Let the Dead In is replete with the fingerprints of a poet who has been in touch with history, and is familiar with the interpretation of the many blots on the pages of historical documents. Here, identity turns its face at various angles to both kiss its lovers or sting its foes. In one scene, it is audacious, and in another, sensual— all driving towards a purpose that spreads itself through out the pages of the book: truth.
Saida Agostini helps us encounter Blackness in surprising ways, at a time mounted on a unicorn with her views on her sexual identity as a queer, and the black stallion that rides into battle on behalf of the marginalized it represents beyond cotton fields. It is in this quest one identifies the themes on the legacy of colonisation, ancestry, injustice, and a resilience that insists on itself as true and enough. She does this remarkably well in the various ways she greatly employs mythology.
As noted in her dedication to “Fanny, Joyce and Anne”, she traces her personhood from an ancestry of strength. In her very words, “God knows I am a strong woman for I came from many”. Here, she proudly stands in the midst of Black female figures who matter in the inspiration she has become to us.
The content of this collection are split in three sections; “notes on archiving erasure, we find the fantastic; american love”. Each of these, with their poems carefully arranged, as it were paving stones, to meditatingly ingress her world on her trails.
The language, lyrically dispensed in its distinct style, portrays bravery and reveals a poet whose voice is both an ache and a cure. It is one that promises to stay with the reader longer than anything else with the authenticity of her source(s).
The title of the first poem, “Where does the story begin?” fills the reader with the inquisitiveness on what is about to be encountered. And the lines that follow asserts such clarity in the communication of her story as one whose gag has been taken off in an interrogation room. “With outrageous grief”, as the poet begins, the words form into a surrealistic scene where it says “jeweled mermaids” were “beckoning
great uncle harold from solid ground to a golden
city submerged in shining black water”. The “black water” here could easily pass to symbolically mean the bleak throat of loss. And, of course, there is a reaction to that loss where “his wife” is found “weeping and weeping at the shores” where we find “harold’s boat” “among his rough nets” “empty and rollicking in the middle of a river”. The picture painted here is haunting, and further stings with the tragedy of “dead slave children hungry for
pining in the winds behind great granny’s house”— an imagery of grief and the misery it leaves behind. In the poem that follows: “Creation”, her attempt at storytelling is uniquely split in parts, pieced together by the sighs that pours out from the reader’s nostrils. This is true of the connection the book establishes with its audience.
The other poems align with the set tone and mood of the first poem, drawing witnesses it has made of mere readers, into the unforgettable moments of experience. One of the things one cannot deny about the poems is how the titles carry the pulse of the poem. Also, it is remarkable how the poem unfolds with such commendable level of clarity; carefully photographing the faces of her loved ones, investigating the self, its state and asserting its existence on the sore toes of its naysayers.
The vulnerability isn’t one that implies weakness that wants to remains so, but underlying it is bravery, and its natural process of becoming strength. Unashamedness is enviable, swaddled in imageries, sharp and vivid as they slice through the mind.
Memory culled from history becomes deeply personal in the way a little cut in the body can course its experience through out the remaining parts, and there is one feeling: pain. In the third part of her collection, the poem “harriet tubman is a lesbian”, one would be reading a writing in the light of queerness at a time where every law was unfairly against it. In the striking words, she cries,
“I want a history where harriet and sojourner
get together and make that cataclysmic, head banging
good god kind of love which luther serenades them”.
In the above, one knows how much her boldness understands its purpose in a world where homophobic slurs fly faster than bullets. Also, some of these were written “for great granny” who must have been a figure of great influence in her life, possibly as a source of resilience one is armed with to trounce any form of social discrimination. Her granny’s scent permeates some of the poems in this collection in which her photograph is pasted beside an easel, to be painted in its grainy brilliance of lighting from acrylic that is only collected from a wound.
Justice for Black people in history who were historically marginalized come to light, the side of their story, true, with the gut in which they’re retold. In “the ballad of recy taylor”, we are faced with the fact of what it means to be a Black American, living in America:
“To be an american is to love roads that tried to kill
The persona in the above excerpt is Recy Taylor, a Black woman kidnapped and gang-raped by seven white men in 1944. Aided by Rosa Parks, she pressed charges that eventually brought her assailants to trial.
If this book has done anything unforgettable to me, it has carried out an autopsy on the past, and this is a report; clear, gripping, resonating— a conversation starter in its thought, and standing on the side of those to whom privilege is forbidden. “Let the dead in” is bold and graphical in the ways it explores racial identity, trauma, loss, grief, queerness, injustice and memory. It is that which positions its reader eyeball-to-eyeball with truth in whose eyes our reflection is the clearest.