That moment in church when I stared at the reverend’s black
kente-paneled robe & sash, his right hand clasping the back
of my neck, the other seizing my forehead, standing
in his Watch this pose, a leg behind him ready to spring,
his whole body leaning into the salvation of my wizened soul,
I thought of the Saturday morning wrestlers of my youth who’d hold
their opponents till they collapsed on a canvas in a slumberous
heap, and how it looked more like a favor, a deed, though barbarous,
a graceful tour out of this world, that chthonic departure
back to first waters, and wondered what pains I endured
in Mr. Feltyburger’s physic’s class, worshipping light, density, mass,
preferring to stare long at snowdomes or the carcasses
of flies pooling above in the great fluorescent cover, and how beds
are graves, my mother and father kissing each other’s head,
their cupped faces unhurriedly laying the other down,
and how all locked embraces light in my mind from below
in blue-neon like you’d find on the undercarriage of sports cars,
and then what came was the baker stacking her loaves,
one by one, into little coffers, and Desdemona’s
last surrender to Othello’s piercing glance, and Isaac shown
a militia of clouds over Moriah, and the dying we submerge
in a baptism of pillow, and how we always loiter at this verge,
there, between rising up and falling back, as in now, this tank
of sound I swim in, gripped between the push and yank
of his clutch, caught in that rush of tambourines next to solemn
trays of grape juice and bits of crackers held by deacons when
the reverend, serious as a pew, whispered, “Fall back, my son. Fall.”
from Hoops by Major Jackson. New York: W.W. Norton & Company 2006.
On Wednesday, April 6 at 12:30 p.m. in McCosh 40, Jackson will be reading from two long poems, “Urban Renewal” (from Leaving Saturn and Hoops) and “Letter to Brooks” (Hoops).* The reading will be followed by an intimate discussion between Professor Jackson and students & faculty. Lunch will be provided.
This lunchtime reading and conversation is proudly sponsored by the Princeton English Department’s Contemporary Poetry Colloquium.
*Complete copies of these poems are available in McCosh 22. Professor Jackson’s essay “A Mystifying Silence” is also highly recommended reading.