Without Protection

reviewed by Laura Eve Engel

As its title suggests, danger and vulnerability are ever-present in Gala Mukomolova's debut collection, in which the mythic and the mundane strike against each other until something wholly other, a fire or a song, ignites. While the Russian folktale of Baba Yaga and Vasilyssa opens the collection as if to frame it—“‘I come in the name of others and I come in my own name. I come for fire and for you. All of this and something else, something I’ve forgotten. Baba, I don’t know why I come.’”— Mukomolova builds a new mythology on the bones of the old with breathless momentum, until our speaker and her heroine merge into one, and then transform. For a Russian immigrant, a queer woman, and a mind apart, creating a mythology in which one sees oneself is a radical act of alchemy, of creating space where once there was none: “I was small. I built a self outside my self because a child needs shelter. // Not even you knew I was strange, / I ate the food my family ate, I answered to my name.” Mukomolova is attentive to the erotic to the point of devotion, figuring sex not as symbol or sublimation; rather, a proving ground for the possibility that we might all be carrying in our most unprotected selves, a new story worth making space for: “[Y]ou like it and that / makes me like it. / All of a sudden / nothing / is not beautiful.”

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