|Raina J. León|
Page Count: 94
Publication Date: Thursday, October 10, 2013
Cover Artwork: “Homeless silhouette w Pigeons, DC” by Thomas Sayers Ellis
About this Book
Praise for Boogeyman Dawn
In Boogeyman Dawn, Raina León explores the space between some of our worst nightmares and the awakening of hope. León does not look away from even the rawest of wounds in the psyche, the flesh, and the social body, but it is through carefully wrought images and patiently distilled language – lines that are anything but raw – that she entices us to follow her gaze and trust that dawn will come. One source of encouragement is her rich and multifaceted cultural heritage – Puerto Rican, black, American – evident not only in the subjects she treats, but also in the way lines of Spanish and English sometimes dance together. Be aware: the ‘boogeyman’ in these poems is no mere myth, but a symbol of problems all too real. Still, as León guides us through her shifting landscape, though she confesses to moments of despair, she always gives witness to the re-emergence of hope: “This morning I found my wrists again, / But you held my hands.”
“[H]ow do you save yourself when silent / mouth clamped shut” asks one speaker. “[H]e needs me to explore the words / with my tongue, repeat them with the muscles / of my face” feels like a reply – one of many. There doesn’t seem to be a device or register that León will not explore in this fearless poemario whose ethos, on the hand, is giving witness: the abused child at school; the prisoner pursuing a GED; the massacre of five Amish children. But also giving surprising voice to, literally, the voiceless: “I just wanted to be held” (‘The pistol’s confession’); “They forget the days when they floated / makeshift prayer boats along my face” (‘Monologue of a shallow river’), all the while deploying “the guts of growl and play” – her plural flexing of language.
Raina León has crafted an elegant, brooding, and playful peek-around-the-corner view of this often difficult existence through the eyes and thoughts of children, and those whose lives are affected by them – which is all of us. From the haunting dark of premature death to the transformative, ambivalent force of testosterone, Leon hears the proud, colloquial, melanin-informed line that distinguishes familiar and familial, that border that suggests we are all connected, and we are not. A narrative woven in the intimacy of despair as well as the proximity of hope, this is a stunning, imaginative collection.
Raina J. León, CantoMundo fellow (2012), Cave Canem graduate fellow (2006) and member of the Carolina African American Writers Collective, has been published in numerous publications such as Natural Bridge, African American Review, OCHO, Black Arts Quarterly, Poem.Memoir.Story, The Packinghouse Review, among others. Her first collection of poetry, Canticle of Idols, was a finalist for both the Cave Canem First Book Poetry Prize (2005) and the Andres Montoya Poetry Prize (2006). Boogeyman Dawn (2013) was a finalist for the Naomi Long Magdett Poetry Prize (May 2010). She co-founded The Acentos Review (June 2008), an international quarterly online review fostering the work of Latina and Latino artists and writers. She is currently an assistant professor in the Single Subject Credential Program-English at Saint Mary’s College of California.
On the ash bough,
I hang the wish
ribbon beside the threads
of others pleading miracle.
Red silk and curling orange
satin, a pulled piece of tartan
cloth, and here a work shirt hem,
they twist and twirl
into their decrepit end.
With the rot, the wish
ripples out to change
the rainy world.
Beneath the ash bough,
a thousand remnants,
the scraps of desire done
with dancing on a string
and set down to earth,
an odd mulch. What of those
ribbons plucked by birds
and used for multicolor havens?
There are wish nests
in the tall trees nearby.
Who sees to them,
the air, who traverses
its own way? A child
summer frolics in my mind,
I fear my eyes will never see. I hang
the wish, turn it tight and watch it spin.
Philomela teaches a child to sew
Our fingers butterfly through window bars to winged testaments.
What rough wounds we carry, their scars, are meant to be cleansed.
Allow the clanging tune of your own blood to slip
from your ears as a stream. You are a nightingale’s water, meant to cleanse.
His sin can not taint for ever. These two white cloths parallel
your body, and the needle, how he marred. To sew is meant to cleanse.
After he poisoned me with his sex, he cut my tongue from the root,
watched it flop on the floor. An unstringed guitar is still meant to cleanse.
He silenced you with threat, with the perversion of love’s touch.
I am as wide and seeing as the night, he said. You are the star, meant to cleanse.
We will braid hair and sunlight into this colored thread,
make a woman’s robe of twisted beauty, a woolen memoir, meant to cleanse.
A single strand can be alchemy, transmute envenomed intentions into elusive liberty.
Muted queen and child, we are more than shards; we are meant to cleanse.
He tells the other soldiers
before they go about their killing
that his woman at that moment
bakes bread to scent the house,
that for nearly one year she has baked
a different loaf and wrapped it tight
in cellophane so that he can see
her heart beating. The mail, too slow,
she points the computer’s camera
at the perfect loaf, says smell, and he does
through the screen. A viscous melody flows
down the nose into the open throat,
and he sings a moan of the familiar.
Every week, a different loaf – raison,
banana nut, vanilla and peach – that he smells
first before the children devour
the bread that their love sets.
He tells the other soldiers
that when he goes home the curtains will exhale
the breath of bread, pears, cinnamon.
He tells them he wants to be like bread,
kneaded by her fingers, filled with sweetness,
baked within her oven body, then he carries
the gun and fills his eye light with darkened glass
and dust. That very afternoon a woman will wait
for her man. The house will smell of bread,
spice and sweat, and then suddenly copper.
Copyright © Raina J. León, 2013