WHILE STANDING IN LINE FOR DEATH, BY CACONRAD
CAConrad’s ninth book, While Standing in Line for Death, is an intimate account of Conrad’s grief as he exists in a world years after the rape and murder of his boyfriend, Earth. It takes the reader on a psychic journey through his suffering in 18 (Soma)tic rituals. Each section opens with a somatic exercise, given as a short essay, followed by the poems born from it. In contrast to these structured prose accounts, his poems lack normative markers; capitalization, punctuation, or justified lines and appear as curvy and sharp, free-floating shapes in the middle of the page, out the mouth of the mystic, in perfect complement. In generous transparency, Conrad maps out his (Soma)tic rituals—says, here is my pain and see what I do with it. Through poetry he maintains an impossible connection to his stolen Earth, “poets can still reach into murk for it [ . . . ] I want you to start writing / poems in the land for the dead.” But these poems are not only a deep wet wail—they rage, and the loss of Earth gives way to the country’s hate. Conrad knows all too well, as this poem’s title suggests, “Dear TC Tolbert As Long As We Live We Win,” that his daily survival is protest in a country that wishes him dead, wishes him silent. At its hilt, this book exposes the little tolerance America has for the queer, the abject, and the mystical forces that Conrad and his poetry call home, and not only does it refuse to apologize, this book reclaims loss, all bruised and defiant experiences, and makes them a testament.
—Review by Madeline Vardell