I’ll admit, I was attracted to the title. Shades of pink have followed me through my life, showing up in names, flowers, organs, sex. In the summer sunlight, pink is innocent, warm, nurturing, even sensual. In its evening shadows, pink is the reflection of fleeting mortality. Sasha Taqwsəblu Lapointe’s new poetry collection Rose Quartz grapples with the deep wounds inside of us all through evershifting rose-colored glasses.
Split into four chapters — Black Obsidian/Ace of Wands, Opal/Eight of Swords, Rose Quartz/The Lovers, and Moonstone/The High Priestess — Lapointe mixes spells, potions, and witchcaft in a delicate balance of Brothers-Grimm-like fairytales, only to reveal the short distance between fear and death. The beginning of the collection drops us into Lapointe’s reality: an Indegenous woman living in the Pacific Northwest, proclaiming and explaining the world in which her relatives are so inherently linked to the mud and clay around her; “the red paint / is for healing.”
Quite quickly, the reader must grapple with the color red: “she is checking to see / if she is still intact / are the guts here the liver the stomach / the heart.” Eventually, we are left with the emptiness of life without shades of rose: “Half Indian / an older woman laughs / I must take after / a white father / because I can / pass.” We are also left with a world without red: “This beast will go on living / Each beat of its heart tells me, / It will survive and I will not.” What we expect to be whimsical reveals the doomed truth about the reality of 2023. Tales of Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, Hasel and Grettel, all used to sugarcoat colonialism, racism, microaggressions, systems of labor, exchange, and enforcement working against us. The speaker is acutely aware that she cannot separate the mysticism of nature from the inhumanity of humankind.
Deep in the beating heart of this world in which she is trapped, we hear stories of her lovers. Despite the title’s names, the rose quartz that follows her is anything but a fairytale. This spectrum of lively colors stalks her. The care of her lover is saturated in fear; “but at night they came / thorns around my chest / and I forgot how to breathe / my husband sleeping next to me / could not reach me / through the bramble.” These verses, from her poem “Rose Quartz,” speaks to the fear of exposing broken wounds. Painted beneath glistening gemstones and hues of pink, the speaker’s journey through healing climaxes when she gives birth “to a rosebud / still unmoving / deep deep red.” At the core of this tragedy, “my skin / was leaving / my body / organs hardening.” Love and all its baggage is exposure, and exposure is excruciatingly unforgiving in the body and in life.
Like conversations with her grandmother or rituals with the Earth, she searches for some kind of healing from the sharp scars of rose quartz, only to be left with the shadows of a rose-colored life. In her final section of the collection, The High Priestess, she invites us into the wisdom of solitude: “I sat alone in a diamond.” Within this space, the speaker begins to find resolve as she reflects on her own identities in a few verses that will continue to stick with me for awhile: “I am tired of writing / about old things / like grandmothers” only to be followed pages later by “because I will never / be done writing / about old things.” The tormented speaker we learn to empathize with finally sees her life in rose, as told by her grandmother “keep this / with you / it is part / of your story / sometimes / to remember / a wound / is the way / of healing.” We need the reds and the pinks of life, in all of its blood, gore, and vitality.
By the final poem in the collection, I was soothing the truthful stings of my own healing wounds. I placed the book down with a healthy dose of reality, but a fantastical curiosity about how this process works its magic. Rose Quartz is far from the rosy, lovey-dovey, romantic verses and prose I expected, but exceeded my expectations nonetheless.