Sing Silence

ISBN: 978-0-9972243-2-0

Review by Grace Cavalieri

     Washington Independent Review of Books, August 2018

Sing Silence 

     by Le Hinton.

     Iris G. Press. 80 pages.

 

Cotton. How can a book of nearly 90 pages address one word: Cotton. Hinton does, because each poem shows a stain on American history. Cotton becomes the antecedent for anger, the main character in a play; cotton speaks for itself; it’s reviled, described, and chillingly said. There are interviews with cotton, uses, remembrances — but beneath it all are the backs broken under scorching suns for an economy built on that breakage. Hinton lyricizes the mantle of what’s been endured — this element from nature that transformed a world. The true strengths in the writing are fact and fury. And, sadly, what still separates us in this world is cotton — how each of us, with unlikely connections, see the world differently through experience. These poems are words that work for Hinton. Passion and progress make up the only coherence we can hope for. The fabric of the past is a letter to the future, signed by Le Hinton.

Uses of Cotton (Eraser)

 

When my brother tells the story,

he forgets to mention the sock, black

and worn. Mom darned it in three places;

Dad used it as an eraser.

 

I never leave out the part

about his teaching

us numbers. When to add.

How to subtract.

 

He set up a blackboard in the back-

yard and wrote problems on it. Even invited

the neighborhood kids. We earned a piece

of candy for each one we got right.

 

Four and five-year-old black boys

standing at the blackboard doing math

and hoping never to need the eraser,

hoping to taste a Tootsie Roll.

 

Back then I didn’t know the whole story:

How Mom and Dad sat at the Formica table

in our yellow kitchen as he counted his jobs

and the money from each one while Mom mended

 

the holes in our socks. We slept upstairs

and never worried or counted sheep

knowing they’d always fix the holes,

at least until we learned to do the math ourselves.

***First published in The Summerset Review 2016

Sing Silence

 

Sing Silence, by Le Hinton is a crushing, sensitive, profound, illumination of the brutality and sorrow of slavery seen through the lens of brothers, fathers, grandsons, great great great great grandsons and, unlikely though it may be, the cotton plant for whom one develops deep sympathy. Here I quote from “Interview with Cotton (Part 1/Dreams).”

 

“Sometimes I’d dream of being a beautiful

bouquet delivered into the arms of a young wife. Or I’d imagine

having my petals scattered across silk sheets,...

 

“I never wanted to be picked for money,

damned like tobacco. I never wanted my white bolls

to be turned into green money, to be the reason

for blood in the fields…”

 

All that follows before and after that excerpt is equally powerful. Hinton makes the horrors and legacy of slavery human and present in a way no history book can.

 

With titles like “C Minor Blues,” “Melody,” and “Everything Reminds Me of Jazz” scattered throughout the collection, Hinton intertwines wonderful musical imagery throughout beautiful poems! Reading Hinton’s work cannot be rushed. I tend to read one then stare out the window for a long reflection, then read again, in turns holding my breath and having my breath taken away. And the poems stay with me, often coming to mind as reference points to life. This is necessary poetry by one of the greatest contemporary poets, if not poets of all time. Overstated? Get his collection, Sing Silence, and I’m certain you’ll agree.

                                              

Kristin Kowalski Ferragut author of Escape Velocity

Interview with Cotton (Part 1/Dreams)

     As early as 503 B.C., the Chinese knew of cotton. However,

     they used silk and were not interested in cotton as cloth

     until much later. At first, they grew it as a decorative garden flower.

                                                                 The First Book of Cotton

You asked about the early days, the disappointments
and desires. Sometimes I’d dream of being a beautiful
bouquet delivered into the arms of a young wife. Or I’d

imagine having my petals scattered across silk sheets,  
waiting for a true love to come home.
A surprise.
An anniversary. A prelude to romance.

I never wanted to be picked for profit,
damned like tobacco. I never wanted my white bolls
to be turned into green money, to be the reason
for blood in the fields. The men whipped

for being slow. The women beaten for crying out.
Brown bodies without their own names.

Black children who just wanted to play.

I didn’t ask for any of it. I should have been the flower

in Lady Day’s hair. The blanket on Martin’s casket.

The floral array at Beyonce’s wedding.

No one gave me that chance. I wanted to be like Rose.

But they ignored my bloom and waited for the fluff,

the cash crop, the motive for someone’s greed.

Maybe I should apologize, but this legacy isn’t my choice.

 

When the sun goes down, I still dream of bouquets.

In my dreams, I am beautiful.

In my dreams, I am still innocent.

***First published in the Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Summer 2016