Dear Darkness

Poems

Look inside
Las Vegas, Nashville, despair, the Midwest, “Bar-B-Q Heaven” and his family’s Louisiana home: these are the American places that Kevin Young visits in his powerful, heartfelt sixth book of poetry. Begun as a reflection on family and memory, Dear Darkness became a book of elegies after the sudden death of the poet’s father, a violent event that silenced Young with grief until he turned to rhapsodizing about the food that has sustained him and his Louisiana family for decades. Flavorful, yet filled with sadness, these stunningly original odes—to gumbo, hot sauce, crawfish, and even homemade wine—travel adeptly between slow-cooked tradition and a new direction, between everyday living and transcendent sorrow.

Delivered in Young’s classic bluesy tone, this powerful collection of poems about the American family, smoky Southern food, and the losses that time inevitably brings “bristles with life, nerve and, best of all, wit” (San Francisco Chronicle).

“Young is a fluid and bold interpreter of American culture and attitude, writing shrewd blues and droll lyrics that upend and undo catchphrases, familiar figures, and down home habits. . . . Young reaches for myth but can’t resist wit, playing hilarious tribute to aunties and uncles, dealing in double entendres, capturing the topsy-turvy, otherworldly ambience of Las Vegas. And even while deeply mourning his father, he pulls a Neruda and writes funny, sly odes to the ordinary, focusing on food, metaphors for desire, the life force, and death’s endless consumption.” —Booklist

“[Young is] perhaps the most prominent African American poet of his generation . . . For all the humor, and all the autobiography, in this big book, Young digs deepest and sounds most powerful when he returns to the unlucky, unlovely, generalized personae of blues, who become in his hands at once a source of energy and a means for elegy.” —Publishers Weekly

“National Book Award finalist Young energizes the poems in his latest collection with subtle and not-so-subtle references to songs as well as to biblical passages. . . . Ultimately, the collection effectively becomes an exercise in soul-searching even as it eulogizes Young’s father.” —Library Journal

“Young is a fluent and bold interpreter of American culture and attitude, writing shrewd blues and droll lyrics that upend and undo catchphrases, familiar figures, and down-home habits.” —Booklist
© Maciek Jasik
KEVIN YOUNG is the Andrew W. Mellon Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. He previously served as the director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Young is the author of fourteen books of poetry and prose, including BrownBlue LawsSelected & Uncollected Poems, 1995–2015Book of Hours, winner of the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets; Jelly RollA Blues, a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Poetry; Bunk, a New York Times Notable Book; and The Grey Album, winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize and the PEN Open Book Award, a New York Times Notable Book, and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism. The poetry editor of The New Yorker, Young is the editor of nine other volumes of poetry, most recently, the acclaimed anthology African American Poetry250 Years of Struggle & Song. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and was named a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2020. He lives in Washington, DC. View titles by Kevin Young
EulogyTo allow silenceTo admit it in usalways movingJust pastsenses, the darknessWhat swallows usand we live amongstWhat lives amongst us*These grim anchorsThat brief sanctitythe seaCast quite farwhen you seek—in your hats blackand kerchiefs—to bury me*Do not weepbut once, and a longtime thenThereafter eat tillyour stomach spills overNo more! you’ll crytoo full for your eyesto leak*The words will wait*Place me in a plainpine box I have beenfor years buildingIt is splintersnot silverIt is filled of hair*Even the tonguesof bells shall still*You who will bearmy body alongSpirit me into the sixDo not startleat its lack of weightHow lightI shall be releasedWhat we lovewill leave usor is itwe leavewhat we love,I forget—Today, bellyfull enoughto walk the blockafter all weektoo coldoutside to smile—I think of you, warmin your underground roomreading the bookof bone. It’s hard going—your body a deadlanguage—I’ve begunto feel, if nothope then whatcomes just after—or before—Let’s not call itregret, butthis weight,or weightlessness,or justplain waiting.The ice wantingagain water.The streams of two planesa cross fading.I was so busytelling you this I forgotto mention the sky—how in the duskits steely edgeshave just begun to rust.Ode to BoudinYou are the chewing gumof God. You are the reasonI know that skinis only that, holdsmore than it meets.The heart of you is somethingI don’t quite getbut don’t want to. Evena fool like me can seeyour brokenbeauty, the wayout in this world where mostthings disappear, driveninto ground, you are groundalready, & like riceyou rise. Drunken deacon,sausage’s half-brother,jambalaya’s baby mama,you bring me backto the beginning, to where things liveagain. Homemade saviour,you fed me the daymy father sat under flowerswhite as the gloves of pallbearerstossed on his bier.Soon, hands will lower himinto ground richerthan even you.For now, root of allremembrance, your thick chainsets me spinning, thinkingof how, like the small,perfect, possible, silent soulyou spill outlike music, my daddydead, or grief,or both—afterward his sistersmy aunts dancingin the yard to a car radiotuned to zydecobeneath the pecan trees.
“Young is a fluent and bold interpreter of American culture and attitude, writing shrewd blues and droll lyrics that upend and undo catchphrases, familiar figures, and down-home habits.” —Booklist

About

Las Vegas, Nashville, despair, the Midwest, “Bar-B-Q Heaven” and his family’s Louisiana home: these are the American places that Kevin Young visits in his powerful, heartfelt sixth book of poetry. Begun as a reflection on family and memory, Dear Darkness became a book of elegies after the sudden death of the poet’s father, a violent event that silenced Young with grief until he turned to rhapsodizing about the food that has sustained him and his Louisiana family for decades. Flavorful, yet filled with sadness, these stunningly original odes—to gumbo, hot sauce, crawfish, and even homemade wine—travel adeptly between slow-cooked tradition and a new direction, between everyday living and transcendent sorrow.

