cover image The Black Maria

The Black Maria

Aracelis Girmay. BOA Editions (Consortium, dist.), $16 trade paper (120p) ISBN 978-1-942683-02-5

Girmay (Kingdom Animalia), winner of a 2015 Whiting Award, crafts a moving collection of lyrical, image-thick poems that balance on the knife edge separating vulnerability and unapologetic strength. The lives of Eritrean refugees and immigrants serve as the collection’s thematic foundation, though Girmay also thoughtfully dissects and examines blights of America’s current sociopolitical climate, particularly police brutality and the murders of such young black women and men as Renisha McBride and Jonathan Ferrell. The ideas of diaspora, alienation, and separation—whether borne by the devastating legacies of slavery or the heartbreaking necessities of political asylum—are viewed as the repetitious and stubborn waves of history: “memory has long skin, it counts// the invasions, the factories & ports & rails.” However, these ideas are never treated as the heritage or sole narrative of particular peoples, but rather an indictment of colonialism and nationalism. In “Prayer & Letter to the Dead,” the sea operates as a metaphor for lives squandered and lost under the banner of imperialism. Girmay’s ruminations on King Leopold I of Belgium address the devastation he inflicted upon the Belgian Congo and its people, further revealing how racism is not a series of discrete incidents, but a pervasive web of relations. Girmay effortlessly slips between collective history and personal memory, tackling the subject of black pain without victimizing herself or exploiting the voices of the marginalized. (Apr.)