From there, the poem grows into a critique of how the media pigeonholes black narratives (“this movie can’t be dismissed / because of its cast and its audience […] no chicken jokes in this movie. / no bullet holes in the heroes”), before making an unexpected grab for the heartstrings with a closing image of innocence and hope, of raw potential as-yet-unfettered by a future of closed doors: a “little black boy / on the bus with his toy dinosaur, his eyes wide endless // his dreams possible, pulsing right there”.
Like Cummings, Smith affects the lower-case “i”, and avoids capitals after a full-stop – but with an inconsistency that suggests Chatto’s editors may have taken their eye off the ball (mid-stanza, one sentence begins “This movie”, immediately after another beginning “this movie”, with no clear reason for the capital). While we’re nit-picking, it’s a shame that a handful of these poems end on a false note. One, reaching for grace in its final line, instead serves up a bumper-sticker: “everything you do is a miracle.”
There are no such stumbles in the visionary 23-page opener, “summer, somewhere”. It is something truly remarkable; a song from a sunlit afterlife, an “unpopular heaven” for black boys killed young, all delivered in taut couplets. The speaker, long since dead, tells us how they “unfuneral” new arrivals (“we plucked brothers from branches / peeled their naps from bark”). Echoing Billie Holliday, “fruit here / grows strange”.
Voices of the living and newly dead come through in italics, as if heard from far away or long ago. A mother weeps for her son (“praise your sweet rot / unstitching under soil”), while a cop addresses the boy he shot, scrabbling for excuses (“i got sca . . . i was doing my job”). It’s a fragile vision, a heartbreaking plea: “please, don’t call / us dead, call us alive someplace better”.