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Dangerous Goods: Poems

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From the poet whose stunning debut was praised as “transcendent” by Kevin Young and “steadily confident” by Carl Phillips, Dangerous Goods tracks its speaker throughout North America and abroad, illuminating the ways in which home and place may inhabit one another comfortably or uncomfortably—or both, simultaneously.

From the Bahamas, London, and Cairo to Bemidji, Minnesota, and Milledgeville, Georgia, Sean Hill interweaves the contemporary with the historical, and explores with urgency the relationships among travel, migration, alienation, and home. Here, playful “postcard” poems addressed to Nostalgia and My Third Crush Today sit alongside powerful reflections on the immigration of African Americans to Liberia during and after the era of slavery. Such range and formal innovation make Hill’s second collection both rare and exhilarating. Part shadowbox, part migration map, part travelogue-in-verse, Dangerous Goods is poignant, elegant, and deeply moving.

ISBN-13: 9781571314574

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: Milkweed Editions

Publication Date: 01-07-2014

Pages: 104

Product Dimensions: 6.60(w) x 10.20(h) x 0.50(d)

Sean Hill was born and raised in Milledgeville, Georgia, and received an MFA from the University of Houston. He has received fellowships and grants from Cave Canem, the Bush Foundation, The MacDowell Colony, the University of Wisconsin, Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, the Jerome Foundation, and Stanford University where he was a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry. Hill's poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Callaloo, Crab Orchard Review, DIAGRAM, The Oxford American, Ploughshares, Poetry, Tin House,and other literary journals, and in the anthologies Blues Poems, Gathering Ground, The Ringing Ear, and Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry. His first book, Blood Ties & Brown Liquor, was published by the University of Georgia Press in 2008. In 2009 Hill became an editor at Broadsided Press. He lives in Bemidji, MN.

Read an Excerpt

Postcard from a Destination

I’ve heard a man would need a keel bone six feet long to cradle muscle enough to pull him up on his own, keep him in the air,

or wind between a breeze and a gale,
a bit more than enough water to drown in, and a sense of displacement to set sail.

A keel bone is not a rudder, but either can get you here.

I suppose I should say, it was warm and clear here today, or boats have keels and birds have keel bones.

Was I the space between the ruffled feathers on a robin’s red breast
—a wispy yen for warmth—before you knew me?

A keel’s leading edge is called a cutwater,
not to be confused with a shearwater—a seabird seldom seen from shore.

This note could fit in a bottle; one’s being emptied; the last red drop rolls down its neck.

Soon dregs will rest in the curve of the wineglass’s belly—a hammock’s sag here, where the day’s dregs sit on the sea at the far edge of everything.

Here is me; I am here; I am desire; I
am nothing when you come, I fear.
I'll miss you when you're here. Stay home; keep me forever.

Dangerous Goods

Praise be unto the alchemical Canadians for turning HAZARDOUS MATERIALS
into DANGEROUS GOODS; you drove that day three years ago, and I sat beside you,
thrilled by the sign, by the recognition in the turning unfamiliar of a phrase. And it is too easy to think of you, the greatest good in my life—risking the cliché while I drive alone this spring across the country. The word ontology ambushes me as I sit eating alone at Demitri's Greek Restaurant in Dunkirk,
New York, and the power plant looms outside on Lake Erie. Gulls wheel in the gloaming as the lights come on, and carve a pumpkin with an abstraction is all I can think to do—
the ontology of jack-o-lanterns. I create a countenance to comfort me in your absence,
but think of candles and their flickering nature—
to be enlightened or to be benighted.
The Prince of Denmark joins you and Jack,
and reminds me of my Fortinbras-father,
a man of action in our hometown. And here
I sit, out in the world, contemplating the being of jack-o-lanterns, which will haunt me whenever I'm away again from you.

Table of Contents

Distance Grows in the Bones

Postcard to Wrong Address 3

Postcard to Eduardo 4

Postcard from a Destination 5

Bahamas Voyage: Meditations on Blacks on Boats 7

Voices in St. Paul's Cathedral 11

Fortnight 12

Postcard to Anna 13

Postcard to My Third Crush Today 14

Distance between Desires 15

Vacation 16

Duende 18

Postcard to Regret 20

Dangerous Goods 21

Postcard to Listlessness 22

Above It All 23

From the Best Authorities

AFRICA from the best AUTHORITIES 27

Schieffelin Bros. Exports & Imports 29

What Can Come to Pass

A Freedman Speaks of His Fellow, 1872 45

Jail Yard 46

Spring 1986 47

Seven Pastorals at Sixteen 49

November 16, 1872 56

Family 58

In My Fathers House 59

Visiting the Carriage House 60

In Houston 62

On Simple Machines 63

Lack 64

Etymology in a Subway in Houston 65

Gannoway Returns, 1874 68

Postcard to Nostalgia 70

Bemidji Blues

Bemidji in Spring 73

Penumbra 74

Postcard to the Bottoms of My Shoes 76

June 1920 77

Aurora Borealis 80

Postcard with Blood Stain 81

We Live to Learn to Love: A Story 82

Postcard from Reconciliation 83

Dearest, 84

Postcard with Blood Stain Received 85

Somniloquent 86

Bemidji Blues 87

Against the Snow

Sam Kee, I imagine 91

Kara avis, 1913 93

Spring in Bemidji 94

Sugaring, 1915 95

Sugaring Redux 97

Still Life with Starlings and Man 99

A Photograph Taken in Duluth 108

After James Wright 110

The Wall 113