Monday, October 20, 2008

The Truth

A Day of Presence
Review by Missy McEwen

Some of the poems in Truth Thomas' A Day of Presence are about difficult subjects such as AIDS, racism, parents fighting in front of children, and the homeless, but the poems themselves are not difficult to understand. There is no flowery language to beautify the tough subject matter, yet the writing is not straight, ordinary talk either.

Thomas writes about serious issues, yes, but he also writes about mundane things like the weather, but not in a mundane voice. In "Zero Degrees In Dupont Circle," he shows us his take on the cold weather:

"It's the kind of evening when the temperature
sign on the Sun Trust Bank Building just says
'Damn it's Cold,' the kind of evening where... /water mains spit up

glaciers; the kind of DC evening where the march of
penguins is the march of pedestrians;
where squirrels wear scarves and P street is
an ice road..."

A Day of Presence features, in between the solemn poems, odes dedicated to a mosquito and to caffeine. Things other people might take for granted, Truth Thomas notices and writes about them. Some poems made me laugh out loud as if I were watching a comedian on stage (see the poem above). Some poems made me think. For example, the poem "BET" (BET stands for Black Entertainment Television) deals with the degrading images being fed to the viewers:

"Watermelon glazed fried chicken
fills our screens.
pimps on parade
tattoo 'Bitches'
on sisters.
DJ Overseer & MC Whipping Post
– Buckwheat
Hip Hop, zip-a-dee-doo-dah
night & day.
Money's undies – anointed
and for purchase.
Bootie Entertainment Television
of thee I sing.
Bootie Entertainment Network
no ideas
but in bling"
Truth Thomas tells the truth. He does not hide his thoughts behind euphemisms. He says what he feels. He is not afraid to take the Pledge of Allegiance, the Miranda Rights, John's Lennon's "Imagine" and use it in his own way:

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America
and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation Under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all…

Oh, hell no, I do not.

I pledge allegiance to the fingers, reading goosebumps
on your breasts like Braille….

One black man, under Goddess
with multiple orgasms
for all." – from "A Different Kind of Pledge"
"Miranda Rights for Black Men," is Truth Thomas' version of the Miranda Rights:

"You have the right to remain silent, the right to bleed
out, the right to be a cripple after they beat you.

Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court
of law (where they will be acquitted) after they beat you.

Whether in New York or Philly, you have the right to speak
to an attorney, if you can still speak after they beat you."
"Imagine" by John Lennon is remade and remixed into this:

"Imagine unemployment
it isn't hard to do
a shanty town of trailers
the families with no food
Imagine all the people
sinking in their screams…" - from "Imagine"
Also, Washington DC is an important presence in A Day of Presence. Although Thomas was born in Tennessee, he grew up in Washington DC. When we read, we see what he sees: New York Avenue, P Street, the Green Line Metro, U Street, Georgetown. DC natives will smile in recognition and out-of-towners will learn a little about what the Chocolate City is about – the good (like watching a girl sing while waiting for the bus):

In "Dreamgirl":

"A zaftig sister with iPod ears and a dandelion
dress sings while waiting for the 90 bus
to Congressional Heights as Duke Ellington
hums along from the front porch

of his mural here above the Green Line

At 100 degrees Fahrenheit, humidity
is thicker than grease on chitlins – still
this sister blows – sings like

every stranger passing by is an American
Idol judge – sings as if this urine baked
sidewalk, freckled with…flattened
wads of gum, and crumpled up

McDonald's bags is the polished
stage of the Apollo – sings as if
Carnegie Hall is calling her
And the bad (DC has the highest rate of AIDS in the United States):

In "Visiting Hours are Over":

"There are no gay, straight, down low, get high, protected, unprotected
sex questions for you now. Now, a morphine drip drains its indifferent
bladder in your arm. Now a monitor's beeps get sleepy in the shadow
of your coughs."
Events happening in the world such as the war, Katrina, AIDS, racism can shape poets, can make them want to use poetry as a medium to get these issues heard and Truth Thomas' A Day of Presence features poems that deal with heavy topics such as these. However, this is not a book that lectures or preaches; instead this is a book that tells it like it is.

Truth Thomas A Day of Presence, published by Flipped Eye Publishing (2008), can be purchased at and

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