I adore how your opening poem invokes and honours “the women & femmes / who reshape the universe.” It was a majestic way of inviting the reader into your book and your life. And, then, like that, we are catapulted to a kaleidoscopic, polyphonic vision of your birth and how you got your name. (I love that you plant the seed of your name here and only later peel back its onion-like layers.)
After your jubilant birth, you describe your homeland, your family, and your upbringing. Confession time: I almost always skip early parts of autobiographical works because the patch from infancy to adolescence usually isn’t my jam. But I loved reading about you growing up in Mauritius in the 80s and 90s. I’ve never been to Mauritius, but you sketch it strikingly as “an island where the colonial carcasses of power / have been transferred to a displaced & broken people,” an island “where the smell of collective trauma / hangs like dried octopus under the sun.” In a few taut lines, you swiftly evoke colonialism, trauma, power, bodies, and collectivity, threads that run through your book and your life. (Here, you also manage to approach heavy subjects with grace. Later, I’ll watch you transform shame into joy. A sort of sweet, incantatory magic is at play in your poems, a shimmery defiance that’s bloody remarkable.)
Even with our radically different upbringings, I found so many things in your book profoundly resonant. For example, when you describe writing and unwriting “the story scripted for your body,” with lines such as “good because you’re quiet / good because you never speak / good because you’ve learnt / to erase yourself / to disappear.” I felt these words reverberating within me as I read them. I was a quiet, ‘good’ kid, too.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that your line breaks and page breaks are on point throughout. (Since you’re a dancer, I’m tempted to type the ballet term ‘en pointe’ because there’s such elegance in your work.) They add emotional weight to your words. Space gives life, gives breath. And you gave me space to catch up with you, to linger. For example, you write, “the worst thing that could happen to you / will happen to you” and then the next page consists of a mere two lines: “the best thing that could happen to you / will also happen to you.” I read these lines repeatedly, my eyes scanning the space between and around them. There’s a generosity in the movement between these spare, spacious lines that moved me.
After a handful of long poems vividly depicting your origins, I was so ready for the release of you coming into your body in the poems “your body is the ocean” and “zom-fam.” I don’t know how else to describe it. Bodies matter, deeply, as I know you know all too well.
The next two moments I’ll mention are the ones that truly undid me. Just broke me open in a beautiful way, to let more light in. You talk about telling your mother you’re trans and you conjure Kumkum (such a lovely, luminous section), and then you write about taking pleasure in being zom-fam, in “navigating that middle passage between being & becoming.” Then, we see two pages bursting with the word “zom-fam!” When I turned to that part of the poem, I wept. I felt something bloom inside me. Something opened up. It felt like the best depiction I’ve seen of celebrating trans-ness, of celebrating gender diversity, of depicting the intense emotional fireworks of gender euphoria. Reaching the page overflowing with “zom-fam!”, I felt so much love for what you’d done, for the trans folks in my life, and, honestly, for myself. These two pages felt like a gift. Thank you.
And when you wrote about building a “femme armour” and ended the page by calling the armour “zom-fam,” I was flooded with feelings. For me, the idea of femme armour has an intense resonance. Last week, I got a tattoo of an armadillo on my right shoulder. I got it for a few reasons. One reason is to commemorate my novel, which includes an illustration of an armadillo. (Honestly, having my book in the world and hearing from people who it’s affected has been the best ballast. I have no doubt your book will mean a lot to a lot of people. You’ll hear from some of them, but there will be people you won’t hear from who will find themselves in what you’ve written.) But, mostly I got my armadillo tattoo to remind me to pay attention to my body, to pay attention to what it’s telling me about the people I encounter, to remind me that I want to stay tender, but that I need to armour myself and protect my tender spots. But you went beyond hiding femme-ness under armour; you made the armour femme, which was a glorious oh-fuck-yes moment for me.
Once I started hearing from people who’d connected with my novel, I realized how rarely I reach out to writers I admire. I adore ZOM-FAM. I know I’ll reread it soon and I know it’s a book I’ll turn to again and again in the near and distant future. I love your book. It’s crammed with life and beauty. It was the book I needed to read at this exact moment. Thank you again for putting it into the world. <3
ARC HITS THE HEART HARD.