cover image Best Barbarian

Best Barbarian

Roger Reeves. Norton, $26.95 (96p) ISBN 978-0-393-60933-2

The mesmerizing second collection from Reeves (King Me) reflects intergenerational racial trauma and personal tragedy with a remarkable balance of acute feeling and lyrical precision. These poems powerfully allude to the ways in which racial atrocity is sewn into the fabric of America. Referencing the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963 Birmingham, which killed four children, he explains how they continue "to haunt the plate of the nation, to travel in the husk/ And ears of corn going to market, to sit on the Senators' plates" ("The End of Ghassan Kanafani"). Throughout, there is a stoic lack of sensationalism that makes violence and grief even more palpable. In the biblical "Domestic Violence," a speaker navigates the "AfterLife" with a man named Ezra as his guide, encountering the spirits of formerly enslaved people and giving voice to the impulse of rebellion against the white supremacist state: "And when all the voices/ sound like the police, I said, kill all the voices." Yet there are also moments of joy expressed with imagery that is beautiful in its specificity, "the sun slipping/ Into a boy's pocket and warming an unpeeled orange." With vivid images and haunting, evocative language, Reeves memorably places the reader in the space where life and death intersect. (Mar.)