sombra : (dis)locate
|Raina J. León|
Page Count: 88
Publication Date: Monday, February 22, 2016
Cover Artwork: León family photographs altered by Matteo Monchiero
About this Book
In sombra : (dis)locate, poems weave themselves in and out of place and time, “between glory and tumult,” embodying tales of Josephine Baker, what it means to be in brown/black skin, in love, in care, in missing—each experience a geological layer, holding memory in “the ghost trail of fingers felt/ on the breast before the seeker searches the hand.” The real work León is doing is restorative and then transformative; she employs forms like the bop and quotilla, pulls from the beauty of languages like Arabic and French, plays with how the poem appears on the page, and as a result creates poems that are sensorial maps to bring a person, a thing, from the shadow, back here or there or wherever it must land to be at home, at peace. sombra : (dis)locate is “thunder-born, lightning-scarred,” a lyrical work that “gives our human to one another.”
sombra : (dis)locate is a fitting title for León’s new collection. It hints at the shadows within history, languages, sexuality, loss, grief, and violence unveiled in poems that span countries, the enigmatic specter of Josephine Baker flouting conventions of respectability and race, and the daily brutalities that split people’s emotional cores like simple apples. These poems move with agility across pages into the shadows. León reminds us why the light can redeem us if we keep traveling and calling out to the people who will never stop looking when we are lost in the dark.
Raina J. León writes fierce narratives of 21st-century global issues. Race is as pertinent as voice, history, dream, and love in her poems. She poignantly chronicles such subjects as birth, death, mythology and religion. In her third volume, León infuses lyrical power and vitality. Her poems unfold with great details, vivid imagery, eloquent language and intelligence. With multilingual structured poems steeped in honesty, sombra : (dis)locate establishes León as a poet of great skill and courage, refusing to turn away from subject matter that might make readers cringe. She juxtaposes the struggles of life with the beauty of the natural world, though never going off key while employing poetic forms.
Raina León's ambitious collection quests to physically distant territories (from New Orleans to Paris to Gaza) and even crosses the border of human bodies. The reader finds both pain and joy on the journey, but as danger is a constant companion, León shows us how to embrace the shade.
Dr. Raina J. León is a Cave Canem graduate fellow, CantoMundo fellow, and member of the Carolina African American Writers Collective. Her previous collections of poetry include Canticle of Idols and Boogeyman Dawn (Salmon Poetry, 2013). She is a founding editor of The Acentos Review, an online quarterly devoted to the promotion and publication of LatinX arts. She is an associate professor of education at Saint Mary’s College of California.
Read a sample from this book
All that time, waiting to bloom
Bathed in orange water,
she blossoms from her mouth,
alstroemeria, orange rose,
bupleurum, orchid, lily.
They unfold slowly,
the buds open one
in the silent music
of wonder. Her
palms became rocky.
Even they have broken
to glory in orange bloom.
Mother is garden,
life in stillness.
Kiss her lips,
light as the bee
searching for nectar.
Alright, the songs die,
but the color music
plays on. Play on.
She flowers her eyes.
I can’t remember
the shade if it’s not light.
Without my glasses, all the world becomes Monet:
a fine pierced window in the hararet’s dome,
its pointed star to conjure a summer night
softens to pulsing circle that
enchants the steam to hiss and rise.
On the hot marble, my glasses
lie useless, the first wave of heat enough to fog
me near blind, so even my eyes are naked.
I simulate delicate decorum; soon I am near splayed
as the sweat forms rivulets running
down all this reddening earth.
My forehead hosts liquid pebbles. I turn and press
to gray marble, smoothed by the skin of generations.
The small becomes a newly formed lake.
Tiger marks stretch at my hips. For the first time,
I am not ashamed of patterns. I am surrounded
by taut and hang, girls in their play and crones
whose bodies have glowed, carried, birthed,
mourned. My breasts are among many breasts.
We are a tribe of sweat.
The attendant calls me over for my turn
of lemon-scented suds and the raw scrape
of loofah mitts until the dead flakes crust
in rolled balls of dirt. She washes them away
with vigorous hand, over and over again.
I have never been touched this way by a woman,
intimate and rough in the cleansing.
I am steeped in citrus spray from head to toe.
She pulls my hair as she washes,
then leads me to the founts,
fills a metal bowl with cold clean.
She sets to her ruthless work
erasing the frizzle of soap.
She points the way back to the dark pool,
the heated waters where nymphs are descending.
I dangle my feet a while. Those bathing
look hungry for flesh.
The slab receives my meditation again:
pulsing stars in a cloud stone dome. The scent of lemon
and musk, heated air so thick as to swim.
When the salty slick returns, I feel out
shining bowl and the frigid,
feel the silk that stretches across muscle and bone.
Here the space where reality slips into trance,
the gossamer haunting of habit – a side of the bed, a tumbler
tapped on the bar before slipping fire down
an upturned throat, the ghost trail of fingers felt
on the breast before the seeker searches the hand
out to do its real work – querencia. More than fondness
for a place or a certain light, it is the tip of poison
in the pleasure, the lily of the valley with its curved,
white petals perched on a child’s tongue like a bell
just about to be rung.