By Xandria Phillips, reviewed by Laura Eve Engel

“In every exhale there / is audacity. Some of us still drown / in our own lungs. We are in need of a / plan. Let’s deflate something monstrous, / and take its air inside us.” In this debut collection, Phillips’s poems breathe a story as long as time, in which history holds to its pattern of the same crimes committed again and again against the Black body. Into a world where it is still audacious to speak truth, they exhale condemnation, reclamation, empathy and light. “I write to you from the predicament of Blackness. / You see, I’ve been here all my life and found, / on the atomic level, it’s impossible to walk through / most doorways. I can, however, move through / walls.” The physical walls in this collection span from Elmina Castle in Ghana to Tuskegee, Alabama, to the Angola penitentiary in Louisiana; with resonant lyricism, Phillips charts a pattern of atrocities made distant from one another only by time and space. Still other poems permeate the walls of the body, carefully channeling Black women, inviting them to claim their erotic voices. Communions that occur within Black, queer, and femme spaces offer an antidote to horror and repetition, an act of faith in a future the past hasn’t shown us could exist: “I learn my skin on hers won’t liberate us, // and I begin / to touch her / as though it will.” 

This review originally appeared in the Books Noted section of American Poets, Fall-Winter 2019.