Saturday, August 6, 2022

Sometimes I Never Suffered

Maybe I should have read this one on Sunday; it would have been like going to church! But I read Sometimes I Never Suffered, by Shane McCrae (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020) on Saturday, Day 6 of the Sealey Challenge, and it was like going to graduate school,* re-seeing history in a multiverse, dreaming parallel universes, and visiting an echo chamber where I encountered my re-reading of Paradise Lost** this summer with an online group of white people. Shane McCrae's vision of it all is so large--Heaven and Limbo expanding, circular boundaries that aren't boundaries, train tracks/rides, ladder rungs, this book extending the large ongoing poem of his previous books--that I think/feel he would understand.

*preventing this from being a Slattern Day! 
**making it another Random Coinciday in the blog!

Sometimes I Never Suffered contains many poems about a "hastily assembled angel" shoved out of Heaven by his fellow angels--the Paradise Lost resonance (for me)--as well as many poems about Jim Limber, the mixed-race son of Jefferson Davis. History and theology collide, beautifully, making stars and circles, definitely expanding my mind. I read hungrily, voraciously (like the worst of humans), hardly stopping to write things down, but this I did write down, from "The Hastily Assembled Angel Also Sustains the World":


To be like God
he thinks must be the wrong way
To be like God

Got to agree with that! And in "The Hastily Assembled Angel Considers His Own Foreknowing" the angel, like Lucifer and all the angels in Paradise Lost, "Could see through time," which makes a mess, a glorious mess, of linear narrative! But McCrae provides the excellent reason:

          except he knew he was
Allowed to see through time because he was
Not God   and could be wrong   and saw through time
With many-chambered eyes   all things that might be
And God would see   only the one thing that would

Thank you, Shane McCrae! I see that I ordered and received this book back in December, 2021, probably after reading one of the individual poems published online and clicking the Bookshop Inc button to order the book, a sort of Christmas gift to myself for ongoing pandemic reading as well as the ongoing commitment to read more books by Black authors.

I love this cover art by Toyin Ojih Odutola. I love Jim Limber's view of God in "Jim Limber on the Gardens of the Face of God":

     For me   God is a woman   and Her face is
     Black as a bright black stone

The title of the book comes from a riding-the-train poem, "Jim Limber on Continuity in Heaven," and here is its beautiful last stanza:

     But I mean share like prisoners
     Share loneliness   I ride the train now like I never suf-
     fered on a train   sometimes I never suffered in my life

You hear the folding of time, the immensity of compassion. And at the end is a long poem that climbs the rungs of the ladder to Heaven.

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