With the transition of spring into summer, and the gradual lifting of stay-at-home orders, we enter into airy Gemini season. Ruled by the planet Mercury, this sign is symbolically represented by Castor and Pollux, the twin sons of Leda. Geminis are chatty, witty, and often the life of a party. They love to collect and consider information, which leads some to think they are indecisive. However, that quest for intellect also makes this sign a jack of all trades. Give them a call if you want to know about various types of clouds or what the independent party candidates can add to an upcoming election—they’ll have answers for both. In their negative expression, Geminis can be characterized as childlike, non-committal, and restless. Speaking of restless, that’s how I felt attempting to identify this month’s book selections before landing on two books that highlight gender inequity and identity, intersecting in imaginative and realistic and always-necessary ways.
First off is Baltimore-based Jalynn Harris’s debut poetry collection, Exit Thru the Afro. Published in April by the writer’s own independent SoftSavagePress, this chapbook holds poems about primarily queer African American figures from history, literature, music, film, and elsewhere. Exit carves out room for Black, queer stories of the near and distant past, curating them under section titles such as “Modern Art” and “Sculpture Garden,” and making the reader feel as if they’re on a lively exploration of a museum. With the upbeat spirit of Gemini, Exit folds in personal and intimate narratives among investigations of important yet oft-forgotten figures, such as Olympic swimmer Simone Manuel, ex-Surgeon General Joyceleyn Elders (forced to resign in 1994 for her pro-masturbation stance), comedian Moms Mabley, and early 18th-century poet Phillis Wheatley, just to name a few.
One of the many standouts is the vivid “Wildflower,” dedicated to Marsha P. Johnson, a Black transgender activist and central figure in the Stonewall Riots in 1969. Readers can tell Harris is an expert at working metaphor when she writes about Johnson: “she gives good face and doesn’t intend/ to stay long, so make sure you save the seeds.” This line alludes all at once to Johnson’s early death at age 47, her ability to “serve” face, and her critical role advocating for gay rights. In order to fully satisfy Gemini curiosity, Harris includes a “Museum Map” at the end of Exit (commonly known as a glossary), to ensure readers are properly acquainted with all these resonant icons. This playful and informative queer feminist read is an ideal way to kick off Pride month.