A writer’s true power, as Toni Morrison once put it, is his/her ability “to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar.”
Tim does both in his latest collection, One Turn Around The Sun, a beautiful tribute to his parents. In this 95-page collection, Tim familiarized his parents who were strangers to this reader.
In fact, these poems — the intimate details they include — made his parents feel like people I’ve grown up with my whole life.
In his inscription to me, he described this collection as “a portrait of [his] parents — in both personal and political terms.”
With the former, Tim’s opening poem goes back to him alive inside his pregnant mom:
[…] you —
in her warm pond a golden koi
nosing the surface for bits if bread,
you: the unnamed stranger
coming for the long stay[…]
(from “Ode To Your Mother”)
The poem’s stunning imagery is where he describes what must have been happening in his body while his embryonic brain developed:
almost building itself a secret
mansion–a million doors
to a million rooms, each
with a candle, your little head
holding the Milky Way
rekindled in miniature[…]
(from “Ode To Your Mother”)
I must’ve read those lines 10 times, wishing I was expansive as Tim is with his imagery. The personal portrait of his father follows in “Ode To Your Father,” where we learn that Mr. Thomas Seibles, III, spends his “Sunday nights” listening to “Yusef Lateef” whose “flute stole secrets/usually locked in the moon’s/cool house”.
The poem’s lighthearted tone helps the reader feel as relaxed as Tim’s dad must’ve been while “mopping the kitchen,/whistling ‘My Satin Doll'[…]”
There’s a moment when Tim remembers his father yelling at him. Another sign of a writer’s gift is their ability to contextualize the situation, which Tim does for that moment:
When he yelled at you,
you probably heard
his father yelling at him,
[…]wasn’t his father’s father’s voice
a part of him too, that part
that seemed tied up
in some long ago trouble,[…]
That’s where Tim hints at the political culture of that time — Black people oppressed by Jim Crow laws and lynchings.
Another tense moment between him and his dad is in the poem, “Eight Ball,” where Tim uses a pool game as an extended metaphor of a test of strength between him and the elder Seibles:
[…] I probably beat him
as much as he beat me–all the welts
from his parenting quietly
driving my shots. Sometimes,
when he was “feelin’ it,” he’d hit
a banker, the 5-ball bending
back soft into the side pocket,[…]
At the time, of course, I just
wanted to win. Didn’t think
about what those whuppins
meant or why he used that
old ironing cord, but I did
crave a little revenge
I’ve definitely craved revenge for those times “I felt like a young god/done wrong by [his] dumb Dad[…]” I even relished at the thought of going “toe-to-toe with him:/get[ting] in some good shots–/show[ing] him what it meant/to be overpowered and afraid.”
But what I love about Tim’s poem is that he doesn’t stay in that anger, even when his dad hit him and he “nearly fell into that/glass table by the hi-fi.”
A gifted writer also makes the reader empathize with the person(s) they’re writing about.
Instead of demonizing his dad, Tim gives us a political portrait of his father, a Black man battling the racism of that time the best way he knew how:
have been easy coming home full
of fury, the only black biochemist
at a government lab, shaking hands
with all the extra shit he had to take.
Tim adds further context to his dad’s anger by trying to see himself in the old man’s position:
If my son had mouthed off
I like to believe I wouldn’t
have blacked his eye.
I don’t have any children
and no hide-away
pool table that folds out
from the back of a couch,
so it’s hard to get a clear shot
at what might be true
with so many rough maybes
sitting in the way.[…]
My favorite poem in One Turn is “Morning Where You Are.” To go back to Morrison’s quote about mystifying the familiar, the familiar becomes a stranger to the speaker’s mom who’s suffering from Alzheimer’s.
In “Morning,” Tim offers a beautiful portrait of his “nearly adult parents, beautiful–/their bodies still brand new.” That’s before his mom was “stolen/from herself, her smile/no longer made/for her mouth.”
The poem is a story of how his parents met:
When she slipped in the lecture hall
he picked her up–Fisk University,
WWII barely over, fall-out still flying the stratosphere.
Lamplit nights, my father below her window,
his Kappas to her Deltas–the brothers in chorus,
his hopeful solo climbing the ivy Only you…
I nearly cried while reading “Morning,” wondering how I’d handle watching dementia mystify all that was once familiar to my mom.
Tim’s close with his mom like I’m close with mine. I often call my mom just to hear her voice.
When Tim did that one Wednesday:
she started pouring Wheaties
at sunset. I was on the phone,
“It’s evening, ma–evening.”
She said, “It may not be morning
where you are, but it’s
That light moment I can appreciate, remembering those I have with my mom.
In One Turn Around The Sun, the speaker balances good times with his aging parents. He also confronts his own mortality in the poem, “At 59.”
Part of getting older, according to Twinkle Khanna, is “collecting experiences — beautiful, fragile little soap bubbles that you store in your heart, and every once in a while you pull one out and gaze at the delicate pictures it shows you.”
A soap bubble for Tim is his mom’s smile in “Morning”:
she had the gladdest smile–
a morning unto itself:
any day starting over
where she found us.
my father said,
“she used to smile
like that at me.”