Friday, December 29, 2023

erica lewis, mahogany


baby, baby

kiss my lips
ain’t no harm
to moan
and change
of rhythm
gave you my life
to my white blood
some faraway
six-foot hole
inside my chest
cobalt ribs
as intimate
the truth is
i see you
i see you
and god grew
tired of us
on the ghost
of the truth

The latest from San Francisco poet erica lewis (and the first of her works I’ve seen, although I did realize I published some of her work in an issue of G U E S T [a journal of guest editors] a while back) is the full-length collection mahogany (Middletown CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2023). mahogany describes itself as the third in lewis’ “box set” trilogy, following collections the precipice of jupiter (P-Queue/Queue Books, 2009) and camera obscura (BlazeVox [Books], 2010), both of which were composed alongside artist Mark Stephen Finein, as well as murmur in the inventory (Shearsman, 2013), daryl hall is my boyfriend (Barrelhouse, 2015) and mary wants to be a superwoman (Third Man Books, 2017), the latter two being the first two collections of this now-completed trio. Citing this collection as one composed to bear witness, her “project notes” at the end of the collection offers that mahogany “was written during the years I care gave for my mother, Mary. Her long illness was the best and worst time in my life. For five years I shuffled between San Francisco and Cincinnati, six months by six months.” Threading their shared appreciation of Diana Ross, she offers that, much like the first two collections in this trilogy, “mahogany uses the music of a (once popular) pop artist that I grew up listening to. Each poem takes its title from a line of a Diana Ross and The Supremes song or a song from Diana’s successful solo career—the poems are not ‘about’ the actual songs, but what is triggered when listening to or thinking about the music. I’m thinking about what happens when you take something like a pop song and turn it in on itself, give it a different frame of reference, juxtapose the work against itself, against other pop music, and bring it into the present.”

There is something compelling in the way lewis composes her rhythmic suite of lyrics set across sound and nuance, echoes and repetitions, chants of song and intimate spaces. The poems write from the space of care and slow loss, grief and appreciation; the poems write of witness, providing a space through which her mother remains, intact and vibrant. “the day has passed / and gone inside,” the poem “i’m here” begins, “i want to have / something to say / about my own destiny / there used to be / a voice in my head / telling me everything / was going to be okay [.]” lewis composes long lyric first-person threads, each of which run down the page from her Diana Ross title-prompt, wrapping her mother in arms and care and loss. The heartbreak and care across this collection is palpable, deep and intimate. “do you / love yourself,” the poem “i don’t want to live” begins, “we must travel / in the direction . of our fear / and now the frontier is gone [.]”

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