Blood & Spades

I’m so pleased to introduce Sheree Rene Thomas as my guest for this issue. Her poetry is simply exquisite, in my opinion. Sheree is the author of Sleeping Under the Tree of Life (Aqueduct Press, included on the 2016 James Tiptree, Jr., Award “Worthy” List), Shotgun Lullabies: Stories & Poems, and is the editor of the anthologies Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora (winner of the 2001 World Fantasy Award) and Dark Matter: Reading the Bones (winner of the 2005 World Fantasy Award).

Her speculative stories and dark poems also appear in Apex Magazine, Mythic Delirium, Strange Horizons, Revise the Psalm: Writers Celebrate the Work of Gwendolyn Brooks, The Moment of Change: An Anthology of Feminist Speculative Poetry, An Alphabet of Embers: An Anthology of Unclassifiables, Jalada Afrofuture(s), Stories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel R. Delaney, Harvard’s Transition, Smith College’s Meridians, Inkscrawl: A Quarterly Journal of Minimalistic Speculative Poetry, So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy, Memphis Noir, and the horror anthology Sycorax’s Daughters.

The Tongue We Dream In:
On the Language of Dark Poetry & Luminous Tales

Poetry tells stories, stories about language, and the language tells a story about itself.

Our first language was wet
mournful questions rang
like falling stars
in red clay throats

No milk teeth to help
form words, our eyes
made syllables, cries strung out
on ropes of tears, thoughts
dangled on twisted ropes
of hope ...

(from “The Tongue We Dream In”)

In Sleeping Under the Tree of Life (Aqueduct Press, August 2016), my collection of poems and stories, I chose the language of the dark forces behind the rivers and the trees, the forgotten, invisible gods and their handmaidens who cross our paths in the guise of crones, and the elders from old folklore and fairy tales.

... here the days
are reduced to artifacts and bones
Miss Ella rocks in a chair
shaped like a pelvis
she carries a jawbone in her shiny purse
and demons on a string of keys ...

(from “Dead Ends & Corner Stores”)

I write of ancient and new tongues, of women soldiers who war and love together, of centuries-old rivalries between goddesses, of the rituals between mothers and daughters, and the hidden crimes and treasures of history. These are some of the things that set my imagination afire and have fascinated me throughout my reading and writing life—for stories and poems were my first language.

Some poems I write are about disunity, about what happens when we separate science from the realm of spirit. When these disparate worlds split apart, what comes to fill in the spaces in between could be an answered prayer—or a terror. Sometimes what comes is beyond our conscious control. When ancient forces are released, they have a mind of their own.

There are names each thing
gives itself, contains its own
dream for life
and beneath us
the order already moves
maps, roads, rivers, stars, blood
the lines are ever shifting ...

(from “What the Map Knows”)

I like the stories that language, science, and religion have to tell us. I might not always agree with them, but I often find them fascinating and in turns, terrifying, in how they reveal our darkest, most profane and sacred thoughts about ourselves and our world.

In Sleeping Under the Tree of Life, the darkness resides right alongside the light. Old myths from greener, more verdant and perhaps more psychically rich times are reborn in the streets and abandoned fields of my hometown, Memphis, and in the shadowy corners of my imagination.  I like to think that ...

something breathes here
life and all the stars between

(from “Reunion”)

I hope these poems immerse you in the language of dreams and take you past the glass bottle trees, to the place where the spirits are

waiting in this lake of earth
waiting like a dream remembered
waiting like a stone turned

(from “Unmarked”)

Fiction Book Review: Sleeping Under the Tree of Life by Sheree Renée Thomas. Aqueduct, $12 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-61976-111-7