Poems about yearning for balance: Tiana Clark’s “Equilibrium”

Equilibrium is brilliant. I underlined or sticky noted parts in Every. Single. Poem. The language is crisp, the content is necessary, and the pacing strikes the perfect balance between intense and thorough.

Take this image in “Tell Me: Harlem”: “& on my way home / read the braille of black gum / on the sidewalk saying — No, this is renaissance!

Or one line from the heavy piece “Broken Ghazal for Walter Scott”: “Again, in my Facebook feed another black man dead, another fist in my throat.”

These poems sink blows in between moments of vivid detail: “Sandy speaks to me / beyond her grave / her voice on YouTube— / ricochets.” It’s a relatable line for readers; we mourn with the speaker, burn with a collective sense of injustice.

Many pieces highlight parts of Black culture that are multi-faceted — historic yet sorrowful in their origins and sparseness. “Waking in the Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital” describes a stay in a mental health facility by including cultural traumas and triumphs: the Middle Passage, W.E.B. Du Bois, jazz, Langston Hughes and Harlem, Nina Simone, Billy Holiday, and Bessie Smith. We celebrate these icons, yet acknowledge that opression prevented (and continues to prevent) so many more people from accomplishing their dreams. There’s hope for a brighter, freer future at the end of the poem, but also a sense of acceptance that “black pain swinging, sweet and low” is a real roadblock, mentally, culturally, and financially.

The final poem largely went over my head, as it’s themed around the Greek god Prometheus, with whom I am unfamiliar. (I hope you’re able to grasp more of Tiana’s literary genuis!) Regardless, one section deserves mentioning in this review: the second section in the poem which discusses being of mixed race. “Mixed Bitch lets herself love— / the black inside: the white inside: the black of herself… // She was caught between two allegiances… The thing / that bound and suffocated her.” The poem wrestles with existing on two sides of a violence that is both unwanted and yet one’s self.

It’s a shame this book is only a chapbook – 39 pages total, as I was left entranced by the beautiful language and important content and would have loved to devour more. If you’re interested in reading these poems for yourself, Equilibrium is available from Bull City Press for $12.

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