(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“The Albuquerque Graveyard” comes from the middle section of Wright’s third book, Soothsayers and Omens, a volume that marks his first steps toward defining a spiritual order and his place in it. In these poems, Wright explores African creation myths that have become a part of the cross-cultural collective memory. Using this new perspective, he revisits the Mexico and New Mexico of his earlier work.

“The Albuquerque Graveyard” is typical of the transitional poems in the second and third parts of the four-part volume. In it, the poet returns to a cemetery he has visited many times, but this time with a new challenge: understanding himself in the context of past generations of African Americans.

He begins the poem by commenting about the difficulty of getting to the cemetery: “It would be easier/ to bury our dead/ at the corner lot”; that way, he would not have to get up before dawn and take several buses. The search follows a familiar routine. On the way to the rear of the cemetery, he passes the opulent graves of white people and remarks that “the pattern of the place is clear to me.”

The poet articulates what that pattern means in the next four lines: “I am going back/ to the Black limbo,/ an unwritten history/ of our own tensions.” He refers not only to the cemetery’s physical layout but also to a historical pattern. In the poem, “limbo” has two meanings: Blacks are in limbo, an area of...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Callaloo 6 (Fall, 1983). Special issue on Jay Wright.

Doreski, C. K. “Decolonizing the Spirits: History and Storytelling in Jay Wright’s Soothsayers and Omens.” In Reading Race in American Poetry: An Area of Act, edited by Aldon Lynn Nielsen. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.

Harris, Wilson. The Womb of Space: The Cross-Cultural Imagination. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1983.

Kutzinski, Vera M. Against the American Grain: Myth and History in William Carlos Williams, Jay Wright, and Nicolás Guillén. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987.

Okpewho, Isidore. “From a Goat Path in Africa: An Approach to the Poetry of Jay Wright.” Callaloo: A Journal of the African American and African Arts and Letters 14 (Summer, 1991): 692-726.

Stepto, Robert. “After Modernism, After Hibernation: Michael Harper, Robert Hayden, and Jay Wright.” In Chant of Saints: A Gathering of Afro-American Literature, Arts, and Scholarship, edited by Michael S. Harper and Stepto. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1979.

Stepto, Robert. Introduction to Selected Poems of Jay Wright. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987.

Welburn, Ron. “Jay Wright’s Poetics: An Appreciation.” MELUS 18 (Fall, 1993): 51-70.