by Tyree Daye


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Tyree Daye’s Cardinal is a generous atlas that serves as a poetic “Green Book”— the travel-cum-survival guide for black motorists negotiating racist America in the mid-twentieth century. Interspersed with images of Daye’s family and upbringing, which have been deliberately blurred, it also serves as an imperfect family album. Cardinal traces the South’s burdened interiors and the interiors of a black male protagonist attempting to navigate his many departures and returns home —a place that could both lovingly rear him and coolly annihilate him. With the language of elegy and praise, intoning regional dialect and a deliberately disruptive cadence, Daye carries the voices of ancestors and blues poets, while stretching the established zones of the black American vernacular. In tones at once laden and magically transforming, he self-consciously plots his own Great Migration: “if you see me dancing a twos step/I’m sending a starless code/we’re escaping everywhere.” These are poems to be read aloud.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781556595738
Publisher: Copper Canyon Press
Publication date: 10/06/2020
Pages: 80
Sales rank: 431,583
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.30(d)

About the Author

Tyree Daye is a poet from Youngsville, North Carolina. He is the author of two poetry collections, River Hymns (APR/Honickman First Book Prize winner, 2017) and Cardinal (Copper Canyon Press, 2020). Daye is a Cave Canem fellow and his work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, The New York Times, and Nashville Review. His honors and awards include the APR/Honickman First Book Award, the Whiting Writers Award, Palm Beach Poetry Festival Langston Hughes Fellowship, and finalist for the Kate Tufts Finalist. He currently resides in North Carolina.

Read an Excerpt

By Land

I’ve lived on dirt roads that bent and ended

at a gate of pines,

the dust skipped up didn’t make my mother

look like a dream. I’ve lived

on roads that dragged through America,

I’ve paced only them to the next town.

The road we kissed on is gone,

rich folks buying up all the city in which we make do.

I miss when Sonny could do a wheelie

all the way down Person Street

and no one would call the police

because he was a part of the neighborhood like the honeysuckle

bush between two yards, and he was beautiful,

not like a horse standing alone in a yellow field,

but like a man is beautiful.

Most of the little towns have a road nicknamed Devil’s Turn,

where someone’s brother died on a Saturday night

while Nina sang Tell Me More and More and Then Some

on the Caddy’s radio,

the moon the color of the oldest cardinal.

Every road isn’t a way out, some circle

back like wolves, you can’t get lost on them

and they won’t lose you, others wait

for you to run out of gas then come alive

with what your mother said would take you.

Every road promises something like a father does,

but when you arrive the town is empty, and you wait

like a child questioning everything, the road itself

laughing like a drunk man falling into a roadside ditch.

The road I’m walking now is howling and full of moon,

hopefully it’ll lead to myself,

hopefully they’ll take me home.

The Mechanical Cotton Picker

for Black Chicago poets

It wasn’t that they killed John Boy

in front of his mama’s small blue house,

and that no one called her Ms. Bluebird anymore

out of respect, though she never minded the name,

it made her believe she’d fly off some day,

or that the sheriff let John Boy’s body sit

until even the babies stopped crying,

their eyes filled with him,

his body already going to marble

no one would be able to lift from their sleep.

It was that we could feed ourselves then

by getting down on our hands and knees to pick cotton,

and most knew what a body smelled like

blowing down a dirt road.

When Chicago reached my ear the war was full of bodies.

They sent whole train cars for us black folk.

I read the Defender and waited to hide my face

behind the curtains of a northbound train

and I prayed the train car would fly.

The south truly doesn’t want us to go.

A Mississippi cop would catch a family disappearing

behind a rainstorm and send them home,

the clouds leaving four muddy fields at a time.

I left like a season’s first lover across a window,

slowly like a southern sun

diagonal on a work-back.

I wanted to carry my aunts to Chicago with me

like this obituary-filled Bible,

these plums I got saved, purpling in my bag.

When I Left

a turkey vulture lifted from a field I still love.

It was hunting season, birds flew off

at the sound of rifles,

we warred with brown rabbits.

The vulture’s head was bald and delicate

like the old men in their hats

with names on them like Ford, USA and Dodgers,

to cover their soft skin, old men

who stood in front of the breakfast truck stop

across from the field, the butter partly melted

in the middle of the grits, they also saw the vulture,

knew how to scavenge, gathered,

like horses or stars, in a junkyard looking

for a rusted pearl. Those old men have died

in their sleep by now, though no field could care

how many will fall down in it and why.

I want to sit here tonight still in love

and vultureless listening to Sade.

I’m still the boy who walked through a dying

Sweet-potato field, though our small town

wouldn’t recognize me now.

I have a different body, a dented body,

fieldless and far gone.

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