Tonic: Truth and Li[n]es

Threed. This Road Not Damascus
by Tamara J. Madison
2019 Trio House Press
$16 / 86 pages / Paper
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Reviewed by Angela Gregory-Dribben

Throughout Threed, This Road Not Damascus the percussive natures of Madison’s line, lyric, and story rise up from the ether. The line breaks. The howl of the fifth chakra, blue holler of my throat spins. Another line breaks, my heart breaks, another line mends. This collection is medicine.

Madison sings a song of sovereignty, teaching listeners a lineage of strength as she poets the story of the Three-Breasted Woman: “…And in the 7th hour of the 8th day, the universe poured herself / into herself, and I was born ripple of riveting wind, lotus in my / left hand, machete long as I am tall in my right.” This collection dares us to create our own origin or to believe our intuition regarding our beginnings.

Readers are reminded it is the colonial patriarchal structure that is the myth. We know our beginning and naming it is power. In “Manifesto: Ten Commandments,” she exposes the absurdities we are taught. Readers hear the roaring; this is the tale, “Be a virgin….Be alluring prey…Be unaged.” The last line, “it is Eve’s fault.” But as a woman, as a student of Madison’s work, I know Eve is an ever-Queen.

I salivate over the sounds and possibilities in moments like: “my skin / begins to effervesce / dancing coils / around your lifeline.” I am rocked into alignment with self, generations of voices jazz at the edge of each line:

Pragmatic ecstatic/
Equatorial cool/
The stony silence/
Lynched breaths/
Charming violence/

Mundane exotic/
Intimate agnostic/
Licentious abstention/
Antiquated invention/
Stillbirth rebirth…/

I hesitate to use the word imagination or myth-making when praising this body of work. It storms into my ears more as a testament of truth, of knowing, of a studied committed listener. Madison’s deft weaving of the Bible—a text often employed to protect and promote a sociology detrimental to all that is not white male heterosexual—with her own poetic reckoning took me to my knees again and again. She unravels the deceitful guise that rules so many of us.

I tread carefully at making this collection about me. As a woman, I respond to the poetry from my womb beneath my womb. As a white woman, I know not all of this is to lift me up, moreover it can remind me what my whiteness has done. In “Prophecy: Maternal Lineage” Madison shares:

Grandmama kept you hidden
fearing you’d blotch her milky skin…
Textbooks and scripture twisted
your legacy into caricature.

I say the way you stand there
in your Sunday-dressed best…
daring me to be free, Miss Malinda,
Madame, you were never anybody’s slave.

Tamara J. Madison’s song of sovereignty never abates. This collection conjures ascendancy over the way we see ourselves, over the way one recalls ancestors. Threed, This Road Not Damascus is a service. It is a worship service. It is in service. It is an undoing of dis-service. Imperative.


Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 23, Issue 4.

Angela DribbenAngie Dribben’s debut collection, Everygirl, a finalist for the 2020 Broadkill Review Dogfish Head Prize, is out with Main Street Rag. She is Contributing Reviews Editor at Cider Press Review, Contributing Editor at Cave Wall, a Bread Loaf alum, and an MFA candidate at Randolph College.


Tamara J. Madison is an internationally traveled writer, poet, performer, and instructor. Her critical and creative works have been published in various journals, magazines and anthologies. She has also been published in several anthologies. Her most recent collection is Threed, This Road Not Damascus published by Trio House Press (May 2019). She is also the author of Kentucky Curdled (poetry and essay) and a collection of short stories, Collard County.

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