Elegies for a Empire
Emily Dickinson is known for saying: “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” Le Hinton’s poetry is that poetry—what happens when words erupt from the spirit to physically, emotionally, impact us—edify us. His work in Elegies for an Empire is concussive with craft, timeliness, reverence for Black life, family—and for every being timestamped to our fleeting days. The picture of living is never removed from dénouement, although we are often loathe to face its inevitable frame. Hinton faces it with authenticity and grace. Moreover, a depth of concern over the state of our fragile planet is clearly evident in the layers of his poems. In that light, this collection carries the solemnity of prayer. Therein lies its hymnal-like power, in any meaningful literary service.
~ Truth Thomas, Poet, Editor, Founder of Cherry Castle Publishing
Le Hinton’s Elegies for an Empire is a crisp, entrancing, enlightening foray into the specifics of the author’s path. It is also replete with the linguistic musicality found in the best poetic efforts. Your eyes and heart hang on every image—every subtle and powerful narrative turn—not unlike the recordings of pianist Bill Evans. (whose equally lyrical artistry is celebrated in this volume.) The great jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli once told an interviewer that an artist should “start well and end well.” These poems are perfect examples of Mr. Grappelli’s credo.
~ Reuben Jackson, author of Scattered Clouds: New And Selected Poems (Alan Squire Publishing)
Finding oneself in the thick of Le Hinton’s deft, alert poetry can feel like being
transported—as if that were possible—into someone else’s first-rate meditation, inside of which important and worldly matters are treated with the same attention and respect as mundane ones; more ordinary family losses and joys attend also to larger issues like race, ancestry, a pandemic, among other concerns. Hinton has the ability to talk about tenderness, for instance, and fear of being traffic-stopped while being black in the same breath; his work dives deep into this particular moment in the “empire,” during which a pandemic has also brought into stark relief viral systemic racism, other social and structural inequities, loss of our elders and our inability to properly memorialize them, and all of the vagaries of love that make life worth living. In this book no kiss is just a kiss, a father’s sacrifice is measured in miles, and ancestry’s considered alongside the history of diseases. “How harsh,” this poet says, “the desire to endure.” It’s a brave mix of everything, in this moment, the “empire” has to offer or means to take away. Elegies for an Empire is a very important book of poetry by one of our most unsung poets. With this, his seventh book, it’s clear to me that Le Hinton now needs to pack the house, most certainly not for his own gratification, but for every last one of us listening carefully for whatever wisdom we can find. Here’s hoping this book finds the very large audience it deserves.
~ Rick Benjamin, author of Some Bodies in the Grief Bed
Before I Go
Let me begin again.
I want to be holy.
~ Terrance Hayes
Gentle me tonight, dear moon.
Let’s sit on this late
summer porch with the stranger.
We’ll open secrets, intimacies
of the heart. Like the childhood impotence
at the stoning of a turtle. DJ wanted
to see the color of its blood. Blow after blow
on his mottled shell. I swear, I heard the poor
thing whimper. And I didn’t even whisper, Stop.
The grad school date with Ann. Her peach-colored sun dress
and MFA. The Pat Metheny concert. The walk to her black Honda.
The kiss she silently offered. The fear of overstepping.
My tongue muted and me closed-mouthed again. There was no
second date or a son with her eyes, a daughter with my nose.
No tiny fist holding my finger. No aisle walks in June.
In this summer cool, maybe we shouldn’t ponder
possibilities that weren’t fleshed, joys that were never
unwrapped, loves not pursued. We only have this moment.
And we are here. Let’s dream a little music. You strum
your moon guitar; I’ll play my sax in a minor key.
We’ll listen to the rhythm of my slowing heart.
Yet deep into this porch night, there is still
a wish, a final lyric: to have been a decent father,
a joyous lover, a bodhisattva on the road.
First published in Autunm Sky Daily, October 31, 2022