These poems can’t make history vanish, but they can contend against it with the force of a restorative imagination ... At the center of many of these poems is the black queer body as it moves through a range of contemporary American spaces, some comparatively safe, many potentially lethal. The mind that tracks it—imagining its outcomes, adjusting to its setbacks, processing its sudden drives and imperatives—is a wild and unpredictable instrument. In an extraordinary poem about sex and death, 'strange dowry,' Smith finds themselves in a strobe-lit bar, checked out by potential lovers...Spontaneity is the great virtue of this work, but calculation is a survival skill. The open-endedness of 'strange dowry' is matched, in this book, by a grim determinism. In 'it won’t be a bullet,' Smith’s advantages over 'the kind of black man who dies on the news' are offset by H.I.V., which targets black men by a different standard of intention ... In this moving, unsettling work, the question is not simply one of craft. It’s about how the body and its authority can be manifested in writing, with only the spindly trace of letters to stand in for it ... it forces you, the reader, to say aloud, to embody, the words, while leaving a gap for the inevitable differences of race or gender identity, of illness and health, that might sometimes seem unbridgeable. They might be unbridgeable; but they are not unimaginable.
Smith, a performance poet who has won the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry, among other honors, takes aim at the racism and inequities in America that make many black people fear for their safety on a daily basis. Smith, who identifies with neither gender, also writes about sex, desire and the HIV diagnosis that resulted after one lover came over '& then he left/but he stayed.' As this stunning collection unfolds, the speaker weaves together personal sickness with societal ills, wondering 'just how/ will I survive the little/ cops running inside/ my veins.' These pieces pulse with the rhythms and assertiveness one expects from poetry slams. They also demand that people understand why the speaker wants to leave Earth 'to find a land where my kin can be safe.'
With piercing precision and striking formal variation, Smith grapples with America’s insidious past and present, pangs of desire ('if love is a room / of broken glass, leave me to dance / until my feet are memory'), and an HIV-positive diagnosis. The poet summons hope, too, in a movie dubbed Dinosaurs in the Hood, the modest promise of tomorrow, and, in 'little prayer,' a most divine demand: 'let ruin end here.' Part indelible elegy, part glorious love song to 'those brown folks who make / up the nation of my heart,' Smith’s powerhouse collection is lush with luminous imagery, slick rhythms, and shrewd nods to Lucille Clifton, Beyoncé, and Diana Ross. Incandescent, indispensable, and, yes, nothing short of a miracle.