By Danielle Susi
Why are people still dying?
By now, we’ve all heard about the catastrophic, terrifying, devastating murder of nine people in a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
As the number of victims of racist violence increases, page 134 of Claudia Rankine’s collection Citizen keeps changing. In its first printing in October 2014 the page read “November 23, 2012 / In Memory of Jordan Russell Davis.” In its most recent printing, “In Memory Of” repeats down the side of the page, along with the names of victims: Jordan Russell Davis, Eric Garner, John Crawford, and Michael Brown, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray. The phrase continues down the page without names, implying that more black bodies will fall due to racial injustice.
Rankine’s collection, which aims to render the black American experience, will change once again, according to Graywolf Press.
Days before the massacre, I read Emilia Phillips chapbook Beneath the Ice Fish Like Souls Look Alike (Bull City Press, 2015). It holds a certain type of sorrowful observation of the things we do not see. We are also struck with images of death, especially of the death of innocence.
As I read more and more about the murders in Charleston, lines from this chapbook echo in me:
“The metal chair in the abandoned house doesn’t know it throws a shadow.”
“Children skate / to a raft frozen on the river but cannot / see its oarsman through the ice.”
The chapbook-long poem carries a heaviness and heaps it upon the body like a great density. Whether it be a crematory, an abandoned house, or a frozen river, each place is identified by its dichotomous surroundings. Repetition of specific items and actions and animals push me to make a connection between the repetition of violence against people of color and the recurring sites of danger in the collection.
It’s almost July, when violent crimes peak in Chicago. To me, every firework sounds like a bullet fired.
Danielle Susi is the author of the chapbook The Month in Which We Are Born (dancing girl press, 2015). Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Knee-Jerk Magazine, Hobart, and The Rumpus, among many other publications. She is a columnist for pioneertown and Entropy; a contributor to American Microreviews & Interviews, The Conversant, and The Angle; and the co-editor of HOUND. She received her MFA in writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Newcity has named her among the Top 5 Emerging Chicago Poets. Find her online at daniellesusi.com.