power of Cornelius Eady's poetry is transformative. "The
key to any heaven is language," he has written. The strength
in his snesibility is its revelation of and resistance to the
"stacked deck" of existence.
In his recent book "The Autobiography of a
Jukebox," Eady asks "Is the blues the moment you realize/you
exist in a stacked deck?" Much of his poetry addresses that
question, with a fierce authenticity and a wry perceptiveness.
Ultimately he arrives at transcendent compassion and vision as
moral victory, so that there is never a simple answer to his question.
Eady passionately and bravely bares the stacked
decks of racism, sexism, poverty and urban decay; the cab driver
who sees in stereotypes of "bums, scam artists, hustlers,
drug addicts, welfare cheats, spones,"; th stacked deck of
"Mr. Misfortune/and his legal fists a low-/down funk.../of
the Rodney King blues"; the strains and degradations of the
urban ghetto that even his family can't save him from; the pressures
that splinter a family.
Often his writing is charged with ironic pain,
as he writes "with his belt, my father tries to tell my sister/
what he knows a man is capable of, but all he does is tell/ her
Eady's long lines, as these, spin around like old
45 records, as the old music of hurts spins into the living blues
carried int he soul.
Cornelius Eady has an ear for metered lyrics like
song, an apt eye for image and the telling metaphor, but most
important he knows how people reveal themselves in conversation
- his central generator. Eady is remarkable for his keen identification
with the women in his family in "The Autobiography"
- with the sister who's trying "to see if there's any way
in this/life to earn a dollar a man can't touch"; with his
mother in the pained dignity of blues music, as he asks of her
secret writings "Will her spirit house be brander/furnished
with everything/ she couldn't win or hold on to."
"This is what a woman looks like/when she'd
had enough, I think," he writes, "the hardness which
squeezes her eyes/Into hard points, the way the mouth/curves its
scorn./ This is what the blues looks like/ when it creeps into
a small chamber of the heart."
When the deck is perceived to be stacked, it can
give rise to anger that can't be "written as a letter to
the op ed page" and "stuffed in an envelope," the
anger "that could only converse with volcanoes." But
Eady's articulately aware voice channels that force to resist
the stacked eck. "What hurts is beautiful, the bruise/of
In "Victims of the Latest Dance Craze,"
the dance of life "scalds the air," with its uneven
jazz rhythms revealing each individual's idiosyncratic dance beating
ardently against the givens: "Here is the world (what's left
of it)/ In brilliant motion/ the oil slick at the curb/ danced
into a thousand/ splintered steps,/ the bag ladies toss off their
garments/ to reveal wings."
The reader is compelled by his strength to resist
the stacked deck dealt by the "young bureaucrat at the Office
of Social Services" who "dares (him) to become a nigger
and kick over the table."
In "You Don't Miss Your Water," a lamentation
about his dying father's bedside for the father he could not be
in life, the father who, Eady says, "loved to call me stupid,
who made my sister feel like/ nothing, who drove my mother nuts,"
the distant hurting father who distrusted anything as immaterial
as his son's power with words - working with long rhythms, long
as the strain of life, Eady achieves the wisdom of compassion
for his failing father, a cathartic eulogy for that child in all
of us who wasn't loved enough. "Daddy/ they're paying me
to write about your life" because "I am any son."
In many important ways, the reader and Eady "share a long
distance story, a kind of bond by blue coincidence."
Gayl Teller is director of the poetry reading
series at the
Plainview Mid-Island YJCC. She is author of "At The Intersection
of EverythingYou Have Ever Loved" (San Diego Poets Press).