And amen, the year closes and I too am reveling in otherness and shit talking with the ghosts that Hanif Abdurraqib brings us in this suite of poems. Like Abdurraqib and Abdurraqib’s ancestor and contemporary Adrian Matejka, I too come from the Midwest and by this I mean that I am from the same geography that watches the lakes give way to frost then surrender and become themselves months later. Amen, the Midwest, where Gwendolyn Brooks once said “Say that the river turns, and turn the river.” And it is a similar seasonal incantation that Abdurraqib brings us here and now, that space where sound collides with grief and sometimes wins.
What I admire in these poems is the kind of shit talking love that comes from the Midwest. We are a people who don’t always love our winter but know its necessity; what dies in the Midwest, and by extension in the words of its poets, does so knowing it will return. What else could we make of Abdurraqib’s saying “The news says that soon / it’s going to feel like summer all year & then what will we make of winter & the way nighttime gallops” I know here that Abdurraqib sees what I see; the fracturing of vision that comes when the wind gilds our faces and brings tears to our eyes; that yes, it is inconvenient to be so cold the world blurs, but that the tears winter invokes are a prism and if you squint at the right angle you can see everyone you need to.
Throughout these poems, there is a conversation afoot and I believe whether speaking to Abdurraqib’s more autobiographical speaker present in “None of My Black Friends Want to Listen to Don’t Stop Believin” and “Bone Thugs n Harmon’s ‘Crossroads’ Plays at the House Party on the Night the Police Officer Gets Acquitted in Cleveland” or phantoms that he exhales through the voice of Marvin Gaye that when Abdurraqib says “you” he does mean and imagine me.
When Abdurraqib says “I hear you thinking there he goes / again. But let me promise you that this time it really is just about a song” I am inclined to believe him, despite knowing that with Hanif, it is never just a song but all the ghosts singing along with us. It’s a pump fake I keep giddily falling for, confident that the shot will be sunk and a warm palm will press to mine and pull me from the Earth with a quick joke to soften the ground; even after it has raked itself along the scabs grief left behind. When Abdurraqib brings forth the chorus in a house party saying again and again “& I’M / GONNA MISS / EVERYBODY” I believe him and, briefly, we have the same everybody. We have the same everybody and know that “burial is for the rich / for the rest of us, there is only the night” and ain’t that motivation for the ghost?
All the time that Gaye’s ghost chastises “I was building a grave this whole time and you all / were too drunk on the howling of naked / skin to notice.” Abdurraqib too has been building, this time a We constructed of “those of us who have reached for a song & pulled back a coffin” And it’s important to note that what precedes this line is Abdurraqib writing to us that “you already know” and, we do, the knowing that is. I love these poems because trust in Abdurraqib’s We a collection of Midwestern pulses, of songs about ghosts and the ghosts of songs and constant the arms that reach out, stretching to embrace each the same. Amen.