Sjohnna McCray has published poems in Black Warrior Review, Calalloo, The Southern Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, and Shenandoa. He has an MFA from the University of Virginia and teaches at Savannah State University. The citation from his Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets notes that McCray is “an ecstatic and original voice, and he lends it to family, history, race and desire in ways that are healing and enlarging. Rapture announces a prodigious talent and a huge human heart.”
When I first saw the photo of the poet on the back of Rapture (80 pp., Graywolf Press, $16, paper), I hoped this would be a book by an African-American dealing with his tour of duty in Vietnam. But this is not that book. It is a book that recounts, as McCray says, “a life born out of wartime to a Korean mother and an American father serving during the Vietnam War.”
The book’s title is a brave one, and it contains a poem called “Rapture.” You will find it at the end of the book, immediately after my favorite in the collection, “VI Civil Union,” which I’ll include here, as it is both a fine poem and it shows more about McCray’s art than I can with my pallid words.
No line will ever begin,
“As I lovingly look at my sleeping wife…”
At best, the winter keeps us mummified,
swathed in blankets and sheets. I look over
at my partner—because he snores—
and I imagine us as soldiers
locked down in a trench under the tarp
of a foreign night. Who else is there to consider
when the lights click off and there’s nothing left
but right-wing, warfare metaphors? His snoring
as shrapnel, our farting as mutual,
biological terror, this continued
breathing as a sign of dual surrender.
War permeates this book of revelations torn from the author’s gut and is presented honestly to us—the reader. We are lucky to have these poems and better off for reading them.
There is nowhere else that a reader would find the following lines:
“the unassuming black and the Korean whore/in the middle of the Vietnam War.”