For today’s celebration of National Poetry Month, Isaac Willis, a student in UIUC’s Creative Writing MFA program, reads Jericho Brown’s “Say Thank You Say I’m Sorry.”
Watch Willis’ reading on our Instagram and read his reflections below:
To me, this is a perfect poem. Maybe that’s because I may or may not have taken a field trip to a slaughterhouse. (My alma mater, Monmouth College, nearly touched one of the largest slaughterhouses in the Midwest.) Maybe that’s because I want another gimlet, another good book. It’s also the perfect poem for America right now. Written during a time of racial reckoning, of an international pandemic, of quarantine, the poem subtly navigates the politics of place and being in it. “I have PTSD / About the Lord,” says Brown’s speaker. But then, “God save the people who work / In grocery stores.” Audre Lorde famously said, “Poetry is not a luxury.” She also said, in the same essay, “it is the skeleton architecture of our lives.”
I can’t help but feel, when I read this Jericho Brown poem, that something new and necessary is being architected. I naively thought, a year ago, when the University and the world were effectively locked down, that staying shut up inside would make me a better person. If anything, it has exacerbated my fears and anxieties and biases even more. I texted something along those lines to a friend awhile back, and he responded, “Or you are a better person, and you don’t like what the new light has shown you.” Maybe so. Maybe grief, when it’s so thick you can touch it, is a balm. Maybe I’d rather be able to sit and talk with my friend, while we sip lavender gin. Maybe it’s a privilege to say so. Thank you. I’m sorry.