Free verse that follows its narrators from the despair of pain to the ecstasy of Christian praise.
In this voluminous debut, Angielic and Angie Me’Shelle trace a labyrinthine yet affecting path as the narrators suffer agony upon agony, only to discover within their struggles inner strength and a faith that eventually rings out in hymnlike praise. In Dantean fashion, the book’s four sections return in ascending spirals to the same themes but from a more self-possessed perspective each time. In the opening section, the Me’Shelles run the narrators through a catalog of pains: domestic violence, childbirth, poverty, unemployment, homelessness, rape, infidelity, divorce, addiction, discrimination and crime. For all the assorted horrors, the authors save the strongest testament for a victim of child sexual abuse. While neither prurient nor graphic, the treatment is direct and raw: “I was just five / when they first touched me / too young to understand,” opens one poem. The Me’Shelles remain unflinching in unspooling the futures of these young victims, too. In “Silent Screams,” they tell of a young girl, repeatedly abused, whose family refuses to believe her. Abandoned by those who should have protected her, she eventually commits suicide, all while the narrator rhetorically wonders, “Do any one (sic) hear her at all?” From these intimately visceral and bodily pains arise passions that are physical and sexual. The narrators are women who know what they want—“I know what I like / and I like what I see / I want a man in uniform / dressed up for me”—but the struggles they have endured have taught them to put prudence ahead of momentary pleasures. As one narrator states, in a twist on the Luther Ingram classic, “If loving you is wrong / I choose to be right.” Likewise, since they have so often been on the wrong side of the abuse of power, the narrators tend to express power in terms of overcoming or surviving, as titles such as “Breaking the chains,” “I didn’t give up” and “Somehow I made it” suggest. The moving testimony to the history of the African-American struggle, in “Brilliantly Black,” stands out as a particularly hopeful refiguring of what it means to be powerful.
The poetry may not be especially striking, but the narrative arc and collective emotional force of these poems are impelling and impressive.