I received my new copy of Poet Lore a few days ago and I haven’t been able to put it down. From its evocative front cover, a Library of Congress photograph “Suffrage parade, New York City, May 4, 1912” to “Coronagraphy: a sonnet sequence” by Samiya Bashir, this issue is rich. Editors E. Ethelbert Miller and Jody Bolz create a beautiful journal with their thoughtful sequencing of poems, letting images stream from one poet to the next.
My friend, Teri Ellen Cross has a gorgeous poem here titled “After Earl Came Home.” The poet tells of a father-in-law’s last days and the intimate moment in which she cleans, cuts and gives an apple to the dying man, probably against what the medical folks would have done. This poem dives into a moment fraught with sadness, tenderness, and a kind of disobedience. Of course an apple is involved if disobedience is in the mix. She describes the apple’s “firm body,” as she “washes away the pesticides / and polish, only to peel the fruit.” She tells us how she “slides the nude pieces to his trembling hands,” only this time they don’t bring sin, they bring a bit of relief, of pleasure, “…this last taste of Eden.” Teri Ellen Cross takes us inside a most intimate moment and ties it beautifully to that universal Genesis moment.
Another stunning poem in this issue is Kwame Dawes’ “Cross Burning.” He offers us a sense of hope in the midst of the smell of hatred and death. “You can smell the kerosene and charred wood / a mile away.” A man escapes violence in what sounds like America’s South: “But you can see / the flaming cross wilting wild- / flowers at the edge of the hill, / the white hoods of bodies stumbling / over uneven ground…” Dawes renders details, draws us in, and then invites us to an insight. For me, his writing often does this. He reminds us at the poem’s closing: “It’s the way you were made.”
Teri Ellen Cross’ “After Earl Came Home” and Kwame Dawes’ “Cross Burning” are only two of the strong poems in this journal. As the darkness of the year gets longer and we inch toward the madness of a Presidential election, this collection of poems might just see us through.