Chris Abani

Chris Abani

Hands Washing Water

These imaginative new poems remind me both of James Baldwin who said “The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions which have been hidden by the answers” and of Maria Rainer Rilke who said “we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;/ it has inner light, even from a distance.” These poems teach that nothing buried is dead; they breathe in the moment between Question and Answer; between Place and Displacement, and know, as one poem ends that “the moment is fire.” Pliant and uncompromising, intellectual and organic, these brilliant poems are made of fire. I was enlightened by the flame and consumed by it.

— Terrance Hayes, author of Hip Logic and Wind In A Box

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Hands Washing Water is Chris Abani’s fourth poetry collection—a mischievous book of displacement, exile, ancestry, and subversive humor. The central section, “Buffalo Women,” is a Civil War correspondence between lovers that plays on our assumptions about war, gender, morality, and politics.

Sweetest Henri,
I know we promised to be honest,
one to the other, but your recent missive,
though welcome as any epistle from you,
filled me with a dread that clung
like dampness to wet wood. I am terrified
for your immortal soul, dear sweet Henri.
This mad war of Lincoln is infecting you
with a sickness too depraved to even address…

Abani’s writing is ruthless, at times traumatic, and consistently filled with surprising twists and turns.

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In a poem titled “Aphasia,” Chris Abani reminds us that even as we live in a time of lost language—of meaningless sound bites and empty slogans—it is the poet’s job to find words that can, as Keats put it, sharpen one’s vision into the heart and nature of man.The poems in Hands Washing Water do just that. Throughout this new collection, Abani’s unflinching vision shows us not only love and sorrow but also atrocity and the possibility of redemption, the line that pulls us from despair to salvation.

— Natasha Trethewey, author of Native Guard and Belloq’s Ophelia

This book holds the keys to the universe. Abani compresses space, time, language, matter, history and consciousness. From suffering to desire, from war to love. Each one a hinge toward enlightenment. Each one a tender mirror that turns into liquid sunlight in your hands.

— Juan Felipe Herrera, author of Giraffe On Fire and Crash Boom Love

In Abani’s fourth volume (after Dog Woman), he explores place and humor, exile and freedom with poems of experience and imagination…Abani enters the wound with a boldness that avoids nothing. Highly recommended.

Library Journal