A mercurial and memorable collection of poems about Black motherhood.

BLACK GOD MOTHER THIS BODY

In this debut volume of poetry, a Black mother grapples with how to care for her child and herself in 2020s America.

Motherhood provides a new opportunity to ruminate on the nature of family, lineage, race, and colonialism. As León asks early in this collection, “What does it mean to be black, afro-boricua, diasporican, woman, mother, me?” Across shifting poetic forms, she explores memories of parents, uncles, aunts, siblings; snatches of mythology and history; and the ways in which her new son—and a pandemic—has changed her daily experience of the world. The collection is anchored by the 17-page sequence “blackety black black solstice cleave,” in which the Afro-Boricua poet, about to have a baby with her White husband, thinks back on her complex relationship with her troublesome Puerto Rican aunt. “You need to go to miami. marry a nice cuban. there’s too much black in the family. all these león men marry black women,” the aunt tells her. The poet, reluctant to challenge the woman directly, thinks, “my mother is black. i am black. in cuba, they had one of the biggest forced migrations of enslaved africans so they certainly black.” Such confrontations with identity are a recurring theme, particularly given the poet’s overlapping selves, each of whom carries her own stories, signifiers, and language. León finds herself metaphorically beseeching the heavens for guidance on how to raise the next generation in the midst of such multiplicities. The Black god of the title is Nyx, the ancient Greek personification of night, who “perches maternal, at the edge devouring,” and whose “skin prickles with an ever-primed mother fury. don’t. touch. my. baby.” As the volume comes at motherhood again and again from different angles, it becomes clear that the poet is learning not only how to mother her son, but also to mother herself.

León’s verses are sharp and steely, with lines that shimmer even as they cut. One poem begins: “sometimes i fear the casket shroud / will emerge from my own shadow / to greet me smiling with my son’s teeth. / this country is such a cruel winter / to black boys singing their spirits from dread; it hangs / their songs to clink on snow covered boughs.” The presentation varies from one page to the next. Lines fragment into lacunas; stanzas mirror one another from across caesuras. Some poems exist as or within images: “augmentee” includes jellyfish, snowy fields, silhouettes with line-drawn hearts, and census data about the enslavement of a 19th-century ancestor. Other poems shift seamlessly between English and Spanish: “i want her to be querida / no por los fuegos artificiales / intoxicantes internos / all our memories / su vida una luna brillante / y cortante / treasured on aged tree-knot tongues forever.” Standouts include “theophilus underlines emelina’s name” and “consolation of mothers,” which begins, wrenchingly, “i offer this, this is the suffering. / … / your body nests—ova within ova within ova, all possibilities / and promise of an eye fleck that remains yours— / you are changed. / you will never stop being mother.” Though the forms are motley, a coherent set of concerns emerges, and readers will delight in watching León juggle them like flaming torches.

A mercurial and memorable collection of poems about Black motherhood.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-955953-01-6

Page Count: 85

Publisher: Black Freighter Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2022

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A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

TANQUERAY

A former New York City dancer reflects on her zesty heyday in the 1970s.

Discovered on a Manhattan street in 2020 and introduced on Stanton’s Humans of New York Instagram page, Johnson, then 76, shares her dynamic history as a “fiercely independent” Black burlesque dancer who used the stage name Tanqueray and became a celebrated fixture in midtown adult theaters. “I was the only black girl making white girl money,” she boasts, telling a vibrant story about sex and struggle in a bygone era. Frank and unapologetic, Johnson vividly captures aspects of her former life as a stage seductress shimmying to blues tracks during 18-minute sets or sewing lingerie for plus-sized dancers. Though her work was far from the Broadway shows she dreamed about, it eventually became all about the nightly hustle to simply survive. Her anecdotes are humorous, heartfelt, and supremely captivating, recounted with the passion of a true survivor and the acerbic wit of a weathered, street-wise New Yorker. She shares stories of growing up in an abusive household in Albany in the 1940s, a teenage pregnancy, and prison time for robbery as nonchalantly as she recalls selling rhinestone G-strings to prostitutes to make them sparkle in the headlights of passing cars. Complemented by an array of revealing personal photographs, the narrative alternates between heartfelt nostalgia about the seedier side of Manhattan’s go-go scene and funny quips about her unconventional stage performances. Encounters with a variety of hardworking dancers, drag queens, and pimps, plus an account of the complexities of a first love with a drug-addled hustler, fill out the memoir with personality and candor. With a narrative assist from Stanton, the result is a consistently titillating and often moving story of human struggle as well as an insider glimpse into the days when Times Square was considered the Big Apple’s gloriously unpolished underbelly. The book also includes Yee’s lush watercolor illustrations.

A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

Pub Date: July 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-27827-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2022

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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