By Jacqueline Allen Trimble
University of Georgia/New South Books Imprint, 2022
Hardcover: $21.95
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Susie Paul

How to Survive the Apocalypse book cover

She’s a god / she’s a hero /She survived / all she been through / Confident / damn, she lethal (“Cozy”) Beyonce

Did I say something way too honest?
Made you run and hide (“Forever & Always”) Taylor Swift

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16) John of Patmos

I am not suggesting that Jacqueline Trimble change her name to just Jackie or descend to the podium like a spangled angel, or that she hole up on an island dreaming of the apocalypse.  It is clear which lines are pure poetry as opposed to transcendent pop. But these women, and one ancient prophet, do share an important moment: the revelation of their righteous anger, no more “embracing/ a lie” (“Parable of the Woman and the Peach Tree”), the glitter and fire and some laughter along the way.

The poem “What If the Supreme Court Were Really the Supremes?” describes a spectacle: “Oh, how their bedazzled robes shine/ as they glide into the courtroom,” Trimble’s staging of a glamorous entrance. But would they “ever hold the sequined fish of my voting rights/ above their lovely bouffant heads”? This bejeweled prop props up the dream of our democracy. That’s show biz and American life for its Black people.

Each of these poems, as it names and dispels another beloved assumption, is rich in irony and sensual detail and allusions to Revelation, the source of the title, that Ur-producer spectacle, nearly gaudy with all manner of beasts, one with a face like a man; seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls; many-eyed Cherubim; earthquakes, giant hailstones; the Savior, “King of Kings, and Lord of Lords” revealed and falling upon “[the] beast,” slaying its followers with the “sword” that “proceeded out of his mouth.” Even the four horsemen are colorful: white, red, black, and pale.  At the end of the extravaganza of plagues and judgment, a cleansing comes, what Trimble also seeks.

In her poem, “The Four Horsemen Came to Town Last Tuesday,” the protagonists “arrived,/ lost and off schedule, at the Stab And Go/ Convenience Store on the corner.” Some human “got stabbed there…Nobody/ remembers the details.  Isn’t that how myths are made?”  Myths that deny the humanity of any human must be dismantled. The desecration of the Black body must stop: “Dear God, keep him from this world/ with its hunger for blackness. Mind his neck,” a mother prays in “Lillian’s Prayer for Her Boy Child.” The categorization of a person by race oversimplifies: “Race is a government’s category. You pick” in “The Census Man Wants to Know.”  Americans must learn the story of the enslaved people behind “Oh Say Can You See,” our national anthem.

In the meantime, there’s joy in the heritage a white culture may have taught Black people to bury; deep in the ancestry and so far away from popular culture is it that it becomes a memory  only spoken rage can muster. “How to Make Neckbones and Rice” is a recipe for a humble dish remembered from childhood: “Put in the meat/ full of fat and bone. The shy meat is the meaning/of life. “[Y]es,” the poet writes in “When Prince Comes Back From Heaven,” “wear the Afro and purple/ suit.” “In the Language of Joy,” “Mama” is “wearing this suit she had saved up” for, “Indigo, Matching gloves,/ Suede shoes dippity-do-dahed in blue,/ With tassels…a hat with plume de peacock.”

However jazzy the tone and music of these often comic poems, they are a serious effort to speak the “rage” and expose blindly held, even beloved falsehoods, both in order to “survive” but also to begin again: “I have leaned into the fire raging in my bones./ Truth is a fire I cannot contain.  It has to burst out, to be born, to finds its own creative joy” (“The Fire Shut Up in My Bones”).

“Release ya anger/ release ya mind” (“Break My Soul”) Beyonce

Susie Paul is the author of The Whited Air: Mary Paul in Winter, a poetry chapbook published by Finishing Line Press in 2021.