Laura Passin’s debut full-length collection Borrowing Your Body (Riot in Your Throat, 2021) reflects the experience of a woman grappling with illness, loss, duty, and the fleeting human existence amidst the vastness of the universe. Passin’s words weave a tapestry that beckons the reader to wrap it around them, a poignant story told with both specificity and a sense of general-ness that will embrace anyone who has struggled with losing a loved one, heartbreak, and/or overcoming the ways in which our bodies fail us.
The story witnesses a speaker caring for a terminally ill mother while considering her relationships as both a daughter and sister. The book opens with “APHASIA,” which tosses the reader into the intimacy of grieving a mother who is not yet gone, while contemplating the roles of words, speech, and their decay with age and illness. This sets the tone for the rest of the collection, with its beautifully relatable, yet jarring imagery like “feel my hand / cramp in anticipation” & “the secret world of words / and their birth pains” that introduces a speaker consumed by rumination.
From here, the book is organized into five sections, all of which exist in their own interpretation of human existence, while pooling together to divulge a greater story. The first of these, NOT MEANT TO MEAN, provides a glance into the speaker’s relationships and responsibilities. It ends with the dichotomy between the experience of the patient and their loved ones. Throughout, the reader receives glimpses of memories of that reveal the complicated relationships between family and self, like in “DAUGHTER MEANS DUTY” with the lines “what you want is / not what you choose,” and “…do not / stray. Stay. / Away is for brothers.” There also continues to be an emphasis on the role of language and its interpretation—“…”These bits / of language are not meant to mean.” (“ELEGY BEGINNING AND ENDING WITH A BRIEF LESSON ON PHYSICS”). The second, SPACEWALK/SPARROW, leads with “Space is trying to murder you. / It’s not personal. Nature abhors an individual” and so we get a feel for the speaker’s infatuation with outer space and human interaction with it, as well as the metaphors that can be drawn between physical space and that between words.
YOU NEED ANOTHER TONGUE is simultaneously wrapped in simplicity and mathematics. Though these don’t exist exclusively, they perform on opposite ends of the same spectrum, offering both clarity and ambiguity. TIME ENOUGH AT LAST breaks the speaker’s life into zones, dwelling in the idea of life as “an experiment in narrative” (“ZONE 1”) brought forth from an obsession with The Twilight Zone. Here, Passin’s lines pierce in their relatability, with moments like, “…If you haven’t / yet held the cold hand / that used to be human, / you will” and “When I’m happy / I start seeking the twist” from “ZONE 6.” Passin introduces questions of space, time, and purpose by inhabiting a space of conjecture, while simultaneously creating specific zones for emotions like grief, longing, and hope like small boxes that can be individually lidded and shelved. This is especially evident in “ZONE 6,” where grief is painted as “It’s not dark everywhere, / like you thought—but you know / so much more about shadows.”
GIVEN A FINITE BODY starts with inspiration from Anne Carson and travels through the ways in which we carry grief, juxtaposing strength against fragility and defines grief as inevitability. The final poem leaves the reader in a space of contemplation while providing a subtle, satisfying circle back to “APHASIA” with the act of the speaker writing, once again employing language as a tie and habit, and thoughtfully considering its role with “She wants to read. / Her daughter writes this down.”
Among the five sections, Passin nestles poems in the form of “migraine diaries” that suspend the timeline while the speaker is forced to depart from rumination and consider her own pain and body. The reader is pulled into this pain and tangible physical distress with lines like “The knife in my eye” and “My skull cracks open / and a mirror steps out” from “MIGRAINE DIARY II” and “My bones detach / and say their final wishes” in “MIGRAINE DIARY IV.” Throughout the entire collection, Passin’s poetry drips with vibrantly tangible images like “A place where the smoke leaves your lungs / before you see the fire / someone has lit in your hand” from “THE TWILIGHT ZONE” and “the trees are glitter-drunk” from “HOME, SICK.” In “MIGRAINE DIARY IV,” “The jaw of the world / unhinges” and we feel “the world’s skin / clatter on the floor.” Among a saturation of others, these images drown the reader in the speaker’s struggle, while validating the many ways in which we all experience grief, loss, and depression.
Passin encourages us to “…gather the future / and the past in these / trembling hands.” And for a summary of this collection, I couldn’t dissect a more telling line. Her words weave in and out of personal experience and conjecture in a way that is both gorgeous and viscous. Each poem is its own world, inviting the reader to linger and live in the sensation and emotion they elicit. While these poems aren’t what I expected, Borrowing Your Body led me on a journey through the complexity of love and loss that cut deep and left the kind of scar you yearn to talk about.
Nicole Bethune Winters (she/her) is a poet, ceramic artist, and yoga teacher. She currently resides in Southern California, where she makes and sells pottery out of her home studio. When she isn’t writing or wheel-throwing, Nicole is likely at the beach, on a trail, or exploring new landscapes. She derives most of the inspiration for her creative work from her interactions with the environment around her, and is always looking for new ways to connect with and understand the earth. Her debut poetry collection, brackish, will be published by Finishing Line Press in August 2022.
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