Where the Road Turns is a rich and textured collection of poems interested in gender roles, issues of cultural identity, and migration. The book opens with the poem “Cheede, My Bride: A Grebo Man Laments—1985,” a narrative poem from the perspective of a Grebo man who contemplates the role of his wife in society: “in Monrovia, women wear pants and a man / may walk around, twisting like a woman” and “they say women fell trees and men walk / upon them like bridges.” The first section of the book contains similar poems that are from the perspectives of tribal men and women, often directly addressing their lovers in a love song or lament. In “Love Song When Musu Answers Her Lover,” the plain diction and repetition of “Let us not make babies, Kono, my lover / Let us collect these timbers, scattered” authenticates the voice of the poem, allowing the reader to enter into a character that they may not be altogether familiar with.
The second section of the book, “Taboos,” focuses more on ghosts, dreams and myths, a natural transition from the love songs and their elements of harsh reality. “Ghosts Don’t Go Away Just Like That” shows the subject of war, which was woven into the love songs of the first section, resurfacing, as the ghosts “may hover over new wars, / like the wars that carried them away from their bodies, / causing them to lose their world and us in the rush.”
Though much of the book is told from the tribal perspective, there are several poems that bring in very modern references and look at the old issues of gender roles from a new, current perspective. “To My Infant Daughter Soon After Birth” shows a mother already preparing her daughter for the difficulties she will face as a woman:
They’re going to try to put you into a small place,
into a tiny little box, into a corner somewhere.
They’re going to say you are only a girl, a little girl
or a girl just trying to be smart and cute
Then the mother encourages her daughter to remember her ancestry, her cultural heritage that will help her to rise above the hardships placed on her gender:
If you know that in Wah the girls are taught
to work hard, to be proud of who they are no matter
what, and that all those girls are like you, then
where is there error in being you?
Where is the mistake to apologize for?
Indeed there is nothing to apologize for in this collection, where the poems are deeply rooted in cultural and gender identity, and do not shirk away from the difficult issues.