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Book Review: They Are All Me by Dominique Christina

They Are All Me by Dominique Christina
Book Review by SaraEve Fermin

They are all me
Dominique Christina is a woman who wears many hats—activist, poet, performer, educator, author. Emblazoned across all of those titles one word sticks out, clearer than the rest: mother. Nowhere is that more of a celebration than in her newest book, They Are All Me. Please, don’t expect a book of sing-song rhymes or lullabies. Christina is here to sharpen her tongue and pen on the rarely explored edges of humanity, dealing with race, genocide, and womanhood.

In the books introduction, Jack Hirschman describes his reaction to first hearing and then reading Christina’s work ‘…I saw PAGE, I saw BOOK—which is not usually the case when it comes to a lot of so-called Slam or spoken word poetry I’ve heard.’ What makes Christina’s work so readable and relatable is the intensity as well as the connection to content. The first poem in the book is aptly titled Summer of Violence, words that ring heavy and true in our time, cutting into the heart of what is killing us–

Your tomorrow has a bullet in it.
Ask Trayvon Martin.
Your tomorrow has a bullet in it.
Ask Jordan Davis.
Your tomorrow has a bullet in it.
Ask Michael Brown.

Christina dares the entire country to look at what it has done, to ask what is happening to all the black and brown bodies disappearing into the open mouths we call graves, guns, cells. No one is off the hook—not the president (A Letter To Obama, Which Means Nothing), not Hollywood (Bad Blood, For Whitney Houston and Her Daughter Bobbi), certainly not White Men (The Sons of Oil Men), even the Country has to answer for it’s inexcusable course in Oh, America:

I went out looking for
what you promised and
found a toothless grin,
an empty pot,
boneyard lullabies,
sweet-less shores,
witches burnt to cinder,
little black girls bombed in churches,

they are all me.

…See how incurably permanent I am.

Many of the poems in this book are dedicated to the mothers or family members of people who have been murdered for simply living. From the Civil Rights Movement to #BlackLivesMatter, Christina refuses to turn a blind eye to the cruel treatment of African Americans, will not swallow the phase ‘post-racial’ no matter what you chase it with. She remains vigilant in the struggle to keep many of these names relevant in today’s clickbait and celebrity status driven world. A mother herself, the rage she feels over these losses as well as the heartache can be felt in every carefully placed word. She examines the devastating violence of the Civil Rights Movement in poems such as Birmingham Sunday and A Poem For Coretta:

They need me to do something about it,
wrestle the past down to a fairy tale and affix
‘And they all lived happily ever after’ at the end.

It has been almost fifty years since the man who said ‘I Have A Dream’ was assassinated for sharing his ideas of tolerance and peace. Still, Christina opens her heart to those who are murdered, to the black and brown boys we are losing, to the mothers grieving. It is here we see the frustration in being so full of language and still so denied the right to speak, here that Christina howls for the mothers who have only tears. In Mothers of Murdered Sons (For Mami Till, Emmet’s Mother; Sabrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s Mother; and Leslie McFadden, Mike Brown’s Mother), she splits open each family drama, again drawing on the juxtaposition between violence and faith:

The prayers of mothers with murdered sons
don’t arrive in heaven anymore.
Could be they never did.
And maybe God’s a charlatan pitching pennies
to the sound of black boys
breaking the world with their bleeding.
Maybe he’s busy with more righteous indignation.
Maybe the melody ain’t right.

Intersecting motherhood and poetry is a woman, a powerful woman who can conjure up words that might make you think twice before hitting send. When an unnamed ‘Dude on Twitter’ made an offputting comment about menstruation and sex, attempting to bring shame to womanhood, Christina wrote The Period Poem, blasting all misconceptions people may have about the resilience of being female–

And when you deal in blood,
Over and over like we do,
When it keeps returning to you,
That makes you a warrior and
While all good generals know not to discuss
Battle plans with the enemy
Let me say this to you, dummy on Twitter:
If there’s any balance in the universe at all…
You’ll be blessed with daughters.

DC Bio PicBecause women ARE strong as HELL! Christina has written a testimony to the women who have been holding it together for years, women fighting for their lives, women who have lost children, women who we have lost to violence. Through each poem, no matter how brutal the content shines a core of love, a central subject that is being a woman of color in today’s world. In Improbable Bird (for Elaine Brown), Christina writes about the fight between patriarchal expectations and the need for independence in order to make change–

You were supposed to grow up to
Be one of them,
To imprison you wanderlust,
In favor of a husband and
A job that asked of you high heels
and long skirts, but you
Knew something about the madness

That revolutionaries have to keep.

They Are All Me is a reminder that the past can not remain silent. That we need to keep digging at the damage until we find the source of what is wrong and fix it, that the band-aids are not working. She addresses national crisis the so many others have shied away from. She covers Vietnam, Katrina, 9/11, Ferguson, all from a personal perspective. These poems are powerful in the way they transport you back in time, how they pulse the blood, remind you there is more at stake than just a title or a prize. Christina is writing to save lives. In No Consonants, No Vowels, she writes

Language is slippery
when you don’t use it,
when nobody speaks to you,
when no letters come.
Language is a graveyard
of carrier pigeons.

The book contains many of Christina’s slam poetry favorites that can be viewed on YouTube—Birmingham Sunday, Karma, The Period Poem, and others. It is a collection of heartbreak and of celebration. A telling of this country from the blood that runs through it, through us. Dominique Christina has given you all of her with this book. Take the gift with hungry hands.

Click Here to Order They Are All Me Today!

 

Book Reviews by SaraEve Fermin:

SaraEve is a performance poet and epilepsy advocate from New Jersey.  A 2015 Best of the Net nominee, she has performed for both local and national events, including the 2013 Women of the World Poetry Slam and for the Greater Los Angeles Epilepsy Foundation 2015 Care and Cure Benefit to End Epilepsy in Children. The Editor in Chief of Wicked Banshee Press, a Contributing Editor for Words Dance Magazine and Book Reviewer for Swimming With Elephants Publications,  her work can be found or is forthcoming in GERM Magazine, Words Dance Magazine, Drunk in a Midnight Choir and the University of Hell Anthology We Can Make Your Life Better: A Guidebook to Modern Living,, among others. Her first full length book, View From The Top of the Ferris Wheel, will be published be Emphat!c Press in 2016. She believes in the power of foxes and self publishing.  Learn more here: http://saraeve41.wix.com/saraevepoet