A review of The Architecture of Dust by Chike Nzerue

Reviewed by Michellia Wilson 

Architecture of Dust
by Chike Nzerue
Tupelo Press/Leapfolio
Jan 2023,ISBN: 978-1-946507-09-9, Paperback, 88 pages, $21.95

A book with striking imagery and traditional use of white space, and pleasing imagery, one cannot go wrong in reading The Architecture of Dust by Chike Nzerue.  The poetry pops off the page with intellect and visual use of medical murals throughout this graceful book. Four parts of the floral, the ancient dirt, song and the blues all in a volume of eclectic poetry.

Nzerue’s medical background brings a deep understanding of the topics addressed in this volume, creating imagery that transform the meticulous renderings of the medical field into an arena of understandable rhetoric.  There are so many well crafted lines that it is difficult to pull the best to critique. In the section called Tulips & Breath, the poem, “What Is On The Line”, opens with song, lyrics, dancing – all things captured in music drifting from the page to our ears.  “Through the mind’s eyes,/Through those seas/Bearing the searing lash & ecstatic gash of its rules.”  The reader wades through the sea of blues music and dance, not plucked from just any instrument but by B.B. King’s beloved Lucille.

In “Ode To Breath”, sparse medical jargon tightens this poem into a set of lungs inflating and deflating, “…release with a cage of ribs—“. One can envision the depth of breaths, yet lightly exhaled into “a blown kiss”. It is easy to see these motions in the mind’s eye.

In “Stethoscope”, we get a quick picture of a disturbing snake coiled around the neck of a white coated physician.  Drawn in by Keats, a ventriloquist and his “dummy”, poetry spills from the “staff of Hermes”.  The Good Doctor draws us quickly in with an entanglement of his medical background with his knowledge of literature, “…we’re mired in bleak/straits, like Keat’s lines –/together…”

Melancholy opens with “A Prayer for My Brother”.  “That I was not there when you died/ tightens me, like a knot.”  We can feel that knot being knit and pulled tightly as the poem opens. A snip of sadness eclipses and unfolds like a blooming black rose as we read of his demise, broken promises set in stone, tributes in want of happening:

I want to pour the red aged/wine over the broken/years we shared.”  
“I trail your ghost, claim
the sweetest verve of our past,
and rue what’s lost.

The book ends as sadly as it opens bringing together the first of four parts with stirring music, striking images and death that tightens the gut.

In part II, Special Topics In Dust Archeology, “House of Dust”, we again visualize the porch with a bees nest, where the screen door creeks and the entry is that of discarded pizza boxes and the stench of stale beer.  We get an immediate sense of an empty house as dust disturbed by the writing of children, and darkness.  The yard even yields its dust as the “weed flags” fly.

“Mediterranean Dust”, toys with form as it takes on an oceanic break yielding right, left, right.  Ocean lore is caught in the waves of this piece as sea gods are pulled from the sand to stories for the entertainment of children.  The stories render grief but awaken with lullabies. The ocean in its inevitable vastness washes over the reader in this piece.  The rest of the section sprinkles dust throughout and ending the section, one’s shoes must be shaken of the dust and sand acquired reading through this skillfully mastered section.

Part III, Singing American Rivers With Langston Hughes, a rung of poems that takes on writing reminiscent of a post era Hughes tone.  The not so old news of the contaminated waters of Flint Michigan leaving the people having “…now way to know/about the pestilence/of running water from/a slime-scummed river/that leached lead from pipes/to poison the kids.”  This image takes on a Hughes vibe as we once again quickly envision stale, poisoned water consumed by a town of children, moms, dads, grandparents…  Who knows of poverty’s secret – “scald their skies vermillion/& roll them up like Kleenex/while Flint’s fountains weep.  This is a deep and potentially controversial poem that tells it like it is – the humanitarian problem of poison and secrets. Part III unfolds with a poem called, “How to Get Away with a Lynching.”:

Make the rope circular, like
the case to hang him.
Dredge up the rape accusation
that bloodies him into a cell –

That powerful opening conjures the arrest of someone obviously innocent of the serious crime that’s being levied upon him.  There follows “disdain” of the Supreme Court’s decision for execution, and the crowd grows to watch the injustice, somehow justified in their minds.  Prejudice the subject, not justice.  

In Prodigal Son Blues, Part III, the dust begins to wash away.  “Blues for a Prodigal”, lets the reader know that the Njaba River will be “embraced” to wash away the dust. This is the dust that we cough through as we read the three sections falling before the conclusion.  Another poem takes on a visual aesthetic in, “Africa Is Not a Country”.  The refrains are short and in four lines.  We get the feel in this poem that Africa, like so many other places once preserved in traditions, is being westernized.  We envision the long rivers that make up a country of deep roots.  We usually do not let ourselves think of the genocide traded for money.  This narrow, strong piece carves its tributaries in the brain. The Njaba River is again encapsulated in a poem aptly called, “Njaba River Trip”.  White man has made his way through and raped the land.  A bridge adulterates the cutting stones of sullen hills, as Nzerue describes.  Man and his vices, TNT, dynamite, explosives, whatever it takes to reform a river into something more convenient for man to maneuver.  The writer remembers authenticity, thinks of times where bonfires were held to save the woodlands.  A new season swept through and man with his greed and brutality breaks the rock, re-routes the water, and bridges the river, saddening the older people with these man made changes.  

from skeletal trees
with bowed limbs held up
like lyres, mourning loss.

We feel the pain. We see the pain in our minds.We feel as if we need to vindicate the loss, much like we felt in the poem, “How to get Away with a Lynching.”

This book is filled with history, emotion, medical vices, beauty of a land, pain of man’s brutality.This is a book to be read and re-read. This is a relevant book in our times.

About the reviewer: Michellia Wilson is a 57 year old poet living in Northwest Tennessee.  She is disabled but able to work a part time job as director of a small local library. She enjoys all the poetry she finds on a 200 acre family farm. “Everything is poetry”, as she often writes about the nature around her. Michellia has a daughter and two grandchildren, who live on the “other end of the pond.”  Beside reading and writing,  Michellia enjoys spending time with the ladies in her Sunday School class.