by Julian Randall
“Art, in its truest form, repeats” claims Luther Hughes in this deft and razor-sharp series of poems from Luther Hughes. These poems possessed of a speaker navigating the dark pink electric of the mind as much as he is navigating the streets of Seattle or the haunting of an open field are engaged; yes, in a kind of grief but this is not its only register by any stretch. The turns bring us past sometimes similar images of the natural world, of the Black male body, the crow, the skull but they are a déjà vu, a returning that is dreamlike and violently soft to the touch. Consider this repetition a kind of intimacy that Hughes curates with enviable precision. “A month of this:
Black men hammering their grief into memy grief becoming the rarest wine.”Anyone who has ever known loss at the systemic level knows that intimacy is not a luxury. Like poetry, it is its own impetus and urgency; here the search for this intimacy is resulting in that untouchable and highly valued commodity, a Black interiority. The grief is wine and the wine is grief for there can be no wine without the grape’s opening. Hughes writes of the body this way, admitting that the speaker’s mind is like a river darting in and out of the present, following up with “Most dreams, I open
The front door to find you on the porchletting the sky gown you-silk, veil; delicate.”
I love Hughes in many registers but few so much as this; where the enjambment, so often characterized as a break in language, feels like a hinge opening towards the unknown and the known with an equal commitment to seeing as an offering towards intimacy. Intimacy is urgent in Hughes’ work, it’s not merely pleasure (though pleasure or its absence are oft crucial) but a matter of life and death; it repeats like truest art, because it is. Hughes makes enjambments that feel less like the bursting of a grape, in itself a kind of surprise (where once there was a form now there is merely the juice that girded it) and opts for the more surprising act, the delicate veil of the grape’s skin opening of its own accord, alive and inviting us to look and earn the right to touch.
Hayden, Hughes’ forebear, was oft criticized for owning and performing a Blackness outside of certain tropes and concepts; what criminally small amount of Hayden’s work we are taught is a result of this questioning of his being “Black enough”. I love so much in these poems but few things so much as Hughes’ ability to be the answer to the sometimes shouted and other times merely implied question of if we are “enough” Hughes, with a dedication to vision, to obsession as a form of intimacy that he wields masterfully is nakedly and emphatically an answer. That answer barks like city lights against the supposedly starless sky. Hughes’ answer is brilliant as the moon and perhaps the dead. I read these poems and need not ask if what is the flesh of us, the mind of us, the us of us is in fact enough. It repeats, like true art, yes, yes, yes.