RCASA’s Sunday Book Review: Black Wings & Blind Angels by Sapphire

In Sexual Assault Awareness on December 6, 2009 at 10:11 am

This week we take a look at Sapphire’s poignant book of poetry entitled Black Wings and Blind Angels. Sapphire not only touches on lives colored by sexual abuse, violence,and abandonment, but also champions those who strive “to emerge from the pain of the past” and arrive at “the day you have been waiting for/when you would finally begin to live.”

With fierce candor and an unflinching eye, the highly praised author of Push journeys through the harsh realities of African American existence to find the “door to the possibility of now.” The heroes that emerge from these forty-seven vigorous poems confront the agony of betrayal as they strive in their quest for self-transformation and redemption.

On her own sexuality, she states in Black Wings and Blind Angels: “For me lesbian separtism was an identity chosen because of a desire to be free of men and male oppression (they were one and the same to me). But what began as a separtist and man-loathing identity, based on avoidance and escapism, evolved into a journey on which I began to heal myself from the trauma of childhood sexual abuse. Part of that healing has been being able to, after the devestation and betrayal of rape and childhood sexual abuse, love men again.”

At turns alarming and inspiring, the raw lyrics and piercing wisdom of Black Wings & Blind Angels remind us of Sapphire’s place as a unique and fearless voice in the world.

ExcerptBreaking Karma #5

It is like a scene in a play.
His bald spot shines upward between dark tufts of hair.
We are sitting in a pool of light on the plastic
covered couch, Ernestine, his last live-in,
ended up with. But that is the end.
We are sitting in the beginning of our lives now
looking at our father upright in his black
reclining chair. It’s four of us then, children,
new to Los Angeles–drugs, sex, Watts burning,
Aretha, Michael Jackson, the murder of King,
haven’t happened yet.
He is explaining how things will be–
Which one will cook, which one will clean.
“Your mama,” he announces, “is not coming.”
Two thousand miles away in the yellow
linoleum light of her kitchen, my mother
is sitting in the easy tan-colored man’s lap.
Kissing him. Her perfect legs golden like
whiskey, his white shirt rolled up arms that
surround her like the smell of cake baking.
“Forget about her,” my father’s voice drops like
a curtain, “she doesn’t want you. She never did.”

Holding the photograph by its serrated edges, staring,
I know the dark grey of her lips is “Jubilee Red”
her face brown silk. I start with the slick
corner of the photograph, put it in my mouth like it’s
pizza or something. I close my eyes, chew, swallow.

“Breaking Karma #6”

I’m in the movies now playing the part
of the girl who broke my heart.
My mouth, strobe-light pink, bounces off blue sequins.
Behind me the Stones sing “Miss You,” hollering,
“There’s some Puerto Rican girls around the corner
just dying to meet chu.”
In the wings a white boy in a wheelchair moans,
“Oh operator please get straight.”
SHE takes the stage now. Big yella gal.
Daddy was a wop. Mama was a nigger.
She’s a singer. With a voice hot semi-liquid rock.
Her heels are hills, cobalt blue melting like
her dress into the firm breasts, fat hips & belly
of Black Los Angeles.
“Let’s burn down the corn field,” SHE wails.
It’s 1968. Tito, Michael, Randy & Cato
are dancing down rows of rainbow colored corn
when a voice comes over the loud speaker:
There will be no ambulances tonight.
“We’ll make love, we’ll make love while it burns,”
SHE screams like Howlin’ Wolf, like Jay Hawkins,
like Hank Williams, like Van Gogh’s windmill,
like the severed ear of black wind in a plate
of pigtails & pink beans,

like that bridge in Connecticut that collapsed
under the center of air shaking like
change in a cup.
SHE stands like the big legs of a nuclear plant
cracked at the base melting down a room full
of $3/hr assembly line workers who hear her
& shout, “Honey Hush!” & the crack in their
mother’s back becomes a sidewalk, then a road
leading to a peach tree in “Georgy”
or a pear tree in Florida.
I’m eating popcorn & watching a Mexican
dump a drunk paraplegic BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY
in the desert his granddad rolled over
a century ago killing for gold.
At the side of the road an Okie girl,
selling peanuts & semiprecious gems,
hands me three pieces of black obsidian,
called “Apache Tears,” the Okie girl drawls,
“’cause after the cavalry massacred their men,
the Native women cried so hard
their tears turned black, then to stone.”
Inside the theater the screen fills up
with a fat half breed burning, gasoline
in a blue dress. SHE picks up a

microphone & in a book she hasn’t read yet
a white boy in a rented room puts
his eyes out with lye. “I rather!” SHE shouts.
“Tell it!” the audience shouts back. “Umm hmm,”
like the wind trapped in a slave castle SHE moans,
“I rather go blind,” the screen melts white
drips down her face & disappears,
“than see you–”


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