Cornelius Eady's Brutal Imagination
While most fictional characters are given a voice with which to express themselves, that voice usually does not stray beyond their realm of fiction and therefore is restricted from the power of the real world. The imaginary black man that Susan Smith falsely claimed had abducted her children in 1994, however, existed in reality in the minds of the American public for nine days until the truth surfaced about her infanticide. Cornelius Eady’s poetry cycle, Brutal Imagination, serves to give that imaginary black man (hereafter referred to as Zero), a voice that draws power from his simultaneous existence in both the real and fictional realms.
Zero’s voice serves to explain a variety of aspects of his existence, including assertions of his own innocence, criticisms of Susan Smith, explorations of his paradoxical nature, and social commentary regarding the notions of free will versus powerful exterior forces.
Zero is the product of Susan Smith’s and Cornelius Eady’s imaginations, and therefore lacks his own capacity for free will. Eady, however, allows Zero the seeming capacity for free thought and opinion, and therefore the opinions expressed by the character will hereafter be declared to be those of Zero, rather than Eady.
Lucid of his lack of free will, Zero admits, “I float in forces / I can’t always control” (17). In the effort to discover what these external forces are, he feels compelled to explore his origins that caused his inception in the mind of Susan Smith. The attempt is made to explain various hypothetical examples of potential interactions that led to his ultimate creation. He assumes that at a young age, Susan was told that that “All [blacks] do / Is fuck and drink / All they’re good for / Ain’t worth a shit” (11).
Having learned such racist notions at a young age, Susan’s later interactions with blacks were likely to be something less than that of a friendly nature. Setting up another hypothetical situation, Zero posits that “Perhaps I’m a young boy whose dark skin / Ricocheted off her and her friends on a playground” (44). The use of the word “ricocheted” rather than a softer word like “reflected” implies a complete and somewhat violent rejection of that young boy’s skin color by Susan and her childhood friends.
The races are shown throughout Eady’s poetry cycle to be segregated in Union, South Carolina, and it seems that the popular opinion among the white community there is that blacks are only fit to live on “the / Wrong side of the tracks, chocolate town, coonville” (44). Susan’s upbringing and her lack of exposure to blacks as human beings might cause her conception of all blacks as threatening as she imagines Zero to be. Her description of his face to the sketch artist in “My Face” (11) ends up with a drawing that seemingly focuses mostly on a menacing gaze, rather than facial features which may have made Zero slightly more...