A book of elegiac ambivalence, Testify’s speaker often finds himself trapped between received binaries: black and white, ghetto and suburban, atheism and Catholicism. In many ways, this work is a Bildungsroman detailing the maturation of a black man raised in the crack-laden 1980s, with hip-hop, jazz, and blues as its soundtrack. Rendered with keen attention to the economic decline of the Midwest due to the departure of the automotive industry, this book portrays the speaker wrestling with his city’s demise, family relationships, interracial love, and notions of black masculinity. Never letting anyone, including the speaker, off the hook, Testify refuses sentimentality and didacticism and dwells in a space of uncertainty, where meaning and identity are messy, complicated, and multivalent.
|Publisher:||Red Hen Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.80(w) x 8.70(h) x 0.30(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Grandma’s grave remains unmarked. It was me who was supposed to buy her headstone.
After finding out her plot was still uncrowned,
I promised to give dad my truck.
I promised to quit smoking, to say sorry more.
My apologies as bare as the stretch of land above her.
Promised I’d send my brother fifty dollars. Promised
I’d holla at my auntie at least once a month.
In the restlessness night gives,
I saw Mounds State Park,
the pavilion filled with every broken promise congregating as though this was a church revival.
Mother and father both walking as though their legs were never lost.
Me at a podium, with a microphone:
I’m sorry. I am so sorry.
My act of contrition interrupted by voices. My past and future selves loudest
of all. They offer punishments: Lashings? Guillotine?
Electric chair? The noose? Banishment? Stones?
To get out of there I had to become Father Bob,
the holiest man I ever saw in flesh. Mirror to face,
I am him, aquiline nose, crow-claw eyebrows, skin yellowed around eyes and joints.
We do the magic trick
he always did. He pulls my thumb off, and after a quick smoker’s cough, puts it back.
Table of Contents
Loud Looks 15
Washing Palms 17
Little Fires Left by Travelers 20
Get Your Head out of the Gutter 21
Luxury Items 22
As if I can unchisel pain, 23
Feels like Rain 24
Heading Down 28
Me, The Boondocks. Her, South Park. 30
Best Act like You Know 32
Bad Son 33
Mic Drop 34
I'll Leave Your Ass Here 36
"Are You Ready to Help the Parents of This Child in Their Duty as Christian Parents?" 39
Of Wasp Hum and Catacombs 40
I'm My Father's Name 41
Lost Side of Loss 42
Keeping It Real 43
The First Time I See My Father's Blood Cleaned 44
This Poem Isn't Black 47
Give Me My Mama Back 49
Whose Little Boy Are You? 50
My Brother Smoked Rocks with a Quran at His Feet 52
Love's Austere and Lonely Offices 54
Never Left My Name 56
We Had the Second Biggest Gymnasium in the Nation 57
Goodnight, Baby 63
Crown Hill Cemetery 66
Bullets Ain't Got No Names on Them 67
What I Wish My Mother Had Told My Father 68
I Can Run Five Miles but Can't Get to the Other Side of My Mind 70
Is That My Father? 71
I'm Suspicious 72
All Is Laughter 74
Knee Deep 76
Pray to This 77
The Cripple and the Crackhead 86