cover image Alive at the End of the World

Alive at the End of the World

Saeed Jones. Coffee House, $16.95 trade paper (104p) ISBN 978-1-56689-651-1

The potent latest from Jones (Prelude to Bruise) excoriates an American present that refuses to learn from its past or correct for a possibly disastrous future. A kaleidoscope of grief and anger mixes with the poet’s wit, giving these timely poems a striking directness: “In America, a gathering of people/ is called target practice or a funeral,/ depending on who lives long enough/ to define the terms.” The stakes rise with each poem. Channeling the voices of deceased Black celebrities like Aretha Franklin, Jones engages the reader in a frank conversation about Black life as entertainment value: “you said you wanted me to make/ you feel good or holy or respected/ or natural, woman, don’t you know/ I am made of how I make you feel/ or don’t.” Ecological collapse also comes into play, as in the poem “Extinction,” which puns on “pray,” making the threat disarmingly personal: “Prey me long forgotten/ before one of us swallows// the last bite of the last/ good tomato in America.” Balancing elegy with gallows humor, this penetrating collection shows Jones at his poetic best. (Sept.)