If anthology means a “gathering of flowers,” then Full Moon on K Street: Poems about Washington, DC is a resplendent bouquet accompanying editor Kim Roberts’s “love letter” to the City. 101 contemporary poems by current and former Washington residents honor the literary diversity of a city rich with history: “all these centuries we drag into the next century and the next,” writes Sarah Browning in “The Fifth Fact.”
Roberts states a fascination with poems that “celebrate the built environment,” and some poems delightfully subvert iconic landmarks: “the Cathedral entrance, like a page torn from / the Playboy version of Genesis” (Terence Winch, “Three Addresses”); “The angel Moroni […] aghast in the sky, / gilded and trumpeting. / How many accidents on the Beltway has he / embellished?” (Ann Darr, “Temple on the Beltway opens to the Media”); “With your cell phone, / I photograph the monument / so it comes out of your ear” (Regie Cabico, “DC August Love Songs”).
Still, many poems invoke the natural world – a “plateau of green” in a public park (Donna Denizé, “Pulpit Rock”); “yellow / chrysanthemums / lining the streets / tell a story of / power and greed” (Robert L. Giron, “Shadows Fall on Washington”). In another poem, “Family Jewels” by the late Essex Hemphill, flowers tell a far different story:
I want a cab
to take me to Southeast
so I can visit my mother.
I’m not ashamed to cross
the bridge that takes me there.
No matter where I live
or what I wear
the cabs speed by […]
My mother’s flowers are wilting
while I wait.
is cold by now […]
Flowers often signify grief (“the dizzy ways we mourn” writes Jane Alberdeston Coralín in “For Black Girls Who Don’t Know”), but “flowers cannot / mask the scent / of mourning,” according to Samuel Miranda in “Bacon’s Funeral Home, 13th Street.” Flowers may appease – “please the ghosts / cast the flowers” (Thulani Davis, “Rogue & Jar: 4/17/77,”) – yet they can never quite ease the “song for a mother unchilded” (Fred Joiner, “Song for Anacostia”).
Flowers at public memorials highlight the dual nature of Washington as both a city for tourists “who see with the eyes of pilgrimage” (Sunil Freeman, “The Cinematographer’s Dream”) and residents who might appear as a “blurred figure passing through” in tourists’ photographs (“Washington Days,” Patricia Gray). “Hush Now, Don’t Explain” by Joel Dias-Porter is set at the Vietnam Memorial:
We round the corner,
find the headstone of an era,
an eternal funeral.
Who knows if the sudden quiet
Is reverence or shame.
Roses, wreathes and carnations,
bright as fresh blood
lean against the stone […]
Slowly, the reflecting pools
of our eyes fill.
Many lines bloom with the beauty of perception – “how do we endure being full of these felt / moments: flares of brief joy, heart cut by birdsong” (Michael Gushue, “Big Ben’s Liquors”); “those eddying moments that close the day” (Sharan Strange, “Saint on the Southbound S2: Ode to a Bus Driver”); “polished fruit / picked by people / who knew what it meant / to bend” (Joseph Ross, “The Universal Artificial Limb Company”); “the tense space between a man and a woman” (Yvette Neisser Moreno, “The Slow Passage to Anacostia”); “Grief seemed a form of patience I should learn” (Richard McCann, “Banners”); “Somehow the dead never leave us” (Christina Daub, “In the Metro”) – yet in every bouquet there are showstoppers, stargazer lilies that assert their presence. “Sharp Glass” by Minnie Bruce Pratt is one: “broken bits of kaleidoscope, / or […] crystals spilled from the white throat of a geode.” “I Saw Her Rise” by Ramola D is another. A woman exits the Metro, rising from the “dusk and violet” of the stairwell, “her body leaning / forward into / that stemmed chaos of lilies, / her body working furiously / at arrival.”
There are many younger writers in the anthology, suggesting that while the literary history of Washington is proven, the future is likewise promising. Meanwhile, present readers will likely feel “extremely lucky / to have been looking there / from the right angle / to that place / at that time” (Tina Darragh, “cliché as place – rainbows”).
“Live where you are,” O.B. Hardison, Jr. enjoins us in “Pro Musica Antiqua,” even if it is where “pain sprouts at the edge of joy” (May Miller, "The Washingtonian”).