cover image The Tradition

The Tradition

Jericho Brown. Copper Canyon, $17 (110p) ISBN 978-1-55659-486-1

The searing third collection from Brown (The New Testament) begins with the luminous “Ganymede,” in which Heaven is described as “that far terrain/ between Promise and Apology.” Brown inextricably weaves exploration of race, religion, and social burden: “I am a they in most of America./ Someone feels lost in the forest/ Of we, so he can’t imagine/ A single tree. He can’t bear it./ A cross. A crucifixion. Such/ A Christian.” While such lines exemplify Brown’s musical ear, his rhetorical skill shows itself in the directness of his most profound lines. In “The Long Way,” he states plainly: “Your grandfather was a murderer./ I’m glad he’s dead.” With a Elizabeth Bishop-like clarity, the speaker describes card tables as “Slick stick figures like men with low-cut fades/ Short but standing straight/ Because we bent them into weak display.” Brown’s invented form, the duplex—a combination of sonnet, ghazal, and blues—yields compelling results, perhaps most arrestingly in its use of enjambment: “The opposite of rape is understanding/ A field of flowers called paintbrushes.” While many poems engage in formal play, Brown’s rhythms are always rooted in that of a wounded, beating heart, so that even the speaker of an ode to peaches must “choose these two, bruised.” Brown’s book offers its readers a communion of defiant survival, but only “Once you’ve lived enough to not believe in heaven.” (Apr.)