‘All Night It Is Morning’ by Andy Young
Once, “Marching Women,” a celebrated graffiti mural by Alaa Awad, led the way to Tahrir Square –“Martyr Square,” a major public square in downtown Cairo, Egypt. It was based on an image in the Ramesseum, a frieze depicting a women’s march. The wall mural was a detail of an even larger work, “Women Climbing the Ladder of the Revolution.” The mural has been destroyed and now can only be enjoyed in photographs (see above). The work was both ancient and modern, urban and agrarian, colorful and chthonic; Egyptian women before the import of Wahhabi Islam leading a movement of social change.
Though Andy Young was raised Appalachian, she is based in New Orleans and writes in English; through marriage and motherhood, she also has roots in Cairo. Western and Arabic cultures are two cultural glaciers, to borrow a line from Robert Frost’s poem “Directive,” “Still said to haunt this side of Panther Mountain.”
New Orleans and Cairo are two very specific locales informed by recent disasters; both are cultural vectors. Young’s poems emerge from both the ruins of post-Katrina and the tumultuous events of the 2011 Egyptian revolution. All Night It Is Morning, Young’s first collection, is an undivided stretch of poems bookended by a black half title page and a black closing back page. “Marching Women,” Awad’s mural, graces its cover.
There is a poem to a child just before birth; a song of Cleopatra being the mother to a child of Antony; another poem inspired by a Chilean coal miner after passing anxious days and finally emerging from a collapsed mine. The woods are dark and deep. Besides the historic wakes of storms, wars, and revolutions, there are personal poems. There are lyric poems, aubades, sonnets, even villanelles. There is an ekphrastic poem based on a 1995 Eric Waters photograph of Lois Andrews dancing on the coffin of one of her sons at a New Orleans jazz funeral:
She is not
in black not
weeping, not leaning
against someone as she staggers,
drunk with grief, no––
She dances on top
of her son’s coffin
outside the Lafitte Projects
where he was gunned down.
She dances and dances
unbending, limbs thrashing
on Shiva’s ashen body.
are they sweats?––
sway in the sun-blasted noon,
as her two living boys
make music around her…
(“Woman Dancing on Her Son’s Coffin”)
Young moves effortlessly through landscapes in Egypt, New Orleans, El Salvador, Lebanon, Algeria, and Morocco. Events rumble beneath her poems: Mohammed Bouazizi’s December 17, 2010 self-immolation which set Tunisia politically ablaze; Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans (latter days of August, 2005); the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 drawing demonstrators to Cairo.
Animals pepper the poems: birds, a cow with a breach calf, a Bengal tiger, several dogs—one with nine pups.
Martyrs also pepper the poems: Sister Mai of Saigon Vietnam, Khalid Mohmed Saeed of Alexandria, Mohammed Nabbous of Lybia.
Young herself floats back and forth between cultures. The collection is also peppered with poems reflecting on Young’s West Virginia ancestors, humble farmers and miners. Her own hands are hennaed. There are vendors, muezzins, coffee shop generators, water pipes, and bougainvillea. In one epistolary poem:
Everything has changed except
the glorious bloom of the bougainvillea.
I tell her that in New Orleans,
sunflowers sprout in muck among slabs,
mold paints elaborate murals on ungutted walls.
Other flowering trees have wilted, or shied,
she says, but the stubborn colors of these
blooms, boastful fuchsia, glaring white,
flaunt against the broken land.
(“On the Road to Saida,”)
There is a poem about one of Young’s near kin in West Virginia, a blind man with a cannon. Later, poems about tear gas cannons and tanks. Toward the latter part of the books is a litany—perhaps to a very questionable icon, but a litany nonetheless:
… pray for us
who cannot, for us who watch
and think we’re free, pray for calm
in brick and rubble, in rifle shot
and tear gas tears, water cannons,
tanks, riot truck cages, pray for us
under boot and chain, under house
arrest, under plush wings of buildings
with mirrored walls and marble floors
over lease warrens of us in solitary,
rendered into holes oh holy pray
for us as you pray there, smooth-faced,
between lines of breaking news,
breaking glass, pillar standing
in the ruins, patron saint of revolution.
Andy Young’s All Night It Is Morning will go on my shelf with Idra Novey’s The Next Country and Fady Joudah’s The Earth in the Attic.