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Jubilee by Roxane Beth Johnson

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JUBILEE by Roxane Beth Johnson won the 2005 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry. "These luminous poems depict a world I never knew--or know as a child and since forgot--and they do so with the authority of a totally mature voice. The artistry that unifies JUBILEE is so perfect it is almost invisible. Altogether an amazing debut"--Philip Levine.

"In JUBILEE, the effects of gravity are reversed in order to capture how the world weighs on the mind...These often deceptively measured prose poems critique not only their own form, but the structures, the foundations, of family, spirituality, and identity which we often fail to examine. Each self-portrait tells us as much about the environment as it reveals about the subject occupying them--the poet creating with a small mirror in one hand, a pen/camera/brush/etching knife in the other"--Kyle G. Dargan.

 

Week-night Services

Pushcart Prize finalist

The organ's flare-hued opera hummed loud
in the small church alcove above the bar
with its bumpy music. Our voices wound
up being too small to drown it out by far.
We sung of Jesus' blood with a tambourine,
one drum, twenty voices, paper fans, bells --
while the thump-thump of bass through the ceiling
made rhythm that silenced our fears of hell,
demons, white folks, Catholics, death's certain flood.
But the music -- blood of Jesus, God bless
the child I was then -- that music: The blood
we sung would wash us white as snow. Blessed
assurance, Jesus is mine, Oh... what fears.
When I hear those drums, my heart is in my ears.

 

Mulatto

Associated Writing Program prize

Grandma is washing me white. I am the color of hot sand in the bleached sea light. I am a stain on the porcelain, persistent as tea. Stay in the shade. Don't say she was the only one. Cousins opposite say: you too white. I am a night-blooming flower being pried open in the morning. My skin a curtain for a cage of bones, a blackbird coop. My heart is crusty bread, hardening. Hardening. This way, I feed my own fluttering. Under shade, the day looks like evening and I cannot bear the darkness. Don't say -- I can't stand to be touched. Say--I stare into the sun to burn off the soiled hands that print my body with bloody ink. Don't say mulatto. Say, I am the horse in Oz turning different colors, each prance brightening flesh. A curiosity. Don't say -- bathwater spiraled down into the pipes. Say, I never did fade. Say: skin holds the perseverance of my days. Folding, folding, the water continuously gathers, making wrinkles in a map.

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