by Rachel Richardson
Carnegie Mellon University Press, $15.95 (paper)
“Copperhead” is Civil War slang for a northern sympathizer with the secessionist south and also the name of a potentially deadly venomous snake.Double and dangerous: that’s how Richardson sees her lowland Louisiana roots.Her poems confront difficult histories: one speaker wanders the Natchez Trace, a central route during the slave trade, where “the world keeps its silence” and no one “blames me for a thing.” Richardson has admitted a painful heritage, and “blame”—when it appears—figures as a dream-like snake a speaker once “conjured” as a pre-sleep game, “inventing the snake / inventing the venom.”Yet this venom is also as real as the telltale Ku Klux Klan robe Richardson finds in an attic box in“Relic”: “a long gown where a chest / must have breathed, a red cross // crossed over.” Richardson’s best poems lean into silence, as when a speaker poses with her grandmother’s longtime servant:“And in this picture— // my grandmother must have taken it— / you’re smiling, probably because / we’ve been told to. And I’m smiling too / fierce with new teeth.” Less defensive than sorrowful, Richardson asserts,“My grandmother is not hurting anyone,” though the speaker is fully aware of being entangled in a legacy of hurt.At her best, Richardson picks through landmines and vines, past current-day prisons and strip malls, sifting through inheritances. Her conjured, poisoned, rescued poems hang in the balance.