DIVIDA, BY MONICA A. HAND
Monica A. Hand’s second collection, DiVida, published posthumously by Alice James Books, moves through three personas to simulate the atmosphere and spotlight the underbelly of racial injustice in America. Hand dispels post-race arguments: “This place called Manhattan (cluster that once held slaves) / boasted diminished belief in oppression. // It was a lie” and she manifests subversive echoes⏤reminiscent of Berryman’s Dream Songs and Freud’s psyche⏤through her I-speaker’s relaying of the lives of DiVida and Sapphire, offering a steady critique as her personas encounter racism. Hand’s figure, DiVida, often navigates her world by blind complicity, or exquisite naivety, so that she can seamlessly co-exist by playing her part in the white-world that oppresses her. Sapphire, on the other hand, is the outspoken rebel; DiVida’s opposite. In Hand’s poem, “DiVida becomes Captain of the Lacrosse Team,” she encapsulates all three voices to illuminate a schoolyard marginalization by fracturing, where each persona takes on an outcome or reaction. The I-speaker’s basic desire to belong and her pain and anger for being turned away, for not being “natural” enough like DiVida, gives way to Sapphire’s matter-of-fact refusal of the game: “I have been kicked off the team. / DiVida is the only black girl allowed to play. // . . . Sapphire runs / circles around the field . . . // Why you wanna play with people who slave you?”
The collection ascends to its hilt in the final poem when Monica, the presumed I-speaker, finally announces herself: “All these voices in my skin / like needles and pins / say speak // say: Monica speak,” bringing the culmination of voices and witnessing to a slippery but total singularity. With DiVida, Hand has left a door ajar for her readers, a lifeline to her double-consciousness, and a work which will continue to speak back.
—Review by Madeline Vardell