The following interview of Douglas Manuel by Lois P. Jones originally aired on KPFK Los Angeles (reproduced with permission).
Douglas Manuel was born in Anderson, Indiana. He received a BA in creative writing from Arizona State University and a MFA from Butler University where he was the managing editor of Booth: A Journal. He is currently a Middleton and Dornsife Fellow at the University of Southern California where he is pursuing a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing. He has served as the poetry editor of Gold Line Press as well as was one of the managing editors of Ricochet Editions. His work is featured on Poetry Foundation’s website and has appeared or is forthcoming in Poetry Northwest, Los Angeles Review, Superstition Review, Rhino, North American Review, The Chattahoochee Review, New Orleans Review, Crab Creek Review, and elsewhere. His first full length collection of poems, Testify, was released by Red Hen Press in the spring of 2017.
“In his breathtaking debut, Testify, Douglas Manuel charts the raw emotional complexities and the impossible daily reckonings that confront a young black man coming of age today in America. Faced at every turn with condescending, fixed assumptions about his ‘proper’ role in his community and culture, the speaker faces each indictment with a stunning and searing intelligence. Each powerful testimony in this collection stands as evidence of an eloquent and dramatic new voice in American poetry.”
—David St. John
“In Douglas Manuel’s Testify the act of witnessing is by turns burdensome and bittersweet, narrative and lyrical, ecstatic and irreverent. Here the holy words are the ones that offer no easy epiphanies yet grant us dazzling, off-kilter compassion and a strange, surprising grace. These potent poems testify to those ambivalent moments that might rend or right us, as when an interracial couple drive past a truck with a Confederate flag painted on its back windshield and from which a little boy turns to smile and wave: his ‘blond hair // split down the middle like a Bible / left open to the Book of Psalms.'”
—Anna Journey, author of The Atheist Wore Goat Silk
I swear on the melody of trumpet vines,
ants feasting through animal crackers, Burt’s Bees,
Tyler Perry movies, my daddy’s .38 slug, footie-socks
inside high-top Jordans, disidentification, drag
queens, blond dreadlocks, headstones
salt-and-peppering the grass, vanilla wafers
in banana pudding, Zeus-swan chasing,
blunt-guts, sharp thumbnails, keloid scars,
cash-only bars, R&B songs, on what the pot
called the kettle. I put that on my mama’s good
hair, on playing solitaire with a phantom
limb, the white woman I go home to,
my auntie’s face when she says: You know
he always loved them pink toes. I put that on
everything, on the signifiers I gobble up,
candlesticks blown out by whistling lips.
I put that on dervishing records scratched
on down-beats, empty beehives,
fresh-fade head-slaps, hand claps, bamboo shoots,
liminality, mestizos, the purple-black crook
of my arm, split sternums, on You can’t save
him now. I put that on skinny jeans, get rich
quick schemes—Gotta get that C.R.E.A.M. Know what
I mean?—freckled black faces, leafless trees
throwing up gang signs, phlegm hocked
onto streets. I swear I catch more stones
than catfish. I lose more collard greens than sleep. I think
nothing is here but us darkies, high yellows, red bones,
cocoa butters. Someone, no, everyone has jungle fever.
Don’t touch my forehead. Blond
as moonshine, mute trombone choking.
I put that on Instagram. Post me to the endless chain
of signifiers. Strawberry gashes on kneecaps, Let me
get some dap, Newports, Kool’s, and folding
chairs instead of barstools, that white drool
caked on your face. Mommy please wipe away
the veil. I thought I was passing into the eye
of the streetlamp. I swear. I promise on frondless
palm trees, long pinkie nails, sixteen years, serve eight,
and Miss Addie’s red beans and rice, Ol’ Dirty Bastard
and the brother on the Cream of Wheat box. It don’t mean
a thing if it don’t buckle your knees. Open your hands.
I’ll give you a song, give you the Holy Ghost
from a preacher’s greasy palm—When he hit me, I didn’t
fall, felt eyes jabbing me, tagging me. Oh no he didn’t!—
give you the om from the small of her back.
I put that on double consciousness, multiple jeopardy,
and performativity. Please make sure my fetters
and manacles are tight. Yea baby, I like bottomless
bullet chambers. I swear on the creation of Uncle Tom—
some white woman’s gospel. She got blue eyes? I love
me some—on Josiah Henson, the real Uncle Tom, on us still
believing in Uncle Tom. Lord, have mercy!
Put that on the black man standing on my shoulders holding
his balls. Put that on the black man I am—I am not—on
the black man I wish I was.
Douglas Manuel, “Testify” from Testify. Copyright © 2017 by Douglas Manuel. Reprinted by permission of Red Hen Press.