No Parachutes To Carry Me Home

by Maisha Z Johnson

Cover design or artwork by Geoff Melville, 
Edited by A. Razor

Maisha Z. Johnson’s elegant meditation on human difference, No Parachutes to Carry Me Home, opens with an epigraph from June Jordan’s On the Black Family — we came and we come in a glory of darkness around the true reasons for sharing our dark and our beautiful name

As though in direct response to this testament, readers are introduced to the compassionate speaker of the opening poem Sacrifices who will guide us through the book and the life of its protagonist. This neighbor– the book’s witness– describes the unsmiling stone face of an angel on her stoop and the anonymous sacrifices that are lit and left at the angel’s feet. She concludes:

like to imagine these sacrifices as somebody’s secret – someone who spends his evenings making promises to his family. nights, asking my angel for the same.

The narrator of No Parachutes to Carry Me Home is not a shadow spying from behind the curtains, but a woman who goes forth each day to imagine the suffering of others not so different from her own.

We partake in one initiation after another, as she moves from the loss of a young girl’s magic marble to her first sexual experience with another woman. Throughout there is a dialogical tension between external and internal reality which the speaker must true the way one true’s the bubble in a level or the sharpness of a blade.

I knew the answer to the true or false question, and i knew my answer-the two were not the same.

From mr. lowell’s religion class, st. mary’s high school

And she knows that her answers are not without consequence:

god sat at the edge
of my desk, her gray dreadlocks
dipped in ink black as my pupils

There is a humorous counterpoint, a leitmotif that runs through the book, surely the voice of the superego reminding the narrator how she might be perceived by others. These poems are all titled the people say and the people say things like black girls don’t do yoga. The people say black girls don’t kiss dogs. Black girls don’t have eating disorders.

And yet we know, like the speaker in the poet’s chosen epigraph by Gwendolyn Brooks from a song in the front yard, Maisha Z. Johnson will not be shaped by what the people say, nor will she be detoured by her own mistakes. She will move from the front yard, from the boredom of the beautiful to the untended out back.

I’ve stayed in the front yard all my life.
I want a peek at the back
Where it’s rough and untended and hungry weed grows.
A girl gets sick of a rose.

Gwendolyn Brooks, a song in the front yard

She will explore her parental homeland with nostalgia and curiosity.

I wish this map would show
where the queer girls go. in places
of pretending, those girls don’t exist,
they hold each other
somewhere, perhaps in plain sight.

A reader cannot help but love the narrator of this first powerful collection of poems as she enters one life, then another, from Trinidad to Oakland, and approaches each with her great gifts of simple clarity, lyric beauty, and humility–

me, carrying only my gentle breath beneath
loose jeans and a baggy black sweatshirt.

~ Sandra Alcosser, poet, A Fish to Feed All Hunger and Excerpt by Nature

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