It isn’t every day I’m offered the chance to discover a new favorite book, and I am pleased to say I have found exactly that in Ashley Hajimirsadeghi’s Cartography of Trauma. Published by Dancing Girl Press in 2021, the collection has a handsome cover featuring a feminine silhouette mapped out in green lines in the topographical style. What’s on the inside captured my attention even further.
Cartography of Trauma depicts the way all generations of people, specifically women, navigate traumatic situations. Through metaphor, Hajimirsadeghi reveals common coping mechanisms to find where those experiences fit into everyday. Conceptually, the chapbook can be organized into three categories: Stranger poems (the subject of the poem does not appear to be related to the speaker in any way), Family poems (what it looks like when families are purged from their homes, uprooted in violence), and Self poems (snapshots of each speaker at one moment in time). These separate storytelling methods combine flawlessly in Cartography of Trauma to reflect the reader’s own hurt disguised as the trauma of a stranger.
One of the Stranger poems, “His mother was strange,” reveals a mother’s sorrow in one tight column. Grief permeates the air around this poem like Chanel No.5 wafting from the poem’s subject – “Mad Molly” – who has a moment of inspiration. Hajimirsadeghi writes, “She says a mother’s / grief rings with the clamor of the / rusting church bells in the square / but no one listens” (5). It’s almost as if the reader experiences this silence like a thick cloud of perfume, strong and invasive and completely invisible.
The poem “Diorama,” focuses readers’ attention onto the ills born into a family hardened by the violence of men. Hajimirsadeghi explores an imagined life where the speaker takes the place of family members wronged, a past where “Grandmother is alive and healthy, three-dimensional” and “Grandfather, too, isn’t an old revolutionary haunt” (8). Probably the most haunting line of this poem is just after the speaker imagines taking Grandfather’s place, saying, “I am bleeding in 1978 Iran,” and “I am bleeding in 2020 America” (8). The speaker compares this trauma, this fear and resentment which springs from the violence of men’s decisions, to life in America with just two lines.
“Encoded” features an American tradition, the “how are you” greeting which many know to be rhetorical, and the speaker’s response, both internal and external. In the poem, the greeting (“how are you?”) and the answer (“I’m fine,”) are separated by the speaker’s real truth: “I think I’m splintering” (Hajimirsadeghi 13). Hajimirsadeghi continues, “if Sylvia were alive she’d laugh… I think I’m eroding, dying to throw myself into the incinerator, end this hunger–” (13). To the speaker, “I’m fine” includes all of these hurts and wants and givings up, but all that a stranger hears is that “I’m fine.” This is sometimes how we cope, by lying to the world and pretending we are okay; Hajimirsadeghi’s poem captures this innocent need to appear okay even when we’re burning inside.
“Self-portrait in youth” is presented “in Technicolor” that is colored after the fact. When the reader imagines scenes depicting youthful romance, it is through the goggles of Technicolor; the past looks brighter and more colorful. “Self-portrait as lady vengeance” is directly opposite “in black & white.” It is stark, honest, simply representative. There is no romance, no fantasy. The speaker is dark and smudged and real. The last line hits the reader like a freight: “stop filming me. I don’t want you to see me cry” (Hajimirsadeghi 26). There is a lost fantasy here which leads to a crippling vulnerability. Nothing hides in black and white, so we use Technicolor to escape, to cope with reality.
The final Self poem, “Self-portrait as erasure,” is possibly the most brutally powerful of them all. The speaker describes “[bleeding] blue out on the patio, barefoot & dancing in the rainstorm” (27), a scene conflicted. A generally joyful activity such as dancing is depicted simultaneously with precious and dangerous loss, and this is the truth of Cartography of Trauma. This poem is the anthem of the world, especially the world of women, a world in which women dance in the storms we did not create and bleed black and blue for a sliver of joy in life’s great tempest.
Cartography of Trauma uses accessible language and creative formatting to tell the story of women by a woman for women. And what an anthem it is. The last line of “Self-portrait as erasure” (and the entire book) sticks with me even in my sleep: “Ma, you wouldn’t // believe me if I set this place on fire tonight… just wait–” (27). The reader is left to wait in violent anticipation for the flames of this book to catch the world.
Cartography of Trauma is avalible through Dancing Girl Press.
Kenli Doss holds a BA in English and a BA in Theatre-Performance from Jacksonville State University. She is a freelance writer and actress based out of Alabama, and she spends her free time painting scenes from nature or writing poetry for her mom. Ken’s works appear in Something Else (a JSU literary arts journal), Bonemilk II by Gutslut Press, Snowflake Magazine, The Shakespeare Project’s Romeo and Juliet Study Guide and A Midsummer Night’s Dream Study Guide, and The White Cresset Arts Journal.