By Cindy Lyles
Alongside Shockley’s bold choice to write a poem using only names of black women, her stanza construction also makes a daring statement in “mesostics for the american grammar book.” The names are intentionally grouped in specific stanzas, which allows for intriguing discussion in the continuation of this decoding process.
[Related: Decoding “mesostics from the american grammar book” Pt. 1]
“doroThy dandridge / yellow maRy peazant / hAlle berry / helGa crane / marIah carey / Clare kendry” all appear in a stanza together. These women share the commonality of being light-skinned, which they are noted for in their individual cases. That observation alone warrants further examination, especially when considering that the vertical phrase “TRAGIC” traverses the names.
Shockley purposely selects the women for the “TRAGIC” stanza, as each one represents a version of the tragic mulatto. Actress Dorothy Dandridge portrayed variations of the tragic mulatto throughout her film career. The character of Yellow Mary Peazant was a product of rape yielding her of biracial ancestry. Both Halle Berry and Mariah Carey have white mothers and black fathers. In their respective novels, Helga Crane and Clare Kendry were biracial and so light-skinned that they could pass for white.
In addition to their light skin tones, each woman faced social hardships and setbacks, thus warranting the moniker tragic mulatto. Shockley cleverly conjures the image of a tragic mulatto by selecting the names of sometimes troubled, light-skinned/biracial women to compose the word “TRAGIC” in this stanza.
A closer look at the above stanza and remaining verses of the poem shows that the women in the collectives symbolically exemplify the vertical phrase they spell out, thus demonstrating Shockley’s calculated approach in her selection and arrangement of names in each stanza. Happenstance is not a factor for Evie Shockley in “mesostics for the american grammar book.” Every move she makes is deliberate and leads up to her main point of “TRAGIC MATRIARCH AT YOUR SERVICE,” which will be next stop in the decoding process.
Evie Shockley Week