Sunday, September 10, 2017

Feeding The Light - Jaki Shelton Green (Jacar Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Feeding the Light.  Jaki Shelton Green.  Jacar Press.  Durham, North Carolina. 2014.

Any poet who mentions Miles Davis, Pharoah Sanders, Herbie Hancock and Ornette Coleman all in one poem is going to get the attention of an old jazz-rat like me.  These names fall of of Jaki Shelton Green's capable lips with such familiarity they might almost be an afterthought.  After all, what reasonable poet wouldn't want these giants wandering their poems and setting tempo?

But Today's book of poetry would be misleading our readers if we led you to believe that Feeding the Light is about jazz.  No, jazz lives here but it's not the addressee.  Green uses a stream of extreme consciousness to pinwheel through kaleidoscopic narratives.  There is light, as the title suggests, and it is refracted through a dozen different lens in real time.  The effect is splendid.

feeding the light
                for aunt lilly
                          (who taught me how to see in the dark)

we risk ice storms postpone passionate death to swirl head
first beyond wise breathing lessons beyond crimson soaked
necks crushed knuckles and stinking birth skin all the way
down past gray fields chaste moons yet light so pregnant it
seeps across insolent skies too ashamed to name the dances
too ashamed to name the shaman who eats the jazz behind
iron doors praying for half notes that cure blindness cure
the bestial that lurks inside places troubles on the water one
tenor eyelash at a time reappearing at the bottom of a worn
out morning after cup of mils pharoah herbie ornette we
risk falling out of the well used belly the platinum engraved
womb that cherishes a right handed bass player clean blue
velvet shoes that keep nameless eyes waiting he has a way
of singing thick thighs apart in the middle of blazing duets
knows how to pull blossoms out of the ground through
february snow drifts feeds a bastard sky child nothing but
horn a wild child reading the book of the thousand nights
and a night blue velvet shoes can't keep a damn lie straight
in between identifying frozen crushing faces slaughtered for
whispering jazz slaughtered for smelling like jazz wooden
zulu spears silver coins wet feathers we risk losing our
sense of flight our gypsy hearts in search of jazz eating
shaman who serves holy bread with blues water his voice
slicing daylight feeding small pieces to all that is left of a
brown jungle girl whose bones smoke up every juke joint in
between here and all the places she died alone on alabaster
steps voice strangled by kisses prayers abandoned weeping
shaman cures her dreams pours billie sarah nina ella down 
her throat horny hips thrust shatter shred blue velvet shoes
across the room a narrow mirror becomes a road and she
learns to fly straight through a glass sky she be music now
she be night-fed she be forgiveness rupturing a worn out
morning after cup of herself she be birthing remixing clocks
calendars numbers maps her sweat sweet round midnight
honey washing up onto a shore of seasons smelling like
drums tasting like a flute of curry we risk night searching
wanting to taste her skin.


Feeding the Light isn't about jazz but it has all the rhythms, drives like good jazz.  Green is making multitudinous connections at light speed, all held together with a rock solid bottom, foundation.

Feeding the Light is not about jazz but Jaki Shelton Green is wailing when she tells the story of an arranged marriage in Kandahar.  Any romantic mystique fouled by the green toothed grin and rancid breath of the aging groom.  Green explores the intimate violence of a woman's world, she goes places most of us never see.

