All the Blood Involved in Love
In Maya Marshall’s first full-length collection, All the Blood Involved in Love, the titular “blood” refers both to the gore and violence that often accompanies actual or imagined sexual reproduction, and to family. Marshall links questions of Black womanhood to the broader sociopolitical climate of our times, as when, in “To Deliver All Stillborn Safely,” the poet reflects on “American rot,” including “the people cop-murdered in the streets and / governments saving rapists’ fruit to spite the women bearing it.” The poem then explodes into a fiery, visceral image:
In my nightmare, twin black boys erupt from my pelvis
—through bone, flesh, and pubic hair—
form igneous rock when they hit the air.
Many poems wrestle with societal and familial expectations related to caretaking. In “Baptism,” the speaker and her brother exchange promises about caring for their dying mother: “She can live with me when it’s time to wash / her softest parts, hear her final secrets, watch her next rebirth.” In “Caregiving,” the focus is on an elderly man “haunted by his living mother,” who “wanders her house outside, or fully inside of her mind”:
There’s sweetness in rot. Like the oranges K—brought for Christmas: bright and hardening by January—wrinkled, shriveling, still moist inside. The breast and pure white brassiere. Her skin and diaper.
It’s clean where her lost breasts have gone. Who will take care of this man who blushes to dress his mother?
These shifts in emphasis allow for a nuanced approach to difficult and often complex issues. In “Abortion Ban,” Marshall uses direct metaphors to chilling effect:
A livebirth with a dead mother is a school lunch.
A stillbirth is a twenty-thousand-dollar bill.
A pregnant black woman is a dead black woman.
A black woman who miscarries is a dead crow.
In the poem “Lavender Menace Adopts a Black Boy,” Marshall imagines a “Black boy” who “could be / a first cousin once-removed,” who “looks / like a father he’s never seen,” is “a grandma’s boy,” or “a dragonfly: brilliant, iridescent, / conspicuous in flight,” before closing with: “A single black boy is the / softest avocado in the market.”