Delivered in Young’s classic bluesy tone, this powerful collection of poems about the American family, smoky Southern food, and the losses that time inevitably brings “bristles with life, nerve and, best of all, wit” (San Francisco Chronicle).

“Young is a fluid and bold interpreter of American culture and attitude, writing shrewd blues and droll lyrics that upend and undo catchphrases, familiar figures, and down home habits. . . . Young reaches for myth but can’t resist wit, playing hilarious tribute to aunties and uncles, dealing in double entendres, capturing the topsy-turvy, otherworldly ambience of Las Vegas. And even while deeply mourning his father, he pulls a Neruda and writes funny, sly odes to the ordinary, focusing on food, metaphors for desire, the life force, and death’s endless consumption.” —Booklist

“[Young is] perhaps the most prominent African American poet of his generation . . . For all the humor, and all the autobiography, in this big book, Young digs deepest and sounds most powerful when he returns to the unlucky, unlovely, generalized personae of blues, who become in his hands at once a source of energy and a means for elegy.” —Publishers Weekly

“National Book Award finalist Young energizes the poems in his latest collection with subtle and not-so-subtle references to songs as well as to biblical passages. . . . Ultimately, the collection effectively becomes an exercise in soul-searching even as it eulogizes Young’s father.” —Library Journal

“Young is a fluent and bold interpreter of American culture and attitude, writing shrewd blues and droll lyrics that upend and undo catchphrases, familiar figures, and down-home habits.” —Booklist

Author

© Maciek Jasik
KEVIN YOUNG is the Andrew W. Mellon Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. He previously served as the director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Young is the author of fourteen books of poetry and prose, including BrownBlue LawsSelected & Uncollected Poems, 1995–2015Book of Hours, winner of the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets; Jelly RollA Blues, a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Poetry; Bunk, a New York Times Notable Book; and The Grey Album, winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize and the PEN Open Book Award, a New York Times Notable Book, and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism. The poetry editor of The New Yorker, Young is the editor of nine other volumes of poetry, most recently, the acclaimed anthology African American Poetry250 Years of Struggle & Song. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and was named a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2020. He lives in Washington, DC. View titles by Kevin Young

Excerpt

EulogyTo allow silenceTo admit it in usalways movingJust pastsenses, the darknessWhat swallows usand we live amongstWhat lives amongst us*These grim anchorsThat brief sanctitythe seaCast quite farwhen you seek—in your hats blackand kerchiefs—to bury me*Do not weepbut once, and a longtime thenThereafter eat tillyour stomach spills overNo more! you’ll crytoo full for your eyesto leak*The words will wait*Place me in a plainpine box I have beenfor years buildingIt is splintersnot silverIt is filled of hair*Even the tonguesof bells shall still*You who will bearmy body alongSpirit me into the sixDo not startleat its lack of weightHow lightI shall be releasedWhat we lovewill leave usor is itwe leavewhat we love,I forget—Today, bellyfull enoughto walk the blockafter all weektoo coldoutside to smile—I think of you, warmin your underground roomreading the bookof bone. It’s hard going—your body a deadlanguage—I’ve begunto feel, if nothope then whatcomes just after—or before—Let’s not call itregret, butthis weight,or weightlessness,or justplain waiting.The ice wantingagain water.The streams of two planesa cross fading.I was so busytelling you this I forgotto mention the sky—how in the duskits steely edgeshave just begun to rust.Ode to BoudinYou are the chewing gumof God. You are the reasonI know that skinis only that, holdsmore than it meets.The heart of you is somethingI don’t quite getbut don’t want to. Evena fool like me can seeyour brokenbeauty, the wayout in this world where mostthings disappear, driveninto ground, you are groundalready, & like riceyou rise. Drunken deacon,sausage’s half-brother,jambalaya’s baby mama,you bring me backto the beginning, to where things liveagain. Homemade saviour,you fed me the daymy father sat under flowerswhite as the gloves of pallbearerstossed on his bier.Soon, hands will lower himinto ground richerthan even you.For now, root of allremembrance, your thick chainsets me spinning, thinkingof how, like the small,perfect, possible, silent soulyou spill outlike music, my daddydead, or grief,or both—afterward his sistersmy aunts dancingin the yard to a car radiotuned to zydecobeneath the pecan trees.

Praise

“Young is a fluent and bold interpreter of American culture and attitude, writing shrewd blues and droll lyrics that upend and undo catchphrases, familiar figures, and down-home habits.” —Booklist

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