Friday, August 07, 2020

The closed coffin in Toni Morrison and Patricia Smith

Like Emmett Till's, Chicken Little's body in Toni Morrison's Sula is found three days after his death, "unrecognizable to almost everybody who once knew him," but at his funeral, "the coffin [is] closed." As Patricia Smith notes in one of her "Emmett Till: Choose Your Own Adventure" poems, "Mamie Till insisted on an open casket so that the world could see her son's mutilated body." In Smith's poem, though, Emmett's coffin is closed, so people imagine his body with only "perhaps a scrape or two / beneath his laundered shirt." In Smith and Morrison, the black child's "unrecognizable" body is hidden, so the imagination can deny the violence done to it. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 7 August)


The Smith poem is quoted in this review of her book Incendiary Art.

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