cover image BECOMING EBONY


Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, . . Southern Illinois Univ., $12.95 (79pp) ISBN 978-0-8093-2517-7

Wesley lived in Monrovia throughout Liberia's bloody six-year civil war, and many of her poems take as their themes war's atrocities: murder, rape, exile, loss, poverty. They confront the reader first of all with a toughness that is less confrontational than a kind of documentary reportage. But this second book also has something of the incantatory nature of Celan's poetics, in which the sheer repetition of certain phrases and ideas points out the irresolution in the mind of a survivor. Wesley works most often with aphorism and narrative: In one poem, "The child that wanders comes home only to graves" is transformed (in a later poem) to "The child that wanders will not know her mother's grave." Part of the strength of this collection is that it does not allow itself to wallow in the bleakness of this sentiment, but instead confronts and examines the power of death and suffering: "The mysteries of this world are not in the living./ The mysteries of this world are in the dead cold of/ death, in the weathered things of this world, in/ the silence that the dead refuse to take along when/ the dead leave." Wesley's speaker is powerful enough to proclaim that "all of us are now concubines of war" and, elsewhere, that "to be alive still is such a matter for dancing." In almost every section of the book, the reader is faced both with the brutal realities of life in parts of the world, and the lyric's possibilities for delineating a space that can act against them. (Mar.)