Heed the Hollow

By Malcolm Tariq, reviewed by Laura Eve Engel

“Being born male and free, I cannot change the meaning of the possessed to fashion a lyric of my own. // This is a matter of ethics. It is a matter of unmaking meaning.” In this important debut, where “Southern—American—heritage is this / scripture I’ve fingered for years, / a beloved I continue to fist,” Tariq expressly does not reanimate the past to speak from it. Instead he embarks on a necessary and ethical unmaking of traditionally Freudian, white- hetero- cis- male dichotomies—tensions between sex and death, power and submission—so that he may possess them, remaking and redefining these tensions in his own image. “I want to imagine a world in which / I am present,” he writes, and this book is that world, conscientiously and brilliantly realized, a celebration of the “black bottom” in every sense. These poems illuminate and grapple with intersections of history and desire that inhabit the queer, Black, male, Southern body: “My body can break open / at will, it’s the mind that cannot— // insert cuffs and I’ll think shackle, / say whip and I’ll picture a tree / carved into flesh.” Singing toward the breaking open of mind, Tariq offers difficult truths about the privilege that attends power, and praises the complex, sacred grace of giving it away: “Remind me we are not ruin, but stone / against sin. The ancestors have / already built our home. Palm the soft / small of my back and enter it.”

This review originally appeared in the Books Noted section of American Poets, Fall-Winter 2019.