Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Sanctificum by Chris Abani

Paperback, 96 pages Published April 1st 2010 by Copper Canyon Press

This is my favorite among Abani’s published poetry collections and I think it might be because it is completely accessible. One doesn’t have to know anything about Chris Abani to understand the language and heartache and courage. “Om” appears first and has seven parts on five pages. I reprint a piece from each part:
"I never told anyone that every sliver of orange I ate
was preceded by words from high mass.
Per omnia saecula saeculorum.
Spit out pit. Amen.
Juice. Amen. Flesh."
"The dog’s black tongue was more terrifying than its teeth."
"Sorrow lodged like a splintered bullet next to the heart."
"Sand, where there is no water, can ablute,
washing grain by grain even the hardest stone of sin."
"The way a photograph cannot remember the living."

A section of the collection is entitled 'God's Country," perhaps a nod to Percival Everett, whose novel of the same name is a must read for fans of American literature. Abani's "God's Country" ends
"When we say love we mean, I want.
When we say sorry we mean, forgive me.
There is little room for anyone else.
But Bean, she loves me.
How else can she keep forgiving me?"
Abani can talk about sadness, about places that are sad, without being sad:

This is wood, enchanted wood.
Still the fire scorches and we say wood
still the pain burns from the club
and then we say wood
still the planks dovetail and we caress
the smooth and the rough
sensuous, delectable, and yet sorrowful
and then we say wood.
My favorite poem is too long to quote, twelve sections on ten pages, called “Pilgrimage.” It talks of words and their meanings, faith and its lack, history and hope, fear and courage, love and rage. Well, I will quote just a little because it speaks to the sadness without being sad:
"Some may call me a pessimist, but I am not.
There is nothing gained from loss.
I drink tea in the shade and believe in poetry.
I am a zealot for optimism."
In "Histories" Abani has a short poem

Your poem "Ode to the Drum"
pulled me back from many night terrors.
May I roll it around my lips and not kill it
for its exquisite touch.
May I find a way to beat a song back
into these tired lines, these words.
At the end of one of his TED talks, Abani reads Komunyakaa's "Ode to the Drum" "in a way Komunyakka would be proud to hear it read."

In a short poem near the end called “Dew,” Abani writes
"My desire is struggling up the mountain.
My fear is a shower of pebbles.
Your son is trying to be a good man, Mum.
Your son is going to be all right.
There are no names for red."
That is not the poem in its entirety, and it does not end there. But that phrase that appears again and again in Abani’s work is perplexing to me. I don’t know what he means, “there are no names for red.”

The real strength in Abani’s work is his willingness to see and not be ruined by the seeing. He has enough reserves to still give succor to those of us stumbling along beside him. "I have always envied the stigmata," he tells us of those wounds that will not heal…"I want to put my fingers in the wounds and swirl them around." And so he does.

This book was published in 2010 by Copper Canyon Press.

Other works by Chris Abani include:
Becoming Abigail (2006)
Hands Washing Water (2006)
Virgin of Flames (2007)
Song for Night (2007)
There Are No Names for Red (2010)
The Secret History of Las Vegas (2014)
The Face: Cartography of the Void (2014)

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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