Award-winning poet Danez Smith is a groundbreaking force, celebrated for deft lyrics, urgent subjects, and performative power. Don’t Call Us Dead opens with a heartrending sequence that imagines an afterlife for black men shot by police, a place where suspicion, violence, and grief are forgotten and replaced with the safety, love, and longevity they deserved here on earth. Smith turns then to desire, mortality–the dangers experienced in skin and body and blood–and a diagnosis of HIV positive. “Some of us are killed / in pieces,” Smith writes, “some of us all at once.” Don’t Call Us Dead is an astonishing and ambitious collection, one that confronts, praises, and rebukes America–“Dear White America”–where every day is too often a funeral and not often enough a miracle.
In Don’t Call Us Dead, Danez Smith brilliantly illuminates our troubled dynamics of race and sexuality. Black boys and men—no longer murdered, no longer threatened—bask in the glow of “summer, somewhere,” an Eden of alternative imagining where “everything / is sanctuary & nothing is a gun.” Now searching, now scintillating, the poet’s spotlight reveals the hidden contours of hunger and shame and draws a bright line from diaspora to diagnosis to destiny.