Part of ten chapbooks in the latest New Generation African Poets box set—a collaboration from the African Poetry Book Fund and Akashic Books—Bone Light by Yasmin Belkhyr is wistful and lush. Although this collection is parted into three sections, to me, the chapbook moves cohesively as one long poetic sequence. The connective use of prose poem blocks, short and lively phrases, and associative movement from image to image makes Bone Light feel like one gorgeous piece. I am gripped by this chapbook, by the longing and ruin that pervades the poems here.
Across dreamscapes, across landscapes of Morocco and America, across layers of memory and emotion, Belkhyr deftly writes through complicated imagery and reflections. I am especially interested in the ways in which Belkhyr describes pain—the speaker often gravitates towards representations of decay, violence, and absence—hurt things, things disappeared or disappearing. The speaker states early in the collection: “Everything we do to one another can be explained by love. Even violence. Especially violence,” and it is this violent love, this tender violence that is everywhere: men slaughtering goats, the mother’s miscarriages, a burst peach, worms, violent action movies that the speaker watches with her brother, dogs dying, dogs biting the speaker in dreams, a man on a bike getting hit by a car. The speaker’s meditations on violence are highlighted especially in the poem, “Interlude with Forgotten Myth, or, Portrait of Ibrahim’s Daughter”:
I have a recurring dream in which my father breaks the neck of every pigeon in the park. I help: a good daughter. I snatch them from the air & tear out the feathers. Bloody. In the stories, there was a king named Ibrahim & he loved his god. No one calls me foreign but I know that’s what they mean. In the stories, girls like me sweat out the fevers, drop dirty guns in the trash chute. We rip the rabbit’s heart right out of its fucking chest. All that red-soaked skin under our fingernails. All I do is think about stories. About history, or his story, or her story, or my story. They’re all the same story really. Someone always ends up holding something mangled.
There is an anxiety around these nightmarish images—“I wince at the idea of anything entering my body,” the speaker admits in a later poem, expressing a vulnerability, an uneasiness of the viciousness in the world, these “little fears and aches, the stupid rust in my chest.” It seems that Belkhyr uses the framework of dreams to explore these subjects of ruin and pain—many of these poems begin with a statement with regard to sleeping and dreams, such as: “I have a recurring dream,” “In dreams,” “I don’t stay up late anymore,” “There are moments when I don’t know if I’m sleeping or not.” This framework allows a whimsy to the language, a flexibility to express these aches with a wild, surreal power.
In the compact space of a chapbook, Bone Light demonstrates Belkhyr as a bold and necessary voice. I am excited by the work done in this chapbook and will be certain to follow Belkhyr’s writing in the future. I read Bone Light in one sitting, with an avidness and need—if you have not read Belkhyr, get excited.
Yasmin Belkhyr is a Moroccan writer and editor. She is the author of Bone Light (APBF & Akashic Books). Her poems have appeared in Salt Hill, PANK, Muzzle, and SOFTBLOW. She is the founder & EIC of Winter Tangerine. She currently lives in Brooklyn. You can buy Bone Light as part of the New-Generation African Poets: NNE chapbook boxset here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
EMILY CORWIN is an MFA candidate in poetry at Indiana University-Bloomington and the former Poetry Editor for Indiana Review. Her writing has appeared in Gigantic Sequins, Day One, Hobart, smoking glue gun, and elsewhere. She has two chapbooks, My Tall Handsome (Brain Mill Press) and darkling (Platypus Press) which were published in 2016. Her first full-length collection, tenderling is forthcoming in 2018 from Stalking Horse Press. You can follow her online at @exitlessblue.