Review: Tamiko Beyer’s BOUGH BREAKS

bough breaks

The title of Tamiko Beyer’s first chapbook, bough breaks, evokes not just the creepy nursery rhyme, but also plant metaphors and motifs running through the poem-sequence. On the very first page there is “deep moss,” “bloomer,” and the “instinct” that “rises / late” from “whatever field”: whatever it is, this field has conceptual dimensions as well as spatiality. Shortly thereafter, the narrator tells us, “I construct syllabic fields,” suggesting with the simple present tense a habit, a pattern, perhaps something involuntary—and in this field, language itself, like foliage, must be attended to “like watering.”

These language-pastures seem to have once in the past(oral) contained the narrator until this instinct, to be a mother, escapes—pretty much like a protuberance—and causes a being-body to leak through. Queer desire is already a transgression, “chaotic.” By challenging the narrative that queer sexualities are non-reproductive, the maternal instinct turns the queer body excessive over and above its already-excess.

bough breaks seeks to interrogate this protuberance, this leaking, and its limits. It is fuelled by yearning: “will there be / between us a darling?” Yearning pushes through the body of the poem in the form of white space. Forms are invented to strike off authorized definitions of conception (biological as well as artistic), to prefigure the politics of a queer couple raising a child so as to question gender (“we would ….  open mother to repetitions”), to consider how options for child-getting are often embedded in contexts of violence and capitalistic greed (and is there really a choice), to destabilize both the “natural” and the “not natural” in “queer” and “motherhood” (and sneaky iterations of everything in between), to circulate even more questions around adoption and embryo adoption (check out that play with “play” and “pay” on page 24!).

Repeatedly, the sly, fluted precision of the poems (“we drift through rooms of thefted / antiquity”) is voiced over by something smeary and glittery (reminding me very much of the Aswang’s uprising in Diwata):

and if by invisibility they mean they do not see us
our bows and gnashing teeth
our prom dress feather boa heels
hair glittered gray the fisting and holler
fishnets fishnets breasts breasts breasts
our voices pitched forward into reclamation
the blood in our mouths sweet slick
like our ready-to-take-you between our legs—
. . .
our diy manicures all silvery and chipped
our shouts so lovely so lovely all that licking

Sections of the sequence travel back in time, in memory and in stories, to Beyer’s growing-up years in Japan. A child “tucked into the sled” gapes “at the sky’s star-dense orchestra” and a kind of loopy, tender narrative suggests itself. Is it the orchestra that transmits (a cunning build-up!) the next nonsense-like, charming section with re-ordered words from lullabies?—it begins:

spice went birds
gonna back silver sugar
the crown was pie and ashes and me

Mama’s three silver shells
birds light if tails
I’m a very nimble buy

Another skid in time, and there’s a collective fall off the bike (give you a “chin gash shin gash”—clever tongue-twister chant!) and the narrative picks its scabs only to stick them to the pavement.

All through, the text maintains community and solidarity with “bodies and histories as ragged / as ours but not as privileged.” A certain perspective on the plant motifs, we learn, can purpose the divine: “that’s god: green pulsing.”

Perhaps it is the plantal divine being supplicated in the last section: “Will you come to excavate the pile I have crawled under and cannot / bear to leave?” Or is this “you” future child, or possible futures, or possible future-selves, or self-in-the-present, or memory, or this poem-sequence, or language, or poetry—or is the intervention to be on the part of readers, collectivities? By opening itself up to possibilities of “rescue” through any or all of these apertures, the sequence submits to a vision where the past, present, and future come together to refashion the cultural logics it is questioning. Curiously, it ends with this instruction: “If I am quiet, I might know what the body means without words.” This “quiet” does not seem to be a vacuum; it seems to be filled with information, leaks, for the narrator, and—I would say—for Beyer’s intentional communities (queer, Asian American, urban, transnational). This goes back to the idea of surplus which, through its transgression of boundaries, has the potential to bring about change. Or is it a death-wish, a refusal on the part of “I” to be rescued and extricated from the heap, this inside not-outside? Or, as Iris mused in an email to me this morning: “Is this a prophetic vision?  Or a contemporary trance/hallucination in which traumas of loss and longing and be-longing might be worked out?  Or something else entirely?”

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