Heavy and expensive, hard and blackWith bits of chrome, they lookedLike baby cannons, the real children of war, and IHated them for that, for what our teacher saidThey could do, and then I hated themFor what they did when we gave upStealing looks at one another's bodiesTo press a left or right eye into the barrel and seeOur actual selves taken down to a cellThen blown back up again, every atomic thingAbout a piece of my coiled hair on one slideJust as unimportant as anyone else'sGrowing in that scienceClass where I learned what little differenceGod saw if God saw me. It was the start of one fear,A puny one not much worth mentioning,Narrow as the pencil tucked behind my ear, lostWhen I reached for itTo stab someone I secretly loved: a bigger boyWho'd advanceThrough those tight, locker-lined corridors shovingWithout sayingExcuse me, more an insult than a battle. No large loss.Not at all. Nothing necessary to studyOr recall. No fighting in the hallOn the way to an American history examI almost passed. Redcoats.Red blood cells. Red-brickedEducation I rode the bus to get. I can't rememberThe exact date orGrade, but I know when I began ignoring slight alarmsThat move others to charge or retreat. I'm a kindof camouflage. I never let on when scaredof conflicts so old they seem to amountTo nothing really-dust particles left behindLike the viral geography of an occupied territory,A region I imagine you imagine when you seeA white woman walking with a speck like me.
Copyright © 2019 by Jericho Brown.
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission.
Jericho Brown worked as the speechwriter for the Mayor of New Orleans before earning his PhD in Creative Writing and Literature from the University of Houston. The recipient of the Whiting Writers Award and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the Krakow Poetry Seminar in Poland. His first book, PLEASE (New Issues), won the American Book Award. His second book, The New Testament, won won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and was named one of the best of the year by Library Journal, Coldfront, and the Academy of American Poets; the collection was also nominated for the NAACP award for poetry and made The Believer’s top 5 Books of the Year. Brown is the director of the Creative Writing Program at Emory University and lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
The Tradition details the normalization of evil and its history at the intersection of the past and the personal. Brown’s poetic concerns are both broad and intimate, and at their very core a distillation of the incredibly human: What is safety? Who is this nation? Where does freedom truly lie? Brown makes mythical pastorals to question the terrors to which we’ve become accustomed, and to celebrate how we survive. Poems of fatherhood, legacy, blackness, queerness, worship, and trauma are propelled into stunning clarity by Brown’s mastery, and his invention of the duplex—a combination of the sonnet, the ghazal, and the blues—is testament to his formal skill. The Tradition is a cutting and necessary collection, relentless in its quest for survival while revelling in a celebration of contradiction.
"To read Jericho Brown's poems is to encounter devastating genius."
"Erotic and grief-stricken, ministerial and playful, Brown offers his reader a journey unlike any other in contemporary poetry."
—Rain Taxi Review of Books
“Brown’s subtleties in the narrative create great irony, feel refined. We are led to believe the renewed expression of the speaker’s homosexuality is something his father could never truly understand. Brown gives us a space for all emotional selves to come together and embrace commonality of experience.”
“His lyrics are memorable, muscular, majestic... Brown's poems are living on the page.”
“These astounding poems by Jericho Brown don't merely hold a lens up to the world and watch from a safe distance; they run or roll or stomp their way into what matters—loss, desire, rage, becoming—and stay there until something necessary begins to make sense. Like the music that runs through this collection, they get inside of you and make something there ache. It's a feeling that doesn't quite go away—and you won't want it to. This is one of the most luminous and courageous voices I have read in a long, long time.”
—U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith
"Exquisite, incisive, as full of the spirit as the soil, the breath and the body, Jericho Brown’s newest collection The Tradition is today’s essential poetry.”