Jericho Brown

Winner of the Lyric Poetry Award in 2017

As a Human Being 

There is the happiness you have
And the happiness you deserve.
They sit apart from one another
The way you and your mother
Sat on opposite ends of the sofa
After an ambulance came to take
Your father away.  Some good
Doctor will stitch him up, and
Soon an aunt will arrive to drive
Your mother to the hospital
Where she will settle next to him
Forever, as promised.  She holds
The arm of her seat as if she could
Fall, as if it is the only sturdy thing,
And it is since you've done what
You always wanted.  You fought
Your father and won, marred him.
He'll have a scar he can see all
Because of you.  And your mother,
The only woman you ever cried for,
Must tend to it as a bride tends
To her vows, forsaking all others  
No matter how sore the injury.
No matter how sore the injury
Has left you, you sit understanding
Yourself as a human being finally
Free now that nobody's got to love you.

line

Rachel Eliza Griffiths on Jericho Brown

The tension that the lyric sustains in "As a Human Being" unsettles me in its immediate and revelatory intimacy. I could not stop thinking about the ending of the poem and the complexity of how the vows of both life and death collapse, colluding in the final line, "Free now that nobody's got to love you." And yet, this poem surges with desire, with failure, with hope, the rigorous mortality of love, and the vulnerability of the body - rendering this poem as true and raw as its title. Here, the heartbroken narrative of what is unsaid and unknown is as startling as what we witness and underscores the luminous ache and psychological arc we seek in poems. The enjambment of lines here literally mirrors the enjambment, or break, of a family, a breaking down and in, of loyalties and language. Visceral in pacing and utterance, as though we have been given an entire novella or film, "As a Human Being" unfurls in its articulation of blame, grief, awareness, (in)fidelity, and violence. The music of collapse, emotionally and corporeally, pulls us through a love-sick landscape that is both wild and mute. Astounded, I returned over and over to make a journey through a beginning of happiness towards the complicated beginning, and terror, of freedom.  

Go Back to Annual Awards Winners' Listing