Here at BOA, we're celebrating Black History Month by highlighting the work of our Black authors! We asked each of our spring interns to write a short piece and select a poem from a recent or backlist BOA author. In Part 2 of 3, spring intern Justine shares about Luther Hughes' A Shiver in the Leaves and Dustin Pearson's A Season in Hell with Rimbaud!
A Shiver in the Leaves by Luther Hughes
Luther Hughes' debut poetry collection, A Shiver in the Leaves, really caught me off guard. It has been a long, long time since I’ve read something as brutally honest and it restored a kind of hope in me—its vulnerability became a place of refuge. This collection allowed me to experience a tender yet haunting piece of what it means to be a gay Black man in America: the longing for love and salvation and the fear of being “one bullet away from the graveyard.” Below is one of my favorite poems in this collection. For me, it captures all of the emotion I felt, masterfully, in one breathe.
The dog outside won’t stop swallowing the city
with its harping. Sooner or later some good citizen
will peek through their blinds asking themselves
about the fuss, wanting to know what cruel somebody
abandoned such loyalty—some Golden Retriever,
some snip-tailed Rottweiler, who knows. Next to me,
he is asleep, the one I love, the one who promised me
a dog in the long seasons to come. He says when the sun
is at its most weary, when the sky collapses into the Cascades,
when the wounds of autumn vanish into miles of snowy flesh,
then. The truth is, who knows what will happen to either of us.
We are always one bullet away from the graveyard,
a murder of memorial hymns. And if that’s the room
we’ve been born into, why do sparrows break the morning with song?
Why do fir trees fight bark and root for their green?
Sometimes I hear the Earth’s sunken voice saying,
Come home, come home. And who am I to argue with the one
who has given us so much? But dear eager Earth, I want him
to live forever. I want the dog outside to have met my dead dog.
I hardly think of him, of how our neighbors shouted at us to shut him up.
One day they did it for us, poured searing water onto his body.
The grass around him became shredded hairs. The flies fevered
and worried. I watched what happened to an animal unwelcomed,
underserved. When I tell him this as he armors himself for the day,
he says that will never happen again. Oh, to be as certain as wind!
Not true, I want to say, but I can’t have everything. I can’t
have the yellow from the small patch of dandelions, can’t have
the echo of laughter rolling over rooftops, over the hush
of engines and bicycle bells, can’t bring the dead back to life.
We won’t live forever, but I am afraid some wrong citizen
will mistake him for a scar on the neighborhood—they will
take him from me. I settle with a covering spell: Stay safe.
He walks out the door and into a spray of sirens.
A Season in Hell with Rimbaud by Dustin Pearson
You need to read Dustin Pearson's poetry collection, A Season In Hell With Rimbaud. I don’t mean to come on too strongly, but the intense imagery in this collection blew me away. It’s an absolute feast for the mind! Each poem takes you across diverse landscapes, ripe with stunning beauty and utter carnage. My favorite was the jungle hell, with fungus that “builds an island of moss” across the skin and “monstrous flowers” that give birth to dead bodies. If you’ve ever read Dante's Divine Comedy, I think you will really love this book and find something entirely creative and new. But, be assured, there is no damsel in this story. Instead, Pearson pushes the speaker to the absolute limit in order to save his brother and mend their fractured relationship. There is no better poem to share with you than the very first. Prepare to embark on a heartbreaking journey of self-reflection and forgiveness.
"A Season in Hell with Rimbaud"I dreamt I was showing my brother around in Hell.
We started inside the house.
Everything was brown besides the white sheets
in the bedrooms. I let him look
outside the window, told him it was hottest there,
where the flames rolled against the glass,
as if a giant mouth were blowing them,
as if there were thousands caught in the storm,
pushing it onward with mindless running,
save a desperation for something else.
How had there been a house in Hell
and we invited with time to spend? Why was it
I hadn’t questioned how I got there? My brother
growing so tired from the heat, the sweating?
Surely we could open the door, he said. Surely there’ll be
a breeze. Even seeing already, even burning himself
on the doorknob. His eyes turned back in his head
working his way to the bedrooms, staining
the sheets with his blistered hands, and though I knew the beds
weren’t for the rest of any body, I sat by and let him sleep.
Justine Alfano is a creative writing student at Monroe Community College in Rochester NY, with plans to further her degree at SUNY Brockport. She hopes to one day become an editor and a graphic novelist.