Sunday Review: Bone Light
a chapbook from Yasmin Belkhyr
[ Akashic Books / 2017 / 30 pp ]
Yasmin Belhkyr reminds me of the prose poem’s ability to build large worlds on a small plots of land, to web linearity into a vessel for body knowledge. Yasmin braids modes of storytelling so tightly I have to hold these poems under a microscope to read their DNA: allegory, mythology, and selfhood. Every word in Bone Light is at least as heavy as a continent. The weight lies in lineages.
‘Salé, 2013’ like much of the manuscript, is concerned with the terrors of intimacy.
We rushed past this: a cluster of boys, bodies brown and long, shoulders too big for their chests. A clenched fist and two boys dropped, wrapped around each other, every part of them touching. Meryam and I are not as similar as I hoped. Do you see where this is going? I don’t know why whales or elephants mourn the way they do. A new song for each death. A whole herd carrying bones for miles.
When I read this poem I feel acutely the sensation of being enveloped at arm’s length. I feel I am learning the distance (or lack of) between myself and the speaker above anything else. I am learning the congealed menagerie between us. At times it is difficult to tell if the people who appear in Bone Light are living within poems or if the poems themselves have lept off the page to stand in the sun.
In ‘Two Truths & a Mouth of Lies’ Yasmin demands obligation from the reader by presenting us with a litany of scenarios to which we must ascribe truth or falsehood.
A boy kissed a boy against the fence behind the pool. I can’t explain death to anyone, least of all myself. I smile at strangers. When I was told the truth, I broke the mirrors and sobbed. I saw a man on a bike get hit by a car today. I don’t mean a thing I say.
With my sense of urgency snared, the speaker feigns a relinquished power of expression. All the while she is waiting at the back door of the poem, patient and cradling my attention in her cupped palms.
I get the sense often in this work that Yasmin is refracting a single outcome through different versions of herself. The voices in Bone Light are learned in fatalism and quick to tender where they have not overlapped in trauma. The word grit comes to mind for me, not as methodical perseverance, but rather in the way that teeth meet each other in tension. These poems both delight and shudder at their own telling. They shudder with such force; they will certainly fall from the tongue.
Visit Wesleyan University to purchase the chapbook set.
Reviewer / Xandria Phillips
Five Things with Matthew Zapruder
1. The last thing that made you smile.
When the front door opened and my two year old son who I was holding in my arms enthusiastically and quite surprisingly said, Konichiwa! to a bunch of people who are not Japanese.
2. A secret.
I have no idea how to write poetry.
3. The last thing you wrote.
A poem called “When I was Fifteen” and a short talk called “An Address to the Oakland Rotarians,” that I delivered at a luncheon of the anachronistic and lovely Oakland Rotary Club.
4. Favourite city.
Washington, D.C., where I was born. It’s such a hateful place in so many ways. But it’s beautiful and eerie. And it produced Dischord Records.
5. What you’d place in a time capsule.
A recording of Vic Chesnutt’s “In My Way, Yes.”
Matthew Zapruder is the author of four books of poetry and Why Poetry, a book of prose about poetry, from Ecco/Harper Collins in August 2017. An Associate Professor in the MFA at Saint Mary’s College of California, he is also Editor at Large at Wave Books. He lives in Oakland, CA.
a story from Shane Jesse Christmass
“Sexual machination. Skeleton crushed by rock. Your work-worn hands. Your eyes shine.”
I’m just now re-learning how to read short stories, novels, etc. after a lifetime of reading poetry collections. However, this story by Shane Jesse Christmass appealed to me not only for its title, but its form. I’m reminded of a prose poem here with its blockiness and varying sentences, repetition and alliteration. Along with the theme of death, there’s several mentions of sex and sex-related things, but it never feels sexy or sensual, especially with the phrase “Condoms contain rats.”
What I enjoy about this story is the juxtaposition of beautiful, earthy sentences like “A soft night breeze” followed by “You’re dead”, which opens up to even more unflinching and dark comedic comparisons between class, political ideology, and destruction. The bomb still explodes whether you’re reading this story at the beginning or the end, and the bomb isn’t even the most gripping aspect. It’s the spiraling and unspiraling that keeps me reading every line.
Visit Peach Mag to read the story.
Contributing Editor / Hannah Cohen
Collective Nouns for Humans
a story from Kathy Fish
Kathy Fish’s poem gutted me. It started making the rounds on social media just after the Texas shooting in the U.S. church, an incident that is as horrific for its scale as it is for its familiarity. A quick look at Jellyfish Review’s social media reflects the energy the poem is building. I’m happy to join the chorus. Because, like so many people in America, I am looking for sense. I am looking for the argument that convinces the stout and immoveable to give an inch. To cede some ground on an issue that boils down to the fundamental questions of who we will be as a nation. Maybe we can’t win on reasonable gun control, but maybe just maybe, we can cut through the bullshit and agree, as a nation, that if we say a man with a history of domestic violence should be allowed to have an AR-15, then we are also agreeing that a group of children, a gathering at a church, every human walking in our country is a target, and nowhere is safe.
