“Don’t you know you can’t go home again?” said journalist Ella Winter to Thomas Wolfe, and from that conversation the North Carolina native derived the title of his final novel. Why might one want to return home again, and under what circumstances might one feel compelled to try? Thomas Wolfe grew up secure in material comfort and societal privilege as a White man in the South. How might this search for home differ for a Black man who came of age in North Carolina during the racially turbulent 1960s and 70s?
One writer with the clear-eyed courage required for this quest is the prize-winning poet and playwright, teacher, engineer, and Sacramento Poet Laureate Emeritus, Indigo Moor. His new book Everybody’s Jonesin’ for Something won honorable mention in The Backwaters Prize in Poetry. Released mid-February 2021, this oneiric collection of poetry, short plays, fiction, and memoir contemplates the ache of craving.
Indigo Moor holds an MFA in Poetry, Fiction, and Scriptwriting from the Stone Coast Program at the University of Southern Maine, and by juxtaposing different genres in his new book the author facilitates the shifts between retrospection and introspection, observation and creative projection. Preceding the multi-genre Everybody’s Jonesin’ for Something is Moor’s 2017 publication with Main Street Rag Press, In the Room of Thirsts & Hungers: The Mirrored Tragedies of Paul Robeson & Othello, a deeply researched poetry collection comprised exclusively of broken sonnets. The contrast in form and style between these two books is testament to the scope of Moor’s imagination and literary expertise, but what remains constant are his insights into the human condition and his interrogation of debilitating assumptions.
The first poem in Everybody’s Jonesin’ for Something, “Love Letter to Dr. Ford from the Patriarchy,” sets the stage in a scathing denunciation of our intersecting American pornographies: racism, misogyny, violence, and unfettered capitalism. In works that follow such as “The New Math,” “Hunter’s Moon,” and “Frac/Tured,” Moor explodes torpor and strips camouflage from complacency. The book delves deeply into America’s structural injustices as well as the mysteries of relationships forged by blood, lust, power, and love, for the vagaries of pleasure and pain are predicated on one’s circumstances in conjunction with the on-going effects of the past.
Imagistic and supple, the writing conjures lives and ideas in vivid particularity. Grandparents, brother, lovers, child, the ex, veterans, mother, the dead, white supremacists, a raccoon, and Pretty Boy Sanchez populate the pages and breathe their truths. Moor infuses these varied characters with nuanced authenticity and sustains that level of verisimilitude from cover to cover.
As in all Moor’s books, Southern vernacular echoes his origins and effectively summons ghosts apprehensible to readers of diverse provenance. Take, for example, the opening paragraph of “Extinction Event:”
My grandmother would kneel before me, stick one finger inside the
starched collar of my dress shirt, and pull me toward her. With a firm grip on
the knot of my clip-on tie, her knuckle on my Adam’s apple, she slathered
Vaseline on my face, careful to smooth out all the rough spots. I always
pulled back, forcing her to say, hold still, boy, as if I didn’t know what I
was supposed to be doing. It’s hard to say why I struggled. Maybe because
I was seven. Maybe because the shirt was for a six-year-old version of me
and, even without her finger inside, the collar felt like two hundred years
of black, Southern Jesus trying to strangle me.
In coming to terms with human nature and himself, Moor examines the pathos of transience and the bonds of intimacy. There is longing followed by loss, ache resolved by release, craving that destroys, and desire that transforms. In content both personal and universal, Moor’s discernment grants the reader access to the lives and hearts of people shaken by the inescapable. Some survive and emerge stronger; others become victims of fate or their own flaws. An unflinchingly honest observer, Moor conveys the variety and complexity of human thought and behavior with precision and grace. When regarding himself, he maintains the same standard of truth in writing that is rich in reflection, recognition, and discovery.
Verbal details evoke the percussive rhythms of jazz and the legato of gospel. Figurative language abounds, as exemplified in these lines from the poem “Veterans of Foreign Wars:”
Don’t blame me. It was my car that
hopped two yellow lines in an angry crescent,
switching lanes like channels, like a dog
rushing to heel at the feet of a lost master.
Moor, a twice-decorated Gulf War veteran, relates trauma’s aftermath and the psychological wounds borne by war veterans in the poem “Finder of Lost Sheep,” dedicated to Michael Llewelyn, the photographer who created the black and white image on the cover of Everybody’s Jonesin’ for Something. The poem’s tight complexity and terse present tense phrasing inspire urgency and empathy. Sound, caesura, and contrast effect the abrupt transformation in this stanza:
Something as simple as a sparkler
tossed across a manicured lawn on the fourth
blasts a tunnel open to a sallow field in Vietnam.
The graceful arc lifted and sustained by sibilant alliteration crashes down with an onomatopoeic plosive detonated by enjambment, and the reader is yanked into the walking nightmare of combat veterans who “hopped a broom with the devil.”
Despite the mordancy one would expect in a book that addresses trauma, abuse, and lynching, among other hideous injustices, the tone of Everybody’s Jonesin’ for Something is pensive rather than bitter. There is righteous anger, to be sure, but also gratitude and wonder. Moor portrays individuals who invoke awe and inspire delight. There are those who give without any expectation of reciprocity. There are also those who choose to hurt others for reasons of their own. Some just snap and live to regret it. Others get away with murder. Literally. We know that happens, because this is America. Indigo Moor makes the reader feel the ache of injustice.
Everybody’s Jonesin’ for Something elucidates longing—his, yours, mine, ours—and asks us to consider how we might alleviate the pain of yearning, whether for justice, love, understanding, or home. Indigo Moor’s new book challenges us to look back to gain a wider understanding of what has been, look around to derive a deeper understanding of one another, and look inside to find our true home.
Linda Scheller is the author of Fierce Light (FutureCycle Press,) a collection of persona poetry reimagining the voices of 36 women from world history. Her writing has appeared in publications including Notre Dame Review, Poem, West Trade Review, Poetry East, The American Journal of Poetry, and Hawai’i Pacific Review, with new work forthcoming in The Inflectionist Review, Nebo, and Canary. Her website is lindascheller.com.