This Ebony Tongue by Faye Turner-Johnson

While I can attest to Faye Turner-Johnson’s sonorous voice when she’s reciting her poetry, please don’t read this book before bedtime. Faye directly articulates Black rage in a poetry all the more fierce due to its succinctness and clarity. The poems cry out against the injustice in this supposed land of the free by pointing out victims—be they the people of Flint poisoned by its water or Black youths shot down by racist cops. In one of the strongest poems, ‘B-r-o-k-e-n,’ Johnson writes about her response to reading about the news of Jacob Blake being gunned down and later “shackled to a hospital bed.” She likens her heart to a garbage disposal in imagining “if it could grind a pain like that.” The news causes her tongue to “split into a forked monster.” She claims to try to scream for him “for all of them as they melded into one enormous atrocity.”

While any caring person feels outrage over such atrocities, the anger and indignation seen in these poems is visceral and raw because it is personalized. The young Black victims referenced could well have been the poet’s children. Lives needlessly lost matter. This is an angry mother, a “Her-ri-cane” belting out ‘How dare you!’ at a rigged and brutal society.

And yet these aren’t simply emotional rants, but carefully crafted laments by a sensitive and pensive poet trying to make sense out of senselessness.

Her final poem in this small but dense book is a call, a plea for America to save her: “I am your promise/your possibility energy/from the underground/the link that closes the circle of freedom/take heed…receive me.” The only way for our nation to heal—to come together—is to face the difficult and ugly truth about the pain white privilege has inflicted. In her autobiographical statement, Faye Turner Johnson states, “My desire now, as it was when I was a young child, is to make a connection with the world…” She certainly does so! Her ‘ebony tongue’ belts out poems only in the way those gifted with true talent can.