Review

    To Prove My Blood
    A Tale of Emigrations & The Afterlife

    by Philip Brady (Zaire 1980–82)
    Ashland Poetry Press
    November, 2003
    121 pages
    $14.95

    Reviewed by Margaret Szumowski (Zaire 1973–74; Ethiopia 1974–75)

    QUITE AN ARRAY OF FAMILY at the Brady house, and a favorite was Aunt Mary. “I had the toast, y’know,” Mary’d sing. “The rye toast at Meyer’s Deli. The bread’s gorgeous.” The McCanns had come from Ulster in 1922. Mary is a strong presence in the family even when she moves down the road to the nursing home. “In the afternoons she taps her foot softly on her wheelchair’s pad, as if warming to an ante-deluvial reel,” still casting her memories over the family.
         So many memories here, and a strong insight by Brady, “I’m the only one en-webbed in myth, craving to spin and also to break free, to make and to make up. And what is it that I would spin or break? What’s flesh anyway . . . . Maybe it’s death I have To spin out of myself — out of my fear, My craving.”
         Phillip Brady is a well-known poet, and he stars in this family memoir of growing up Irish and becoming a PCV. He’s a man wearing many coats here, as he tells the family story, and looks back on Peace Corps when he was stationed in Lubumbashi in 1981. He reminds us of a sorrowful history in his reference to the dreadful puppet of the Western powers, Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Benza Waza Banga. “To escape being drafted into his ragtag army, they came by boat, plane, truck, and bicycle to a bombed-out airport, rigged into a hedge school called UNAZA — Univeriste Nationale du Zaire.” Nevertheless, Brady felt lucky to be in the Peace Corps, and he goes on to say that “Joining the Peace Corps . . . he vanished from invisibility.”
         Everything was deteriorating in Shaba. Decades of Europeans and Americans appropriated the richness of Congo: diamonds, copper, and, particularly scary, the uranium for the bomb that destroyed Nagasaki and Hiroshima.      Despite everything, playfulness and even love was available in Lubumbashi. Brady made friends, taught, and got to know the city in its rawness and wild times.“Come Saturday night, a gaggle of bearded and beaded volunteers would pile into the Peace Corps jeep and bounce over roads that narrowed to paths, splashing through mud and foliage, swerving around chickens, pigs and goats.”
         Brady was able to enjoy Lubumbashi, especially when life took a change for the romantic.
         Brady found Genevieve, “and the rest was lost in the blare of reggae and the explosive shock of her hand brushing against my arm.” Poetry would be his specialty, his delight. “With the least shift of her espadrilles, she kept the beat while her hips mimed ennui, and her fingers dipped into the silver of night between us, Msungu and Zairoise . . .”
         And in one unforgettable moment, “She crossed her arms over her belly, peeled the ruffled halter over her breasts, unknotted her pagne, and stood before [Brady] in a flame red pool of cloth.”
         Lubumbashi in 1981 had “the Wild West feel of it.” Brady describes not only women, but “dunes and giant anthills, clay boulevards lined with flamboyants and jacarandas — along with overgrown grass and “electricity so spotty . . . that the pilot was not able to find the airport.”
         Brady had known a different world before the Peace Corps, “schooled by a different skein of facts altogether: their father’s fists, a Catholic separation and the bifurcation of their own identities into Irish and Italian.” His memoir, however, leaves me longing for more of his poetry: Here are a few lines from “Wiretap:”

      I see a door open and my father
      take two steps into nothing —
      but for all my traveling, I’ll never know —
      and though I want him not to go on
      being him, me being me,
      I haven’t stopped, nor found a way
      to tell all this to anyone I love.

         Like all of us, still looking for our fathers, still traveling in search of them, Brady brings in his family members as he tells their story in poetry.

      They lived like that, fainting and belting each other
      while forty years skimmed by like a flat stone
      and now she’s babbling this fractured tale to me,
      the sea meanwhile having shrunk to a damp shell,
      but she’s sure — my aunt — and still furious
      that it was me thrashed out of her womb like a knife . . .

         Brady’s poetry that dances all over the page is his great gift.

    Poet Margaret Szumowski's newest collection is Night of the Lunar Eclipse. A sample of her poems can be found at www.thescreamonline.com — click on the "Poet Index." Her first full length book, I Want This World, was published by Jeffrey Levine of Tupelo Press. Recent works have appeared in Barrows Street, Crab Orchard Review, Hollins Critic, Blue Moon Review, Three Candles, Christian Century, Diner, Spoon River Review, and Americas Review.