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Persons Unknown

Persons Unknown

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Jake Adam York


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
112 pages, 6 x 9

Crab Orchard Series in Poetry


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About the Book

In this stunning continuation to the poetry collection A Murmuration of Starlings, dedicated to those who lost their lives during the Civil Rights movement, Jake Adam York presents another set of searing portraits of these martyrs—men whose murders haunt America’s history. These elegiac and documentary poems seek justice and understanding for such sacrifices as Mack Charles Parker, lynched in Mississippi in 1959, his body disposed of in the waters of the Pearl River; Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee, abducted into the depths of the Homochitto Forest, beaten, and drowned in the Mississippi by the Ku Klux Klan; and Medgar Evers, dedicated activist, whose assassination outside his home in 1963 sent shockwaves throughout the South. Drawing on photographs, articles, legal documents, and other cultural artifacts, York deftly weaves history and memory into a lyrical reckoning for these often-overlooked victims of the bitter struggle for Civil Rights.

A Natural History of Mississippi

A blade of rust from the ocean

and from the air a rumor

that corrodes the earth in tongues,

lichen, moss, magnolia,

until each gossip’s true.

Things go this way,

each green repeating its fact

of sun and wind and rain,

its dialect, its blade,

while beneath each leaf

a quiet cuts between the veins.

Laced, pale wings open

to learn the particular weather,

the place or part of speech

that will darken

and give them a name.

So each sugar furls

to burn and bitter

against whatever mouths

might swallow,

each skin becomes

the history of its harbor,

another word for here.

This hatch of bark and shade

hangs like a photograph

of all it covers, so perfect,

so still, its edges

blur, then disappear.


Jake Adam York is an associate professor of English at the University of Colorado, Denver. His previous volume in this sequence, A Murmuration of Starlings, was published by Southern Illinois University Press in 2008. His poems have appeared in various journals, including Blackbird, Diagram, Greensboro Review, Gulf Coast, H_NGM_N, New Orleans Review, Shenandoah, and Southern Review.


“Jake Adam York’s beautiful poetry reclaims the voices of America’s disappeared.  This elegant victory of memory offers us a map to justice and hope if we but heed the call.”—Susan M. Glisson, author of The Human Tradition in the Civil Rights Movement

“These poems are corrosive, blunt, historical as photographs we know from front-page news, but they have also the depth and tang of sweet dawn before anything has happened, before the lynchings, the blood. . . . Persons Unknown is bravely done work and Jake Adam York is, now, a necessary poet among us.”—Dave Smith, author of Little Boats, Unsalvaged: Poems, 1992–2004

“Elegiac and epic, these poems broaden the limits of the American imagination on the subject of Jim Crow, an era as worthy of mythologizing as the War of Independence or World War II.  I am grateful that York is applying his prodigious talent to this history and I am profoundly shaken by the result.”—Anthony Grooms, author of Bombingham

“Never does Persons Unknown resort to simplistic political hindsight; far more, this is a fine book of poetry, a record of the wounded human heart seeking the balm of time, even in the bitter dark of time.”—Maurice Manning, author of The Common Man