The Sobbing School, Joshua Bennett’s mesmerizing debut collection of poetry, presents songs for the living and the dead that destabilize and de-familiarize representations of black history and contemporary black experience. What animates these poems is a desire to assert life, and interiority, where there is said to be none. Figures as widely divergent as Bobby Brown, Martin Heidegger, and the 19th-century performance artist Henry Box Brown, as well as Bennett’s own family and childhood best friends, appear and are placed in conversation in order to show that there is always a world beyond what we are socialized to see value in, always alternative ways of thinking about relation that explode easy binaries.
“Before people question why the contact was made in the first place, they should understand that Myers was no angel … This is not a victim, this is a victim-maker. This is not a martyr.” — Jeff Roorda, business manager of the St. Louis police union
The steel blue ghost standing
at the podium says VonDerrit Myers
was no angel & all I can hear is
the boy was a human boy. The boy
had a best friend & 206 bones. The boy
had a name that God didn’t give him.
When he died, he did not bleed
starlight or gold. He was not half-bird.
The gun spoke, & no flaxen wing shot
from each shoulder, as if to carry him beyond
the bullet’s swift assignment. No, the boy
was not a pillar of white smoke bright
enough to break a nonbeliever, make a penitent
fall prostrate, heaving, heavy with contrition, but
let me be clear: we are simply running out
of ways to shame the dead. How else to say
that we are guilty & yet unburied? How else
to erase him, if we cannot feign omnipotence,
lay claim to the sky, excise heaven,
take aim at the boy just one more
time while everyone watches?