Dutch Elm Disease
When Danny Johnson's big brother was killed in Vietnam,Danny ran around the block five times. I counted. Ranas if when he stopped his brother would be back in their drivewaywashing his car. But nobody knew anything about time travelback then, Star Trek hadn't even come out, Lieutenant Uhurastill on Broadway doing Blues for Mr. Charlie. And even if Dannydid understand the space-time continuum, his parentsweren't having it, his mother on the porch yellinghis name, his father tackling him on the front lawn, all us kids,the whole block standing there on pause. Which didn't existeither. No fast forward, no reverse. We weren't even Blackyet. Was Milwaukee even Milwaukee? Is the Lincoln Park Bridgestill there, do boys like Danny still climb over the rail,hug their bony knees to their narrow chests and plop into the riveras if there's no way his parents could lose two children?Which is all I know about Vietnam, that and the way the sun hungin the faded sky as Danny ran around and aroundand held the air hostage, that and the way the thick August airignored the leaves of all our doomed elm treesand let itself be held hostage. The streets were like ghostswhen they cut down those trees.
“Dutch Elm Disease” from Ridiculous Light by Valencia Robin.
Copyright © 2019 by Valencia Robin.
Reprinted by permission of Persea Books, Inc. (New York)
Valencia Robin is a poet and visual artist. Her first collection of poems, Ridiculous Light, won Persea Books’ 2018 Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize and was named one of Library Journal’s Best Poetry Books of 2019. She is Co-director of the UVA Young Writers Workshop and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Virginia (UVA) and an MFA in Art & Design from the University of Michigan. Her poetry has appeared in The New York Times, TriQuarterly, Foundry, the St. Petersburg Review, Black Renaissance Noire, Kweli, The Cortland Review and elsewhere. She has received fellowships from Cave Canem, Furious Flower, the Vermont College of Fine Arts, Bennington College and UVA. Other awards include the University of Michigan Future Faculty Award and the Center for the Education of Women’s Margaret Towsley Scholarship.
For more information, please see: valenciarobin.com.
“In these memorable poems, Valencia Robin serves up a brash, blistering narrative that is impossible to turn away from. . . . Ridiculous Light illuminates in utterly lyrical and necessary ways.”
—Patricia Smith, author of Incendiary Art
“In Ridiculous Light, Valencia Robin transforms memories of family, Milwaukee, and her post-divorce reckoning into poetry that underscores the lyric's distinctive power to illuminate the contours of a Black woman’s life.”
—John Keene, author of Counternarratives