Don’t Look Away: Soraya Peerbaye’s Tell (poems for a girlhood)

Even flowers are ranked, said the woman watching
the proceedings with me. Roses are worth more
than daisies. Lilies more than daffodils
. I want
her body to stand, be its own testimony. Instead
it’s the jacket, held before the witness,
open, declarative,

while the fair-haired girl behind Plexiglass
says nothing.

The book is divided into sections that alternate between the facts and trial of Kelly Ellard and meditations on who Reena was and might have been. The rhythms and repetitions—multiple poems turning the same ideas and words over and over—mimic the slow, numb withdrawal of the bereaved, as well as the obsessive search for meaning.

Section II, “A pleine gorge” is the thematic center of the book, linking the ravine to the delicate exposure of throat:

Faire des gorges chaudes de quelque chose, de quelqu’un,
to laugh at something or someone

The hyoid. An archaeology of throat.
Son refus m’est resté dans la gorge,…

The sustained descriptions of the gorge where Virk was killed showcase the author’s observational powers while manifesting the human instinct to link a last physical thing—a gorge ancient and indifferent to human suffering—to Reena’s passing. In fact, Peerbaye’s perception is the chief engine of this book, as in “Lagoons and lakes”:

I liked diving best, the warm, lemony
taste of saltwater, the fizz of sand
like leaning my ear to the rim of a glass of Fanta.
Afterwards, salt crusted my eyelashes,…

A look at the inner life of Reena Virk complements the objective scenes and gives a satisfying turn to the meditations: “The girl I don’t want to be floods back / through the saline drip, the bit of bloody backwash in the tube.” Or, “It flared // in the rumours of her— / giving the boys head, / stealing a girl’s phone book / to call the numbers, fling out lies like salt, so they would // see her.”

The urgency of her tone has a futility to it, as those who most need to be informed by Peerbaye’s sensitivities will never hear it. Futile yet necessary. Apart from being immersed in the scenes and moods evoked by the poems, the reader wishes the gangs, dictators, bullies, and thugs elsewhere in the world might know the pain and loss she brings to life with such immediacy.


Roy Wang is from Toronto, but has lived in Detroit for the last 12 years. He has reviewed poetry for the online New Pages, and has been published in Prairie Fire, Jones Av., and Shit Creek Review.



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