You Still Look The Same is Farzana Doctor’s debut poetry collection. She writes about women’s experiences at mid-life. In our 40s and 50s, perhaps, there is the almost requisite tendency to look back—to childhood, to trauma, to wounding—that comes with age and life experience, with perhaps having more years behind us than are still ahead. The poems reflect on love, aging, death, divorce, and even the difficulty of online dating in the twenty-first century. Throughout it all, the speaker’s voice yearns for human connection, but also for the certainty of finding and knowing oneself in a time of great transformation.
You Still Look The Same asks readers to think about how they are changed by life. In “Just fine,” the speaker stops by her ex’s house to feed the dog: “And so I cry/in your kitchen…while our dog watches.” What was once an ‘ours’ is now a ‘yours.’ In “Revisit,” soup made by someone the speaker loved is pulled from the freezer, defrosted, and eaten. Suffering from stomach cramps afterwards, the speaker takes time to “clear out the freezer,/chip away/two years of ice.” A contemplation on the loss of the speaker’s mother, in “Fall back,” leads her to wonder whether the ghost of her mother “visits me in dreams/flickers overhead lamps/leaves me coins, feathers.” Doctor’s collection presents the notion that loss comes dressed in different garb, but often feels the same.
In the collection, Doctor suggests that women in their 40s and 50s might return to a dating world that has changed drastically from when they were in their 20s. The superficiality and temporary nature of technology has entered the game. In “Swipe Left,” the speaker reflects on the various men she meets: “An interesting finding:/they think they are taking you to bed/even when it’s your key turning the lock.” Later, in “It didn’t happen with the others,” the poet writes of how confusing and illusory it can all be: “When grey mice/raced through the living room/how did I confuse them/for turquoise-winged birds-of paradise/beautiful and rare?” Nothing is clear when one is trying to “describe the process/of middle-age self-searching.”
Doctor shifts from the personal to the political when she writes about the horrific practice of female genital mutilation in “A Katna Suite.” In the powerful poem, “Twitter Trolls,” the speaker documents the online response to her work in publicly protesting FGM. The internet trolls’ voices are clustered together in the lines. “It’s just a tiny nick” leads to “It’s the same as ear piercing,” and then to “You are making our community look bad,” ending with “It’s not really female genital mutilation. Stop making a mountain out of a molehill.” FGM is anything but insignificant, and Doctor’s activism is poetically and politically powerful.
In You Still Look The Same, Doctor records one woman’s journey through mid-life. At the end of the collection, she writes of how a writer’s life is never lonely if bookshelves hold the work of mentors and friends. In community, we come to discover our truest selves.
(updated 2023) Kim Fahner lives, writes, and teaches in Sudbury, Ontario. Her latest book of poems is Emptying the Ocean (Frontenac House, Fall 2022). She is a member of the League of Canadian Poets, is the Ontario Representative of The Writers’ Union of Canada (2020-24), and a supporting member of the Playwrights Guild of Canada. Kim may be reached via her author website at www.kimfahner.com.