How Much Heat Can You Take?
Exquisite Heats by Cherryl Floyd-Miller
If you read these poems and your soul doesn't break a sweat, you haven't been deep enough South, have never suffered the spell of the "Voodoo Chicken": "Gots me a hanker. / Gots me squall, peeping tall-Tom / at your lovely, in your throat, and the itch . . ."; never sung the manifesto of "Say-So": "Show your whole butt to the stanza popes and the concrete image nuns"; never tried to be "Weaned: Breaking the Habit of Pork": "But the pig remains. It is here left over in every corner of the house. The scent of it does not linger somewhere else"; nor never, like Josephine Baker, bristled as "Men peeled me down / to chalky resolve / and devoured me" ("Josephine") like a banana,
but now there's hope—you might, just might, sweat if your skin can imagine "I Am Not Whorish / my momma ain't / her momma ain't . . . // though great-great / grandaddy master / so-and-so / must have been" ("Heritage"); or if you go with the poet to "Darfur," where "I am the smallest and drink first. One warm swallow trickling / past barbed ribs"; or if you become the homeplace in the sestina "Fall of the House of Dora": "the biggest place you've ever known, a chemistry / of your blood, the crumbling house a better find than red clay in Mississippi, / lives and times that must now be left to who-said and grand hypothesis"; or if you morph with the poet into "A fire-bellied newt, / [who] burrows in any crevice we could invent / among the hard bloom of igneous rock" ("Salamander") for safety,
because these poems "could be the elegant onset // of used mattress sag, / make you arch your backbone // to catch each hot, dirty / secret I could gurgle // through sweat" ("Cum Tender"); and the "Black skin after bathing [that] renders / nothing literal" ("There is No Other Phrasing for Ashy"); and the abandoned lover who "wait[s] in your sky for glints of lightning bugs, / pray[s] to a galaxy goddess to banish liberty from need" ("The Beautiful, Needful Thing," after Robert Hayden); yes, could even, like the poet, hear "Sonnet blues always calling my name. / Sonnet blues always calling my name" ("Hush Now, Don't Complain: Po' Folks' Sonnets"),
which is all a way of saying this book, Exquisite Heats, will burn itself into your blood if it be not ice; will blister where your flesh is tenderest; will wring your nerves and rinse your ears with its sometimes lyrical, often primordial, meta-syntactical, hypnotic voice; and will leave you purged, quiet, and weirdly content like "Celie in Atlanta": "deargod, // Shug be a man now. / She got raspy chest hair and grunt. / Every time my shug be on the phone to X, / croonin' low buzz and lovely whir, / I be boilin' grits, over butane / clangin' butter in spoons,"
so buy some aloe and buy this book that is, as the epigraph to Part One says, "just like fire; fire can heat your house or burn it down" (Frank Luntz).