The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Eighteen (Harper)

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Reuben, Reuben
Michael S. Harper
My selection this week is the powerful Michael S. Harper poem, “Reuben, Reuben,” from the collection Images of Kin, which came out in 1977 and was nominated for a National Book Award.  It has been pointed out by the scholar Michael G. Cooke that although Harper writes of blood relations in several poems, his use of the word “kinship” in this collection is much broader, spanning out “across time, across space, even across race” to refer to “social bonding, a recognition of likeness in context, concern, need, liability, value.” It’s a beautiful thing.

If you’re not familiar with Michael S. Harper, he was born in Brooklyn in 1938, has published more than ten collections of poetry, and was the first poet laureate of the state of Rhode Island.

As well, if you’re new to the blog, you might want to look at the first Mnemosyne Post to find out what this project is all about.

Reuben, Reuben
I reach from pain
to music great enough
to bring me back,
swollenhead, madness,
lovefruit, pickle of hate
so sour my mouth twicked
up and would not sing;
there’s nothing in the beat
to hold it in
melody and turn human skin;
a brown berry gone
to rot just two days on the branch;
we’ve lost a son,
the music, jazz, comes in.

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