I. Epigraph & Frontis
Before we have even made it to the book’s first poem, Melvin Dixon — a poet well aware that he doesn’t have a moment to waste — begins to work on us. The epigraph from “Words in the Mourning Time” by Robert Hayden which contains the collection’s title beckons, or perhaps pleads with us to “master now love’s instruments” before concluding: “I who love you tell you this, / even as the pitiful killer waits for me, / I who love you tell you this.” Establishing the motif of morning/mourning which will run throughout the collection, Dixon greets us by preparing to say goodbye; the reality of “the pitiful killer” cannot be avoided – even on the page. (This collection was published posthumously after Dixon’s HIV/AIDS related death in 1992.) Even still, it is not the killer, but the love that has the last word — here at least.
The following page features an untitled frontis that appears to be a dialogue between a gay speaker and his father. Here is the exchange in its entirety:
It ain’t right, that sorta thing.
Just don’t come back here.
Me or him, Daddy?
It don’t make me no difference.
If the Hayden epigraph draws our attention to the loss of life, this exchange establishes that in Dixon’s gaze there is more than one loss at work. The epigraph and frontis mirror one another, and in doing so, create a dark but nonetheless true constellation in which to read Dixon’s poems. For all too many men during the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the choice between coming out to one’s family or facing “the pitiful killer” alone in the closet was not a choice at all. As demonstrated here, the speaker is being cast out before he has even has an opportunity to have that crucial conversation with his father. Thus, we as readers enter the collection as outcasts. For here on the outskirts of the book, Dixon has already warned us of the difficulty ahead; love will not so easily (or cheaply) be mastered.
(to be continued…)