The World Does Not Owe You Indigo: A Book Review of American Happiness
American Happiness, Jacqueline Allen Trimble’s debut collection of poetry, is one that reflects the constant reminders of the changing world around us. Her matter-of-fact writing lives in Trump America, and the ways in which the fatiguing nature of this administration can plague the people of color living in it. It reminds me of the way I’ve been living the past couple of years. When, perhaps, I’m out running errands for the evening looking for something ordinary like face moisturizer or a new set of pens, suddenly my phone buzzes with something life altering: The President has declared strikes on Syria, The President has agreed to talks with Kim Jong-Un, something that in any other administration would normally dominate news cycles. In this administration, however, this is almost a daily occurrence. In Trimble’s writing she addresses the implicit questions that filter through people of color on a daily basis: What does it mean to live in the world that we live in now? What’s going to happen to all of our lives?
Trimble lives in Alabama, which features heavily in her poems, especially through the descriptions of how it feels to live in a place where there is so much history right beneath your feet. However, Trimble is acutely aware of the perceptions of her home state, and addresses them directly in the very first poem featured in the collection:
America ought to say
thank you, Miss South, thank you for being like
Jesus and taking on the sins of the whole country
or being our crazy Aunt Hazel who runs naked
through the house full of company shouting
all the foolish things we think but can’t say
so we can walk around all post-racial
and watch Gone with the Wind over and over
swooning from the romance
This opening poem provides a good backdrop for addressing the way it feels to live in Alabama, the way that being a person of color is to be both visible and invisible. It is my grandfather going on routine morning jogs in the neighborhood he has lived in for twenty years only to be followed by cops who assume he’s an intruder. Loving a place can also come from a state of knowing the truth of what’s occurred in that place.
Trimble’s urgent and blunt language can address serious truths, while also being aware of the place she inhabits. Much of Trimble’s writing addresses the weight of being a black woman, having to have the eponymous “talk” that parents have with their black children in “The Woman Explains the World to Her Children:”
The world does not owe you
indigo, the quiet charm
of purple love. Lie down and see.
Manna will not fall
to fill your anxious belly.
No matter how many stars
you wish on, those distant suns
flamed out long ago.
Your comfort is built
on someone’s broken back.
Trimble’s speaker is reasoning with her children, telling them as early as possible that perhaps their desires and their wants will not be as valued as their peers’. One of the collection’s strengths is that it is not idyllic, it does not pose a utopia. Instead, Trimble addresses the discomfort of existence as a whole. She expresses the anger and frustration of being alive at this moment in all of its iterations. American Happiness is a brutal and beautiful collection in how it reckons with being a person of color the way we are, in our world, at this moment.