Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Depths of brevity

Posted By on Wed, Nov 27, 2002 at 12:00 AM

There are cats roaming Hemingway’s estate. They probably live well, spending much of their time lounging on the grass, forgetting things like literary genius, tourists and suicide. Within the same poem, an African slave maims himself in an almost ceremonial kind of escape. On another page, a monarch butterfly dances its death.

If you lived on Melba Joyce Boyd’s street, or read the morning paper with her eyes, you might get a view of the world that’s as plainly vivid and boldly subjective as the Detroit poet’s work. But probably not.

The Province of Literary Cats is a recent collection of personal snapshots, with comments and captions. Simple, straightforward and passionate are adjectives that come to mind as the eye slips down Boyd’s tall stacks of lines that descend with as much conviction as momentum, as if they were eager to land at a firm conclusion. “Eating the Sunset” ends this way:

you’re stuck
between the
words you
were saving
for the villagers
about their
unfortunate
circumstances.

after all,
they did
mistake you
for thunder

With earnestness that touches both the personal and political, Boyd speaks in the tongues of memory, of having felt, of having lost, of having been. She recalls the implosion of the J.L. Hudson’s department store in “Burial of a Building,” posting her conviction like a great question mark at a landmark’s grave:

when they bring
a building down,
when they make
history absent,
when they implode
a cistern of memories
into a basement grave,
where do the
ghosts go?

Boyd’s poems say it’s good to just watch the world and feel, to take note and remember. And also to tell. So they are poems of ideas, a set of silent monologues on exhibit. They shrink into the simplest, smallest forms:

racism
is
a
fungus
among
us

They also rise like towers, from which Boyd reads the distance, most notably in the speculative "O’ Sodom and Gomorrah Bin Laden," a poem that reaches past outward fears into the gratifying depths of self-analysis:

we threaten them
with salty throats
and polyester flags
displayed
in cracked windows.
we pray
into cell phones
for signals

This is part of the human story, and every poet, in every province, has the duty to tell it.

Melba Joyce Boyd and Leslie Reese read from their poetry at Past Tents Press’ party for the release of Boyd’s The Province of Literary Cats, 5-8 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 1, at the Scarab Club (217 Farnsworth at John R, Detroit) — with music by the Kenn Cox Trio (Cox, piano; Marion Hayden, bass; Donald Walden, saxes). Call 248-543-1597 or 313-993-6915, or go to www.pasttentspress.org for more information.

Norene Cashen writes about books for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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