It being close to Valentine’s Day, I’m thinking of Cupid’s arrows, and how Adrienne Christian draws back her bow and lets fly. Worn, her most recent collection of poetry, is a love song of sorts. Simultaneously tender and painful, she writes of poverty, racism, emotional abuse, miscarriage, and much more, unsparingly, drawing back her bow, hitting the mark with each poem.
In Boys in Blue, she describes the profound vulnerability of Black American men to racial profiling. Sure, she references the police, but also an entire social system endemic with stereotyping and preconceptions:
“She can spit in, and get all up in his face like this:
Do something. Boo; I dare you.
Because even if he so much as pushes her off,
She can call up the cops.”
What a stunning illustration of inability to respond to provocation, to defend oneself; A glimpse of what it’s like to be victimized from all directions.
Christian describes some epic failures in parenting and fatherhood. Biological Father at College Graduation, 2001, is one, and Portrait of a Father: 2014, another:
“Say hello to my faggot kid
is how Ed’s dad
started introducing him…”
Present throughout is the theme of exclusion. There is the social and professional ostracism in How to Survive When You’re the Only Black,and in Party Hats.
And when she writes of family, it’s of more exclusion – the striking disconnect from those with whom we are supposed to be connected. Wedding Dress considers which family traits will be passed on to the next generation.Will it be our vernacular? Our prejudices? Incest? Violence?
“Problem is, I need to be blotted out –
my family’s DNA.
My daddy, the gangster; his mother, the moron.
My mother, the daughter pimper; her mother, the monster.”
My favourite piece, however, is Christian’s vivid description of life with a reader and writer. In Portrait of My Very Jealous Husband, the speaker laments:
“I gotta wait on my mimosa and chicken n waffles on Sundays.
Belly howling. She’s still in the goddamn bed with her book.
Been traveling two weeks. Get home, go lie down.
On my side of the bed, her dog and all her books.”
Christian adeptly uses what people say and do, what they wear, the company they keep. The poems are sharp, the language candid, and the collection makes a gripping read. Really, it’s a love song to resilience.