If you’ve never read anything by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, you probably have no idea how much of a real treat you’re in for when you pick her latest poetry collection, Bodymap. It’s her strongest set of poetry yet. Lyrically these are a tight set of poems, filled with gorgeous, evocative images. They’re visceral, tough but soft, just like the hard femmes some of the poems are about, as well as Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha herself. In fact, the poem “my city is a hard femme” was definitely one of my favourites:
When I left Worcester, I took the smirk I learned from the side
walk with me,
the girl gang of wild weed trees busting through every
vacant lot like a bank robbery
kicking down the door with the grin of getting everything for free.
I’m as hard-assed as every pretty broken thing in town,
every donut shop that’ll tell you off in a heartbeat,
every dress with just one fucked-up thing
dug out of the Auburn TJ Maxxx quadruple clearance rack.
My city is a lovely tough girl
asking you what the fuck you’re looking at,
all fitted up in skintight dirty redbrick & vinyl siding
My city a broken
with a necklace of junk trees blooming
from her throat.
Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s peoms can also be clever and funny, like here:
you said, well, you look like a million dollars
& I wondered what a million dollars looks like
minus 187 in overdraft plus fees looks like
cause I have looked like that.
Although slim like most poetry collections, Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha has packed in a lot of stuff: playing off other queer poets like Amber Dawn and Qwo-Li Driskill, tough ideas about love, relationships falling apart, mental and physical illness—some of which is really hard to read about—as well as disability through a queer lens. The poems about disability are the most empowering in the book:
this your work:
like other invalids able to make art under the sheets
to be blessed just for breathing
this labour not paid not union:
this is your work.
oh crip car whose arms I fall into after thirty years on public transit
you are every other crip car some of us are lucky enough to have
carrying bones that ache and shiver out the house
to every doctor’s appointment, play party, the bridge not the bus.
some people have a house at 38:
I have you.
I am thirty-four and when I start fucking you and the other one,
I decide I don’t want to date anyone who’s not a crip ever again.
Same as when the end of white boys happened, I sink gratefully
into the pleasure of never having to explain.
There are also a lot poems about family here, including a really moving, honest poem called “My Father, Christmas 1991, As I Come Down the Stairs in Ripped Jeans and That Jane’s Addiction TShirt With All the Naked People on It,” which is written from the perspective of her father about her early twenties college self. There’s also a love letter to Toronto and her chosen family there.
Although a lot of Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s writing in this book is emotional, raw, and consequently sometimes tough to read, it also has some really inspiring, comforting poems. The kind of words you can look to in tough times, that you could put on your fridge to look at and remind yourself that you’re going to get through things, that you’re strong. Like on finding your people:
you’re going to find the people you can sketch the secret inside of
the world with. if you can’t find them you can sketch the secret
inside of your world
and queer brown femme friendship:
the gratitude that is rust brown laughter and a million hair flowers and a million broken beautiful bitches in a clothing swap, stripper heels and space heaters on high and yes girl, get that, you need that, yes. it’s the taco truck and the tea garden, it’s homegirl laughter on a couch is where you can always come home.
The book ends with an incredibly beautiful poem, a deeply comforting poem, despite the title, that acknowledges the complex mixture and pleasure and pain, good and bad, that is our world:
“the worst thing in the world”
this is the truth: every worst thing you can imagine will come true.
you and your ex bff will be asked to keynote a conference together,
and both of you will say yes.
your daughter will indeed hate you. mothering and living are
both losing propositions. that’s
no reason not to do them. the answer is in what comes after. what
you answered the worst thing in the world with. already in the
afterfuture. breathe in breathe out. everything is not going to
stop changing on you.
hey you sicksauce survivor stunner
you who asked a lot will not always have the right answer.
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
So why don’t you pick up this book, and as Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha writes,
and then go explode the whole known world
which is like explore but with just one letter different