by Julian Randall
We find ourselves in the presence of a poet who is both the chant and the sky she tenders with her words. Desiree Bailey is a writer who crafts the poems I think of when I say “saltwater”, when I say “home”, when I say “battle song that reminds me I am among the living but my dead are not gone from me”; when I say these phrases, I am thinking towards poems such as these which come to me from this world, yes, but also the ones before and before and before. Bailey writes to us.“Spill of red paint, blue drip of stars pooling the foot of the nation.”And this ekphrastic does what I hope always for the ekphrastic to do, show me the little country of this moment where the eye meets a history, show me how this too is yourself or whom you love most rendered. Bailey delivers.“Stare until the painting becomes a mirroruntil you are sixteen again in your roomwith Jimi Hendrix plastered on the walllike a saint.”Followed shortly after by“practicing, repeating, drilling an American accentsloughing the saltwater off your tonguespeaking yourself into disappearance.”But these poems, named so or not are chants, are utterances that, like Bailey’s ancestor and contemporary Aracelis Girmay, refuse to surrender the body to nonbeing. They are proud in being in some ways most legible in their saltwater; they cover the Earth, they give the sky its right color.
Such lyric is in fact as much water as it is a kind of flight, “The bird taunts the river with its wing” indeed. Bailey writes“they will say miraclewhen what they mean is thirst”
And can you tell me you don’t gasp in another century entirely? Bless the hands that wrote these poems. Musical with a yearning and lethal precision who could disappear when these poems observe and shout the world in a way that can never fade? Here “freedom never forgets its clumsy owner” Here“freedom: ruthless siren hurl and shrieklouder than a dream”We have excerpts of a larger song and I cannot wait to see and hear and hold the rest with as much attention to detail as Bailey has afforded history. “but if not here then where? crude shadow of homemy blood my grief glistens the soilthe land and me stubborn kin the land made mea new being forged of a greedy flame”I love these poems unpunctuated, the way a note can wait, can invite us in, can work the pause until all your people are running with you into the next sound. But the music, the chant, the body, does not stop for us, for anything. Bailey will finish this chant across the eras, across saltwater and sky and glistening soil, these poems march in brilliant pursuit of what is theirs.“my blood already heremy gods breathing in the hills”And so they are, so they are.