William Carlos Williams Award - 2021
The Rule of Opulence
Bamboo shoots on my grandmother's side path
grow denser every year they’re harvested for nuisance.
Breezes peel blush and white petals from her magnolia,
lacing unruly roots in the spring grass. For nine decades
she has seen every season stretch out of shape, this past
Connecticut winter slow to relinquish cold. As a girl
she herded slow turkeys on her Aunt Nettie’s farm, fifty acres
in a Maryland county that didn’t plumb until midcentury,
plucking chickens and pheasants from pre-dawn
into the late night, scratching dough
for neighbors, relatives stopping by for biscuits, and the view
from my window changes. It's Mother's Day
and I’d always disbelieved permanence—newness a habit,
change an addiction—but the difficulty of staying put
lies not in the discipline of upkeep, as when my uncle chainsaws
hurricane-felled birches blocking the down-sloped driveway,
not in the inconvenience of well water
slowing showers and night flushes, not in yellowjackets
colonizing the basement, nuzzling into a hole
so small only a faint buzz announces their invasion
when violin solos on vinyl end, but in the opulence of acres
surrounding a tough house, twice repaired from fires, a kitchen
drawer that hasn’t opened properly in thirty years marked Danger,
nothing more permanent than the cracked flagstone
path to the door, that uneven earth, shifting.
From Anodyne (Tin House Books, 2020). Copyright © 2020 by Khadijah Queen. Reprinted with the permission of the poet.
Dara Wier on Anodyne by Khadijah Queen (Tin House Books, 2020)
Anodyne's poems treat existence as the awesome mystery it is, they treat people with an awe their mortal lives deserve, they treat words knowing their tricky behavioral inclinations and their beauty and their mission as repository of our very being's meaning. Anodyne's poems can be trusted to deliver pain and why there is pain and when why can't be known or told; they're to be trusted as they range across love, grief, laughter, memory and desire; they observe with wisdom born of a life devotion to art. In the book's final poem, "I Slept When I Couldn't Move," Queen lays out a lifetime's worth of love able to be seen because of her careful means of making poems to acknowledge and to record all that a life lives. In one line of Queen's we see these words: disarray, abridged, superstructure and because we know her poems to be crafted with keen insight we see in them a diary, a bridge, a suture. Anodyne is a record of one human's life and of everyone's, it makes visible the sutures we need to take to save what life gives us. Anodyne proposes by its nature that there is a possibility poetry has the power to save us.