TW/CW: Transphobia, Anti-Black Violence, Misogynoir, Family Violence
Review written by Ashia S. Ajani
How to Identify Yourself with a Wound (by KB Brookins) Ushers Memory and Trans Materiality to the Forefront
Like many love letters, How to Identify Yourself with a Wound begins with longing. Longing for a home that is no longer recognizable, and no longer recognizes the speaker. Cities, like bodies, are constantly evolving, and the wounds that emerge from growing pains have long memories. Wounds themselves, as reflected in the namesake, are contentious spaces of remembrance and retribution. Just as concrete fragments and skin cracks to expose a deeper suffering, this collection explores the many ways in which both hurt and healing appears in our queer, expansive lives. In a collection steeped with memory, poet, essayist and cultural worker KB Brookins challenges us to identify with our wounds, not as a space of arrested development, but as a space that informs our interactions, desires and aspirations.
How to Identify Yourself with a Wound, winner of the 2021 Saguaro Poetry Prize, has already received praise from Cyrus Cassells, the 2021 Texas Poet Laureate, poet Ariana Brown, and many others. At the same time dolorous, revelatory and whimsical, Brookins weaves language and lyricism together as they lead the reader through their life. How to Identify Yourself with a Wound is a collection brimming with color: the epithets put two different generations of queer women in conversation with one another, and through this invocation seeks to make sense of the alienation felt by Black queer and trans peoples. In “Self portrait of pangea” Brookins uses queer ecology to reveal the inherent naturalness of fracture and expansions towards finding a more authentic version of the self: “here I am, breaking again. Not fitting/the simulation is what ~I am~ we are plagued to do best.” In “Here4Now_cjrun.mp3” Brookins recalls the intimacy and heartbreak of losing trans kin and the burden of memory: “...We thought/ die synonymous for disappear. To be us/ was to be a mirror you can’t see the other side to.”
But Brookins really shows off what they can do with the poem “Do you know what they did to Mulayshia” as they explore how this world makes Black people fragile, requiring us to soften the parts of ourselves the rest of the world finds too loud. But it is in this mourning that peoples stories get rewritten, their memories become sanitized in order to be “presentable” to the rest of the world. To this, Brookins demands their flowers while they are still alive.
Brookins’ tone shift throughout How to Identify with a Wound is both a disruption and strong suit of the collection. This dexterity reveals Brookins’ love affair with language, highlighting their chameleon-like ability to bring together multiple self-presentations into one body.
Above all else, any prospective reader will be absolutely floored with Brookins’ gut wrenching honesty. Where some poetry seeks to conceal, Brookins reveals both personal and societal truths through sharp observations, sensual materiality and anecdotal storytelling. Even as our personal worlds collapse, and the greater world at large continues to unravel, we still find time to dance, to make love, to have a quick cup of coffee with our neighbor, to marvel at all of the magic and chaos that wounds the world. This collection is about the wounds of love: what it means to love something that is constantly disappearing, constantly shifting, and itself, is wounded, as you are working through your own wounds. At times, Brookins extends grace as they unpack generational trauma, venerating family both chosen and blood. Other times, Brookins’ laments heavy memories, and the compromises trans people are forced to make in pursuit of our truest selves. More than anything, Brookins exalts the necessity of queer kinship, togetherness and intimacy in order to weather the burdens of anti-Black homophobia and capitalism. Speaking to a vulnerable trans-masculinity that Black masculine folks are seldom afforded, Brookins shines most when they are excavating the multiplicities of being, when they are experimenting with language and sound and form. In the face of widespread grief, ignoring our wounds and their legacies is probably the quickest way to ensure the continuation of such grief. Through identifying with our wounds, we become uncontainable. In recognition of our own various wounds, buy this chapbook and let these poems offer you a salve. To quote the incomparable Lucille Clifton, allow this collection to reveal to you “the bond of living things everywhere.”
Ashia Ajani (they/she) is a Black storyteller hailing from Denver, CO, Queen City of the Plains and the unceded territory of the Cheyenne, Ute, Comanche and Arapahoe peoples. They are an environmental justice educator with Mycelium Youth Network and co-poetry editor of the Hopper Literary Magazine. They are a freelance book reviewer and selective plant parent. She has been published in Sierra Magazine, Them., Lumiere Review & EcoTheo Review, among others.
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