Jordan is a tremendous poet. I don’t know why he doesn’t get more attention. Using historical figures and incidents as a launching point, he makes people and places come alive in a precise strokes. “John Henry Tells Alan Lomax All About the Work Song The Night Before He Races the Steam Drill” is a dynamic and insightful piece. “The Journey of Henry ‘Box’ Brown” is equally stunning.
And as much as he dips into history, Jordan’s work finds its way into the present. “The Overcoat” is the story of the time when the persona and his brother (both black) have guns drawn on them because, most immediately, the persona is wearing a long overcoat and he seems to be suspected of stealing. And this is how their mother finds them when she pulls up to pick them up. This poem returned me to the end of the first poem, “Notes from a Southpaw,” which tells the story of a fight the persona gets into because he has been called the “n” word. After the fight ends, the narrator asks,
And when the police get here, tell me,
how do I make them understand all of this?