Hard Times
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Published in: March-April 2024 issue.


by Darius Stewart
Belt Publishing. 260 pages, $19.99

BE NOT AFRAID of My Body is a poetic recounting of a gay Black man’s life. In beautifully moving language, poet Darius Stewart explores his race, sexuality, class, and addictions, revealing both his gift for self-reflection and his penchant for self-destructive behavior.

            Growing up in Knoxville, Tennessee, Stewart had a complicated relationship with his family. In the memoir, he is close to his mother, playing ball games and dancing with her in the living room, but he feels much less comfortable around his father. He remembers his father twice catching him “prancing around … wearing my sister’s fluffy, pink slippers.” This is his first sense that his desires toward men were something shameful and to be hidden. Stewart’s father also beats him when he’s caught stealing gum at a local convenience store.

            As an adult, when Stewart tells his parents, in two separate conversations, that he is gay and HIV-positive, both times his father decrees that they will keep this in the family, that no one else must know. Father and son do share a taste for alcohol, though; his mother leaves the dining room table one night as they drink multiple chasers and shots. Fortunately, his mother is much more supportive, taking him to the emergency room after a bee sting and self-medication with vodka. However, when he tells her he has been tested for HIV, after he has come out to her but before his positive diagnosis, she responds with “You don’t have to like it.” He finds her matter-of-fact tone the most unsettling part of this conversation.

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Charles Green is a writer based in Annapolis, Maryland.