A Review of Summertime Fine by Jason B Crawford
Book Review by Katharine Blair
(SUMMERTIME FINE, Jason B Crawford, Variant Literature, 2020)
In the shade of the linden tree that has held us through these long months of isolation, I opened Jason B Crawford’s Summertime Fine (Variant Literature, 2020) and found myself transported back to my childhood three decades and a continent away. Burnt feet on asphalt, sweat-slicked and radiant, we ran those streets like only children who know the value of respite can.
Summertime Fine opens with heavy heat. The kind that pushes your lids back down from the time you wake, that makes wading pool water tolerable, that seeps under the skin and makes emotions ride high and delirious just under the surface of everything. When you’re a kid, especially a left-alone kid, a kid who lives by streetlights and meal times, the height of summer is perfection.
We knew we owned that summer, no matter
no matter how much the sun tried to shackle us inside[….]
We made this summer
burn brighter than anything the sun could shatter into.
– “Summertime Fine”
There was a park out the back fence of the co-op where I grew up called Stinky’s. In my memory there was a sign that said as much: city-installed and short-lived. For obvious reasons. This was the mid-80s and my sisters and I were growing up in downtown Toronto in the shadow of Regent Park, one of the city’s most notable housing projects. If there’s a hierarchy of poverty (and there is), we were sitting pretty with our two underemployed parents, our subsidized co-op vs project housing, and our chalk white skin. The kids we ran with weren’t all so lucky.
As a poor kid, if it’s not the way your parents are on you to keep your shoes clean or not give them the satisfaction of watching you fail, it’s the way you’re learning, much too young, how the world is keeping score. If you’re poor and Black, it’s so much more. Crawford is at once defiant (and . here . i . am . black . and . taking . up . all . this . space . again ., from “Space”) and tired.
I know when one girl said she learned
to twerk from Bring It On, it was probably time to leave
– “After Twerking in White Spaces (after Danez Smith)”
There is an awareness that winds its way through every word of never being allowed to relax, to let your guard down and just be (I’m waiting to be enough soil to sprout flowers... Surely, I was not put on this earth simply to die, from “Untitled (Mufa)”) and so these summer nights, the ones where the wheels come off, serve as rare moments when you can feel the whole world exhale around you. And then, then you can breathe.
My grandma taught me the electric
slide. My mother showed me how to ballroom.
And with both we say congratulations.
What sought to kill us has not and will not.
But here, we use our knees to name a new
moon. Blessed party of gods raining joy.
Precious young, our legs hold so much magic.
So much will to cast these spells in the dark.
We, what is left of our joy, here alive.
– “A Broken Sonnet House Party”
Summer for us was 25¢ jumbo freezies from the corner store, every night another invented excuse to share a meal, and work parties to paint fences, weed and plant the gardens, or help someone move. It was people and more people everywhere. It was everything lent out and borrowed. It was food at the house that had it and waking up to new kids in your bed. It was a collective noun of the poor. Poverty is isolating from society at large, but when you’re in it, when you aim to survive it, you sure as shit learn to share.
The co-op was a revolving door of people and families who came and went as their fortunes turned. Everyone was family until they weren’t. We had kids stay with us, family move in, best friends move away in the night. It was dangerous to get attached, to make plans, to dream.
See, that was my childhood, understanding
everything would be temporary.
– “Dairy Queen”
Aren’t things just a little more precious if you know they can’t last? Maybe. But I think most kids would rather some peace.
We left the co-op when I was 13. We left the good way, to a house of our own, but it was still painful to leave. My sister (older to help you picture it) tied herself to the railing with a jump rope and refused to budge; stared Dad down hard when he tried to tell her it would be okay. There’s rolling with the constant change and then there’s upheaval. All of fifteen and already done.
I go back to the co-op now and then. It’s up the block from the midwives that helped deliver two of my boys, and I’ve taken the chance to wander through. It looks different now. Smaller, obviously. But also less somehow, now that it doesn’t run through my veins the same way. It turns out that when you don’t need them, these houses become buildings like any other. I don’t know the kids here anymore, can’t tell who’s eaten and who needs shoes. It turns out one day even the ghosts of your people leave and new ones step in and take over.
I tucked everything about my old block
in my toy box, left it at the house
when I moved away. Ain’t nothing sweet
left for me in that hood. Where the ice
cream stays temporary, time keeps
moving until it’s gone.
– “Dairy Queen”
Cutting through the parking lot now I can see it through my kids’ eyes and it looks like a pretty nice place to grow up. From the outside it probably was. From the inside it was too big to tell.
I want to tell you none of this. I want to hand you this book and say, “Read it. Just trust me,” and know that you will. I want you to see the vibrant pinks and purples of an 8:30 sunset splashed across the flower-clad face on the cover and have it call to you in the voice of a mother three stoops down calling her kids in to bathe. But there are so many books, so many lost summers, and we can’t read them all. So I come here, lay myself out, and hope I’m guiding your hand.
Yesterday I saw three kids playing basketball
after school and I remembered that joy of
Not worried about the things that can kill us.
The number of ways they aim bullets at our
I wish to be young if only for that ignorance.
If only to be able to live like nothing could ever end.
– “Untitled (Carpine)”
Katharine Blair (she/her) is a queer Canadian writer, editor, and poet living in California. When she's not yelling about the books she loves, you'll mostly likely find her wrestling with her own writing or elevating the works of others in her role as co-EIC of Corporeal. Katharine also serves as Chapbook Editor for Lupercalia. She has been published in Trampset, FlyPaper, ODD Magazine & more. Katharine tweets as @katharine_blair and fumbles the rest on Instagram @kat_harineblair.