To Greet Yourself Arriving. Michael Fraser. Tightrope Books. Toronto, Ontario. 2016.
Michael Fraser's To Greet Yourself Arriving works a bit like hot magma, lava. Left undisturbed it forms a thick and eventually rock solid black crust, any disturbance at all and you soon see it is red hot, in transition, and capable of scorching any surface on earth.
These poems are celebratory odes to a pantheon of black heroes throughout history. They also work as a syllabus to an endless litany of injustice. George Elliott Clarke, our poet laureate, wrote, "Fraser gives us characters who, even if tortured by their experience of "race" and/or racism, win through to a stardom that edges into heroism."
And Today's book of poetry must admit to a clinical weakness. Pretty much any poem that mentions Miles Davis is going to hit a weak spot in my anatomy. Michael Fraser knows the way straight to my heart.
The day I met Miles Davis,
he poured gold tunes
out box speakers
and sailed ahead
out over coffee table plains
and climbed the foothill couch.
Each note carried its own light.
His trumpet called from the walls
and the ceiling was
a swollen cloud.
I was flung into brass moods,
my fingers pulsed to
the walking bag's groove.
I became a yard bird
with blues for sale,
a young rebel soul
counting the air-blast hang time,
all the hazed rhythms
taking a new wave elevator
to warm sound shallows.
Transfixed, I grabbed
onto the aural sculpture.
Water refused to go
down the drain,
time spiralled 'Round Midnight,
the air lit itself
and glowed like a June day.
It glossed Miles' Italian suit.
My eyes rode the album cover
with coolness coiling itself
into my bones.
Michael Fraser adeptly moves through a complicated cast of characters from the Cuban singer Celia Cruz, the Queen of Salsa, the Central Park Five, Gordon Parks, P.K. Subban, Miles Davis and so on. This is distinguished company by any standard but Fraser immortalizes them all once again with his passionate and all too reasonable To Greet Yourself Arriving.
The veins of these trees
know the night's flavour
as it climbs and
washes each leaf
in summer's moon shade.
The aging bark listens
and peers through time
back to laughing crowds
with their army of words.
How the boy swung
over the loose voices.
How flies chewed his face.
Morning brings its scavenger tide,
an establishment of worms and beetles
crawl from the dangling tongue,
sound of something feasting
from the inside out.
How a man suffocates in air.
How a man breaks down
in the deadfall earth.
Many heroes, big and small, famous and unknown hurdle through Fraser's book and towards eternity and all that judging. By the time eternity arrives perhaps none of this will need explaining -- but the stories of these brave, brave, brave and beautiful men and women will always need to be told.
Fraser never lets anger get in the way of his retelling although you can feel it under the smoldering crust. To Greet Yourself Arriving is going to be a guilty pleasure by association for many readers. Someone is responsible for the horrible hellish rain of racism that continues unabated today. The poems in Fraser's To Greet Yourself Arriving stand fiercely on their own as poems, tight and clear and clean, but as a chorus this book raises itself to a beautiful black sound.
Mountain hinges cracked and
snapped earth in a fly's wing beat.
Screams percolated up dusted rock
and waved galvanized roofs.
Everything was veined in stone.
The living stood at the rubble's end,
listened to the wounded sear in the
Caribbean's unforgiving heat.
My birth country stumbled against its
history. Flat bodies peppered streets.
Survivors cursed the ground's blowtorch.
There was never enough of it--
time. We jumped planes and cranked
our world's cupboards while doctors
severed limbs freeing wounded scores.
It was always more than we could take,
but we continued for those slipperless
street girls, each one reflected in me.
Today's book of poetry is happy to find hope in poetry and astonishingly enough Fraser is up to the task, he is able to pull that off in the middle of all that sad history. Fraser's heroes remind us of the deeds in the very worst of human folly, all those terrible things our brothers and sisters have had to endure at our hands, and then in the same poems Fraser allows us to celebrate the absolute best in human achievement - in spite of the barriers,
To Greet Yourself Arriving is one hell of a kick in the poetry pants.
Photo: Krystyna Wesolowska
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Spring Poetry Salon @ Urban Gallery
May 31, 2014
video: Brenda Clews
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