Review: “To My Body”
To My Body, by Steven Sanchez
Glass Poetry Press, 2018, 26 pages, $8.50
Steven Sanchez’s chapbook To My Body, recently published by Glass Poetry Press, explores the place we inhabit the most: our body. The body, in Sanchez’s work, is presented as what it holds—and this begins with learning the heritage of experience. To begin, the body carries its origins. The poem “Califa” holds beautiful gratitude for his mother and the heritage recorded and kept in this relationship:
chainmail. This is who my mother is:
the warrior who fought my father
in the kitchen between shards of glass,
the warrior who marched to my school
and found the boys who taunted
the color of my skin, the warrior
who taught me to read, write, and speak
solely in English, the best defense
she could think of to keep me safe.
Sanchez gives us the formative history of a life and body here. We learn about the battle faced to grow up and inherit a body; we learn about the courage inherit to this process. To have a body is to have a story, and Sanchez, here, shows us what comes along with this. Here is blood, origin, and language.
As much as the body can inherit courage, a body must inherit shame. We are given a glimpse into what this looks like, as it pertains to the ability his mother wanted for him in the lines above.
The body is still a source of ability as much as it is a support and place for experience. “The Pocho’s Pantoum” presents this ability. We relearn that tears are a language and, here, they fill in the gaps that are left between languages. As he writes:
I speak with a forked tongue and flick every word
from the tip of two prongs, no hablo español, I’m sorry,
and this woman begins to cry, communicating what we can’t.
The body here is a vessel for the ancient language of tears, and this language is necessary and present because there is also shame present. Here, the body carries shame, the opposite of courage. Such is the body; to understand and learn the world before it, that made it, and to see how the space now can open to it. “The Pocho’s Pantoum” is a moment in this experience.
How do you understand a body? The poem “Sunday Mornings” works on this. In his words:
…But it was the men who excited
me. Like a magician, I severed waists
from torsos, cut out pairs of briefs
with left-handed scissors and pressed
my thumb against their cotton
This moment of construction is as much an exploration as it is a testament to the honest desire of a person and a body. This moment is an encounter with oneself, honest in its intimacy. This is heritage enacted, as it takes courage to explore one’s self and sexuality. As sincere as the pain is here, it is also a triumph of the body and self to dig into questions.
To remember where you came from and that you continue into a new heritage; this is the message of the body. In the poem “Caliha,” Sanchez illuminates a common ground for every body: “and hold electricity – the universal | language of bodies.” And it is necessary to remember this current of power innate to the body, that every action we make requires power, and that we have the ability to generate force, action, and lineage.