In Min Hayati, Rayya Liebich honours her mother’s life and death, recalling her own experience of both. Most compellingly, she writes about what it is like to keep living after the death of such an influential and well-loved figure in her life, using an approach that explores grief with honesty and openness.
The title of Rayya Liebich’s moving collection of poetry means “Who is my life?” in Arabic. The poems in Min Hayati provide answers to this question as Liebich mourns the death of her mother, the woman who gave her life, the woman whose life meant so much to Liebich. What makes the poems in Min Hayati so stunning is their frank discussion of grief and mourning, because the emotions associated with loss are so often well-guarded. Liebich is vulnerable in these poems, taking grief beyond the singular event of the moment of death and the singular event of a funeral and leading the reader through the process of learning to live without a loved one. What is it like when a memory suddenly surfaces? Does one ever really move on?
Water imagery washes through the poems in this collection. For Liebich, grief is like an ocean; it has unfathomable depths and can ebb and flow like the tide. Occasionally, the overwhelming waves of grief are almost comforting, a sensation she describes in the poem “Plea”. Sometimes, grief and memories are like rain, coming on suddenly and soaking into the speaker’s very skin like an ambush, as in the poem “Birthdays, Deathdays”: “but the ambush comes / beyond time / always / without warning.”
Although the poems in Min Hayati are sparked by the event of her mother’s death, the core of every poem is anchored by Liebich’s immense love for her mother, and for her other family connections. Poems like “Wild Cat” and “J-e-l-l-o” commemorate her mother’s caring and open spirit, the ways she loved her daughters unconditionally. In “Our Wardrobe on Victoria Street, Montreal,” the speaker and her sister play dress up in their mother’s closet, enchanted by the fur coats and soft hats that belong to their parents. The mood of this poem is playful and nostalgic, lending an air of levity to the collection.
Min Hayati was hard for this reviewer to read in one sitting because of its achingly beautiful tone and the feelings of longing it inspired. I recommend taking time to let Liebich’s prose wash over you like water, sitting with each poem before moving on. I enjoyed taking my time to wade through each beautiful image. The journey through Min Hayati is bittersweet, but ultimately incredibly rewarding: Liebich reminds the reader that grief is utterly human, and it is not always pretty, sure, but grief is not always hideous. It can be shot through with beauty as we remember those closest to us, and honour their memory.
(update provided in 2022) Rachel Fernandes is working on her PhD in English at Queen’s University. She sometimes writes poems and often writes reviews. She likes cooking and playing with her dog.