The first time I met Tommye, his hair was working on some wild allusion to Cornel West. He was doing a reading at the Scarab Club in the Cass Corridor, back when I was convinced that poetry in this town just wasn't for me. The poets here all seemed to be in committed incestuous poem-ships, and I was on the periphery, drooling. New York had dumped me and Detroit was flirting, but was doing so with someone else's name on its corset, if you know what I mean.
Anyway, Tommye scared the fuck out of me. That night, he just looked fucking smart. He talked about his poems in a way that made me wish I knew how to talk about anything I cared about. He talked about his influences in a way that made me want to read more and come back when I was a big girl. I don't now remember most of those influences. But I remember that he mentioned Carl Phillips. And back then, that scared me. I had read Carl Phillips. I would even tell people I liked Carl Phillips. But I never said I got it. I just figured I wasn't grown up enough for him yet.
After his few moments of opening, however, I just plain wasn't ready. I wasn't ready for Tommye Blount to read. Wasn't ready for the world of Tommye Blount to crash into mine. I wasn't ready to hear about his family the way Tommye talks about family. Because it's that way, that way you need to hear about family. The sore, sour taste from the trees we lick at in the woods behind our back screen doors. The screens with the holes in them. The screens the spiders get through. The backdoors our neighbors can wave to us through, across the alley, but the ones that we really wish we could figure out how to hide, or saw off, or bury. If only we could live without a back door. Tommye's family was my family.
I knew we would be friends.
I also knew it would take awhile. I wasn't sure then why.
It turns out, that it would take awhile because Tommye is quiet. His days in the world of labor are pretty monotonous and he savors the venom the way the rest of us should take note on. He drives home to Novi and burns his lamp lights on figuring out what familiar hell has to do with poems.
Tommye is one of the keenest poets in Detroit. He can do anything in a poem. He can clean out a chicken coop as it turns into a parent. He can kick the ground with Pinocchio's wooden flailing bones. He can wrestle a swarm of bees into the stomach of desire and yield a nectar that'll turn a man into meat.
Plus, he's a great friend. The one I can make noises with. The one I can switch subjects on. The one who has to call me back if So You Think You Can Dance is on. The one I can ask about Italian poets and he can help me spell it. The one whose movie recommendations I know might be gory, but well worth the blood. And yeah, the one I can do my arbitrary, random crying thing in front of at Border's. I don't know what I'd do without him. Frankly, I wonder how the average joe gets by.
And don't let him swap a poem with you. You'll never be the same.