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Bone Light by Yasmin Belkhyr

— Xandria Phillips

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.

Cover features two abstract figures in the foreground looking out a window across a tree-lined vista.
Akashic Books  |  2017  |  30 pp

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.

Akashic Books