Jericho Brown, Please, New Issues, 2008

Reviewed by Arin Fisher

[Review Guidelines]


No Buckpoles (1) Here

Among the procreative uses of semen dwells the frequently forgotten true purpose of this illustrious fluid--ink, paint, art-medium. Perhaps you're thinking: but it would be like lemon juice, soaking up and blending in! But--a challenge. I cite for my evidence Jericho Brown's "Family Portrait" in Please:

My breath is also released
As I shiver on my boyfriend's back,
Then open my eyes to the faces
Of my children, faintly

Sketched in white swirls
On brown skin [...]

With the right canvas even the chameleon qualities of ejaculate can be adored--at least for a short time. The canvas must be a color of contrast: brown, blue, violet, red. Steer clear, please, of the less suitable colors of magnolia, eggshell, tapioca, or old lace. Eventually, however, the jizzum will lose its enchanting vibrancy, and then, like an etch-n-sketch, it's time to clear up. Ditch the Kleenex, grab a towel.

Each poem in Please requires a moment of shallow panting and a satisfying commitment to the anytime--anywhere fidelity of a spontaneous love affair. (Not that Please can only be enjoyed privately. Nay! Read this book as proudly as you would wear a rainbow pin on your shirt collar.) Loving this book is experiential: emotionally, sensually, spiritually, and intellectually. Each layer of its Being exists in a hyper Perichoresis.

Jericho's devastatingly relational poems are unabashedly honest, uncluttered by pretense. Unsodden by poetically-contrived obscurity. Each poem self-reveals without that creeping expectation of confidential disclosure. Each poem has the sparkle of a potentially personal story without the necessarily incriminating heft of autobiography, allowing for a poetic fluidity in language and truth-telling.

Exploring hum-drum along, readers encounter a few poem titles ("Track 1: Lush Life" and "Track 3: (Back down) Memory Lane" and "Track 4: Reflections" and "Track 5: Summertime" and "Track 8: Song for You") that sharpen Jericho's musical intentions for his poetry. Jericho rampantly invited me, one despicably unfamiliar with jazz, soul, and R&B, to read afresh each poem after checking Jericho's section of Liner Notes, where he specifically explains each track poem and musical reference. Hearing the varying incarnations of each track listed guided my reading through different levels of satisfaction for each poem and transformed a hum-drum exploration into bee-bop.

The collection divides itself into three sections of directives: Repeat, Pause, Power, and the book ends at Stop. The categories advocate specific options for how to read these poems. Taking a cue and being my-blunt-no-nonsense-self, I applied each literally: like putting Diana Ross on repeat, I reread each poem. I pause to simmer gloriously in the story while grabbing a drink. I turn-in when it's bedtime, but the poem is still engaged in my mind; the power's off, and the book's closed, but my mind hasn't stopped whirring with Jericho Brown's fragrant words. Readers may also interpret the categories in terms of relationships Jericho depicts in his poems.

Repeat the same mistakes no matter how frequently you make them. Repeat a story. Repeat if you missed. Rinse and repeat, "Detailing the Nape":

Grandmother takes a break to wring and squeeze the towel free
of water, soap, and a bricklike, muddy dirt. Child, all that noise
isn't necessary. If you could see this nastiness, you'd be thanking me.

Seeing my sister's distress, I open the door wide. M'dea, I think
that's blood.

Grandmother quiets and bandages my sister well. I'm sorry, baby,
I didn't know you were that black.

Your relationship: pause it--take a break--a breather. Outsource and do diagnostic exploration in the dating world for a bit, and be "Open" to new things:

I often lie open as a field. Sharecroppers have no fixed names.

Internalize some misappropriated power. Dwell on the power-struggle between you and a lover, eventually settling some resolution in "Your Body Made Heavy with Gin":

He'd never get a good doze. Only quake
And dream of hands aimed at his throat.
He'd cough and gag. I'd shake him awake.
He was as you are. He could have died
In my bed. He could have never stopped
Dreaming. He'd take me
For the enemy. We'd fight.
But you and I won't fight tonight.
Because I love you and I love you best
With liquor on your breath
When I can get a good look at you
Just the way I found you, reeking
And too drunk to go after the roaches
With the heel of your hand. And too drunk
To take me for one of the roaches.

And finally stop what won't go anywhere: this relationship. But these relationship options don't have to be contained solely to romantic relationships, which may fit whatever your context requires: family or friends or pets.

His coming-out poem, "Like Father," is my favorite poem in the collection because it's the antithesis of what I might write:

My father's embrace is tighter
Now that he knows
He is not the only man in my life.
He whispers, Remember when, and, I love you,

Daddy squeezes me close,
But I cannot feel his heartbeat
And he cannot hear mine--
There is too much flesh between us,
Two men in love.

There's a hefty amount of flesh between my dad and me when we hug, too; most of it is his and it droops further and lower every year, but flesh isn't what actually separates us. Maybe the gap is residue of growing up in a town of buckpoles and the World's Largest Crucifix. I wouldn't say necessarily that I'm jealous of this speaker's father's reception, but my Pa looked me updown, dressing (2) his deer, and mumbled an incoherent: ...notmyson...

This book is important to me because it depicts some variant of a future I might live. Jericho has unwittingly wrangled a parallel life within reach for me.

Grab this book, and indwell it.

1 A buckpole is a gallows-esque wood-crafted structure on which hunters during deer season hang slain bucks from their antlers to drain fluids.
2 To dress a deer is to gut it.