A Stained Dawn
by Christopher Conlon (Botswana 198890)
Reviewed by Ann Neelon (Senegal 197879)
We must take the feeling of being at home into exile, wrote Simone Weil. We must be rooted in the absence of a place. These lines have stuck with me for over twenty years now partly, I think, because they get to the heart of what it means to be a Peace Corps Volunteer living as a representative American in a foreign place. Like Weil, PCVs understand that the comfortable (read Americans) need to be afflicted in order to see. Again like Weil, by uprooting themselves, PCVs seek a greater reality, albeit not necessarily the spiritual reality Weil sought.
When I was thirteen
he writes in African Child, American Child, Poem in Two Voices. To his credit, Conlon steers away from the confessional road it might have been convenient to take with such material. In A Stained Dawn: Poems About Africa, the darknesses of America and the darknesses of Africa are like tectonic plates. When they collide, as they do in Conlons best work, we get something truly earthshaking.
This is African girls in blankets
A few other landscape poems (for example, Kalahari and Noon) pack more of an Imagist punch. Still, I dont hear Conlons voice speaking incontrovertibly in these short poems.
A screaming police car signifies climax. When dawn arrives, it is as a frightened girl not unlike Joanne.
Stonelike Kalahari lizards
The reality is that the World Trade Center disaster has changed the way we live in the United States. We are now more nervous than ever about the strangers in our midst. It is thus increasingly imperative that we listen to voices such as Conlons that urge us not to come to any easy conclusions about those who are not like us. There are bridges to cross between the self and the other, and A Stained Dawn helps us to find them.
Ann Neelon recently won fellowships from both the Kentucky Arts Council and the Kentucky Foundation for Women. Her work will appear in Bearing Witness: Poetry by Teachers About Teaching, to be released this month. She is the author of Easter Vigil, winner of the Anhinga Poetry Prize.