we’ve always come on boats. we’re going to keep coming. we know the waves and rough water. / bless the rough water and the small boats. / bless the worst thing.
Lambda Award winner Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s book of poetry, Bodymap, covers a lot of terrain. All of it is personal, all of it is raw, all of it keeps you turning the pages and makes your heart beat and wither and burst.
It’s a tumultuous journey through otherhood, the fleeting things that change us, and the fights we have with ourselves in the mirror and in our heads. Leah’s a powerful guide, armed to the teeth with confessions, a steadfast sense of humanity, and a killer optimism. Bodymap is the winding tale of a 30-something’s journey in this world, one centered around her experiences as a queer, disabled femme of color from working-class roots and with a legacy in diaspora.
The title poem is about love and how it changes us, how it helps us erase and redirect the past and our emotions and maybe even the things that make us tense or anxious or uncomfortable. Throughout the book, Leah’s searching for salvation — by laying in bed with her vibrator, fucking in bathrooms, driving a beat-up car across the bridge, or clinging tightly to the people who show her themselves and a little bit about herself in the process.
The poems cover a lot of ground, but they never lose the unwavering voice. They never lose the strength, the drive, the relentless pushing and scraping and grasping for more. Leah’s activist spirit and tender queer heart fill the pages, every one. It didn’t hurt that I saw so much of myself in the book, hidden inside the dirty bar bathrooms and in love on someone’s couch. But the way Leah writes let me see her, too, in all of her glory and splendor and low points. Her poems go where other poems so often can’t or won’t, past watching Netflix all night because of fibro and the people who can’t love us like we need to be loved and forgiving ourselves for how we treated our parents and how delicious freedom tastes even when it’s hard to swallow and hard-fought.
It can be easy to obscure yourself in poetry, to hide your own ugly or to write so many lines about how much you loved your kindred spirits and all of their faults until you run out of room to talk about the other stuff you’re carrying across borders. But Leah doesn’t.
This is all of it, all the guts and all the hurt and all the days she lusted to leave her office or to go home or to get out of bed.
I gave myself one week to read Bodymap. It didn’t even take me three days, each one spent waiting until the commute to and from work to tear into it and read and reread the poems on the train until I missed my stop or felt a little less alone in this world. There’s something about the kinds of stories that acknowledge the desolation and the hopelessness but refuse to forget the amazing stuff we do in spite of it, or in the thick of it.
I told myself 2015 was the year of living my truths. I’m excited to have a guide in this book, and in Leah’s soulful mission to love and be loved — the rest of it be damned.
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