waiting for love

alone cold mint tea in orange plastic torn djelaba a red
you forbid waiting drowning in six too many capsules of
magic trying to remember the words of the astrologer or
what you were screaming as you fled into the secret clay
wall of your brother's house trying to understand that i am
only allowed to pray on wednesdays pray only in the blue
mosque in Mazar-e-Sharif or join your sisters at Karte-
e-Shakhi this strange but magical Kabul my captor Kabul
the first time I drank the darkness of a particular Pashtun
male the morning i am face to face with Malalai the only
female police in Kandahar we play burqa eye games before
she slaps me shouting to lower my gaze cover my hennaed
wrists or wake up dead i return to these walls i name home
to the sacred stitches and colors rugs from your tribe my
dowry my art i smoke the ancient hashish i found buried
beneath the kitchen wall tiles your younger sister Selah
arrives tells me it belonged to your grandmother we smoke
sleep cry eat the feta olives grapes and dream of weddings
hair beaches nail polish dark warriors bearing Tibetan music
we arrive by caravan to the wedding site your father tells
me you will come so i search for you amongst the men
that encircle the wedding party and begin wishing that i
could place a hidden camera in the back of my burqa so
i can see you when you remain invisible i am the foreign
woman laughing undetected beneath my blue wedding
tent a gift from your mother reminding me that this is the
way for a refugee wife suddenly i smell the secret blend
of wedding oils against my face it is Zarah your sister
laughing far too openly amongst men hugging thanking me
for her happiness not understanding the smile in her eyes
i do not feel my body shift or her left hand seize the gun
from my pocket Zarah my sister-in-law forced to marry
the man with green teeth shoots her head off during the
beginning of the weeklong Eid-e-Ghorbon trying to forget
all i am forced to remember razor wire nights Koochie boys
wearing desert faces speaking to me in all the languages
of hunger begging for gold thread i don't remember the
name of the particular dark Pashtun male or the color of
Zarah's wedding dress i try to forget her smile the way
blood creates its own art spraying the cake the gifts of sugar
bread honey spices prayer carpets scarves from her sisters i
remember your daily screams when i forgot and opened the
door to visitors is Peshawar forgetting always to wear my
chador i remind you that i am the same woman you danced
with beneath the stars in Kandahar the same astrologer
who meets your eyes in the bazaar i am every woman in
the snow covered streets of Ghazni or in Herat Province
lighting candles in search of Zarah's gold teeth i am the lost
bullet lodged in the wedding cake that the man with green
teeth serves to his new bride Fatima i will meet her in the
bathroom stalls next door to the blue mosque and pretend
i do not see her tap my market basket remove the muslin
cloth covering the fresh chicken dates onions potatoes
lemons drop my knife into the deep pockets of her riding
skirts our smiles whispering salaams it is the coldest night
without you and i am preparing a dinner for your return the
foods of our passionate longings lentil and bulgar patties
stuffed eggplant kasseri cheese my brother smuggles from
Turkey chicken pilaf raisin compote i spend hours shaving
oiling my skin soaking in frankincense ginger jasmine water
arrange rose petals through our bed sharpen candle
sticks that will light this night there is no more hashish guns
or knives only the wedding feast waiting.


Green inhabits the lives of several unforgettable women, some almost mythic in stature and substance.  These are brave poems about strong women in a world where they are not always valued or appreciated.  To say the least.

Feeding the Light made for an energetic group of readers at our morning read.  Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, took the lead as she most often does these days.  The readers were unanimous, they wanted more.

Gender and culture make for a big battlefield but Green does not flinch.  

an eclipse of skin


the blood was calling


ancient spirits
gather beneath erect feet
cry an ancestral anointment
kiss torn torso
restitch face to smile


splintered hands
hold death songs
one breath crawling towards light


hidden in every finger joint
hidden between shoulder and neck
hidden between heart and rib


yo hair is in my drink missus sarah
go ahead and move it william
you know you don't want to drink my hair
do you william?


Jaki Shelton Green is searching for the light in all things, storming through the darkness, spirit strong, reaching for the light.  This is the sort of optimism we applaud at Today's book of poetry.

Feeding the Light is one of those welcomed chapbooks that reads much bigger.  Once inside Jaki Shelton Green world everything expanded.  Green can burn.

Image result for jaki shelton green photo
Jaki Shelton Green

Jaki Shelton Green is a poet, creativity coach, teacher, and cultural activist.  Her books include Dead on Arrival, Dead on Arrival and New Poems, Conjure Blues, singing a tree into dance, and breath of the song.  The recipient of many awards, she was recently inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame.  She lives in Mebane, North Carolina.

“Rooted in hypnagogic logic and deeply seated in the tradition of Jayne Cortez, Quincy Troupe and Ntozake Shange, Jaki Shelton Green’s verse narratives pay homage to the orphic ethos of the mythmaking South with all the viscous verve of Van Gogh with a palette of syllables, images and words blurring through our senses like the thick, sleek wax of magnolia leaves. Her images conjure cultural beauty from a world-weary—yet ecstatic—kaleidoscopic lens while sustaining a pained relevance that serves up love from every angle of human anguish: the forced marriage of a child bride; memories of grandmothers and mentors, praiseworthy and proud. In Feeding the Light, Jaki Shelton Green captivates with a global vision. Her poems are totems and tomes; they are percussive, convulsive and constructive.”

—Tony Medina, author of Broke Baroque, The President Looks Like Me & Other Poems, and An Onion of Wars.

Jaki Shelton Green

Poet Jaki Shelton Green reads at the 2014 North Carolina Literary Festival, where Green was announced as a 2014 inductee to the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame (


Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.

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