Visit Jellyfish Review to read the story.
Contributing Editor / Reneé Bibby
a poem from Tiana Clark
“ I grind my teeth at night
wake to white sand in my mouth:
nocturnal silt, gritty loam.”
As much a visual and aural experience as it is a poem, ‘Cross/Bite’ is a exercise in contemplation, something self-reflexive that gives way to new lenses with which to view the self. The sharp division of the lines creates a tentative structure, the verse runs across sharp ridges of architecture, building upon one another while remaining strictly bisected. It leaves the sensation of balanced asymmetry. The towering language and vivid imagery builds its own sense of rhythm, an echo of the body’s rhythm, the sound of the imperfect, the unexpected. The way we forget that biology can create its own poetry.
“Oh, the typewriter in my bones—
yes, I would miss that click/clack the most”
Visit Heart Journal to read the poem.
Contributing Editor / Joyce Chong
poems from Meghan Maguire Dahn
In a small act of coincidence, perhaps, I came across this poem not too long after having a good conversation with a new friend, a fellow poet, about the literary world, politics, and personal responsibility. We talked about how we can work to better our little corner of the world. And so I was/am shook by the poem ‘Public Works’ by Meghan Maguire Dahn in the new journal Small Orange. This stanza, in particular, won’t quit me:
“On the third day we must ask
what matters more—
Beauty or the Public Good.”
This short poem, centered on snails mating in Florida (“the iridescent twist and release”), reads to me as a necessary moment of sober reflection on how we intersect with, overwhelm, and replace the natural world; how a binary like “Beauty or the Public Good” is both false and heartbreakingly resonant. I’m not sure what note the poem ends with; the speaker offers themselves as the healer of broken necks—such a violent, specific injury—and I find myself unsure, uncertain, caught between extremes, thinking about power (“and each of your subordinates”) and the generosity on display here.
Visit Small Orange to read the poems.
Contributing Editor / Andrew Sargus Klein
music from SZA
In ‘Supermodel’, SZA untangles the many feelings and aspects of a former relationship. This landscape shows her wrestling with many selves—she’s determined to move on, she’s (justified in) being petty, she recognizes the attachment she’s made, she’s still asking for emotional support. She switches on a line to line basis.
Consider: “Lemme tell you a secret. I been secretly banging your homeboy. Why you in Vegas all up on a Valentine’s Day? Why am I so easy to forget like that?” I love that we get both the jab and the feeling that inspired it in successive order. She essentially tells him that he wasn’t ALL THAT in a singsong voice that feels more keep-you-up-at-night than nursery rhyme, why he’s gone quickly becoming rhetorical while she’s confident in her decisions. “Why am I so easy…” calls us to imagine spaces in which she wouldn’t be forgotten, to see more permutations of her that exist outside of this relationship. Why is she so easy to forget here? Because here is singular; here is his.
While ‘Supermodel’ is laid out as a series of confessions & questions towards this ex-boyfriend, at this point they aren’t really meant for him. Really asking/saying this one-on-one might reinstate the connection or further destroy her, but pushing them into a space where others can hear/weigh in has a guaranteed outcome—she won’t carry this alone. Going back to alternates, every “I need you” acts as a direct flip of “I need me”, showing us how delicately she has to decide if she’s gonna build herself up or lean on another. She wants the two entwined, but in this relationship, it’s impossible. When she says, “I can be your supermodel if you believe, if you see it in me”, the your (as in “I’ll create this for you specifically, not even myself”) & ifs (as in “you gotta give me something to work with”) are crucial.
In the video, having this assumably ex-boyfriend loom in her personal spaces only to laugh throughout really upset me, especially because the panning implies she’s the only person who can see/hear him. He’s uncentered and muted, a phantom of the past only drawn into the room by her remembering. Yet the shots in the bedroom feel like a modified Snow White where she’s centered over everything else. SZA’s not questioning her beauty, no longer tapping the glass and asking for its confirmation that she can exist as she wants. Even as an audience, we can’t hear him over the pour of her confessions. We’re rightfully swept up in her.
After SZA’s guided to the forest, she struts along as light & glitter stream across her and the trees, cheered on by all the young girls who only add more glitter to crown her. Orbs of light appear under each step and a subtle smirk plays across her lips until she spies him at the foot of her runway. He’s laughing so hard that his eyes barely flutter open. He’s laughing so hard that the glitter gets pulled into the void of his body and never returns. He’s always laughing until he’s laughed at: a crowd of children and SZA herself shoot sparks under his feet as he bounces around in agony. This transmutation of her old feelings, ones that popped inside her body and kept her curled in insecurity like this ex on the ground, feels apt & satisfying. The lyrics hit a vulnerability that sometimes feels directly in the midst of this mess, so we know that this current freedom & joy are hard-won. Let’s revel in them with her.
Visit YouTube to view the video.
Contributing Editor / Nix Thérèse