshall’s approach to difficult moments makes it pretty simple to slide into the shoes of our speaker. The love letter interludes – which include numbers to represent the Chicago homicides during the 2007-2008 school year – are childlike, but pack a cautious smile to pay attention, to love deep, to always know your surroundings, to remind that everything can change in an instant.
I’ll stay with you.
the streetlights come
on or don’t.
Nate Marshall’s words speak with me, rather than at me. These characters are not accusatory, or finger pointing, but rather showing me all I need to know about the love and danger of where he’s from – and in turn, where I’m from, even though it’s not.
Grief is not easy to capture; it’s especially difficult when trying to speak through experiences the reader may not be able to grasp. Nate Marshall’s Blood Percussion easily accomplishes this goal.
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