Mistress: A Review by Maya Carter

Chet’la Sebree, in her premier collection, Mistress, offers an astonishing parallel between the 19th and 21st-century woman and the challenges of navigating Black womanhood at the intersection of men, sexuality, and self-actualization. She creates a speaker born of the innermost thoughts of both Sally Hemings, the slave and alleged mistress of Thomas Jefferson, and herself to create a narrative that illustrates the aforementioned challenges throughout each piece: 

In the never-silence of a bug-hum summer,
you call to me, try to find me

atop west portico steps,
in a hotel placard in Paris,

but you cannot save me. I’m bound
by history. I am burned letters

and bathroom and parking lot at Hampton Inn.
I am broken soup tureen and snapped shears

and rusted skeleton key. I am black wench,
wench Sally, African Venus, Sarah Hemings,

and I cannot be your coalmine canary,
cannot tell you which man will be true.

Chet’la, I cannot save you. You must
find your own truth as fires ripple through you,

as you decide the nature of your landscape—
which bulbs you’ll nurse to blossom—

as you seek peace in this voice
that’s no more you than it is me. [1]

In this piece, Sebree ponders over her own odyssey to self-actualization and the degree to which it mirrors that of Sally Hemings. She seamlessly blends the two consciousnesses without allowing the reader to forget that they are still very much distinctive; such craft places the reader at the center of this double-consciousness and illustrates the running theme of the entire piece: the plights of our progenitors are no more easy nor difficult to navigate than our own.

Mistress is available to purchase at IndieBound.


[1] “Je Suis Sally, August 2017″, p. 69.

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