Brief Evidence of Heaven by M. Nzadi Keita imagines the world
of Anna Murray Douglass through persona poems.
A in the morning dirt
starts the chain
leading all words from crawl
and baby chatter
A names the steps to singing
like that young man in Bethlehem who
turns storm into hammers
who carries straw, seeds
and a world on his tongue
from the grace of A
all words walk
and taste their own salt
before they get to running
like that Miss Tubman
guns clapped to her hips like a child
going at the front with God in a thimble
From the Preface:
Douglass (1813-1882) began adulthood as a free-born woman, working as a self-supporting housekeeper and laundress in Baltimore. She was considered conventionally illiterate, and left no direct paper trail. In 1837, she met young Frederick Bailey, who would take the name Douglass upon gaining freedom. Many historians concede that she was pivotal in his escape: by selling personal items and using her savings, she provided Douglass with money and the sailor’s disguise he used to board a Baltimore steamship. However, writings by her famously literate husband of 44 years– abolitionist and women’s rights advocate –rarely mention her.
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Praise for Brief Evidence of Heaven
"Nzadi Keita has masterfully resurrected a forgotten voice, injecting breath and pulse into a woman too often and easily relegated to backdrop. This is a history deftly crafted, enhanced by the formidable skills of a poet who floods this necessary story with light."
— Patricia Smith, author of Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah and Blood Dazzler
"Brief Evidence of Heaven is such a well-knit collection, with a strong, engaging title. So much is praiseworthy--the range of styles, the accruing power of Anna’s voice and presence, the language of work and the imagery that ensues from it, and the variety of “readings” of the domestic and undomesticated life/world of Anna Douglas. [Keita’s] control of diction and tone unifies the collection, and the surprising shifts of subject and approach keep the reader moving briskly, eager to read what’s next."
— J. C. Todd, author of What Space This Body
"Brief Evidence of Heaven is a poetic meditation on biography. This book turns facts and stories into song. It joins a new tradition of African American poetry. Place Keita's name alongside A. Van Jordan, Marilyn Nelson, Brenda Marie Osbey and Nathasha Trethewey. These talented poets link history to rivers and dreams."
— E. Ethelbert Miller, author of The Fifth Inning and How We Sleep On The Nights We Don’t Make Love
"Thanks to M. Nzadi Keita’s research, splendid imagination and artful wordwifery, readers of these poems will know and remember Anna Murray Douglass as a woman of many parts whose judicious silences, rendered by deftly chisled caesuras--speak volumes. Brief Evidence of Heaven is a brilliant recreation of a hitherto unknown and underrated woman who was as courageous at home as she was in the shoe factory where she worked in Lynn and in her loving service to her family and to the traumatized freedom-seekers whom she fed and nurtured in her Rochester, New York home. Thank you, Nzadi, for giving us Anna at last, and for giving Anna Murray Douglass such a resonant, resilient and revelatory voice."
— Lauri Robertson-Lorant, author of The Man Who Lived Among The Cannibals: Poems in the voice of Herman Melville