Our series of poetry excerpts continues with a poem by Jericho Brown from his new book, The Tradition. In one piece, Brown synthesizes everything I love about his poetry: tightly-rendered scenes, graceful yet smooth control over syntax and lines, and a spiritual sense that focuses on the struggles of faith. “Suffocated myself handsome” is such an original, claustrophobic line—Brown sells us on his first lines, and his storytelling talent reverberates throughout The Tradition. “We pray,” he writes, “Unaware of prayer.” Such is life.
Though I have not shined shoes for it,
Have not suffocated myself handsome
In a tight, bright tie, Sunday comes
To me again as it did in childhood.
We few left who listen to the radio leave
Ourselves available to surprise. We pray
Unaware of prayer. We are an ugly people.
Forgive me, I do not wish to sing
Like Tramaine Hawkins, but Lord if I could
Become the note she belts halfway into
The fifth minute of “The Potter’s House”
When black vocabulary heralds home-
Made belief: For any kind of havoc, there is
Deliverance! She means that even after I am
Not listening. I am not a saint
Because I keep trying to be a sound, something
You will remember
Once you’ve lived enough not to believe in heaven.
Copyright 2019 by Copper Canyon Press. All rights reserved. Posted here with permission of Copper Canyon Press.