This Wound is a World

By Billy-Ray Belcourt, reviewed by Laura Eve Engel

A Canadian poet and scholar from the Driftpile Cree Nation, Belcourt’s debut offers up this quiet, personal prayer: “if i have a body, let it be a book of sad poems.” This collection is an answer to and a reckoning with story and with sadness itself: its ever-presence in the telling of the Indigenous body, the queer body, the body moving through stages of love and loss. In this examination of the struggles and sorrows particular to Indigenous people—those who live in world where “colonialism broke us, and we’re still figuring out how to love and be broken at the same time”—Belcourt laments the ways in which “it hurts to be a story” and works to find love for himself and others in a physical and spiritual landscape stitched through with darkness. Straining to see more than pain in himself even as he writes that pain into language, Belcourt reaches for a self and story beyond, and longs for communion, “to know what it’s like for my body to end in someone else,” which he sometimes finds in explications of indigeneity, and sometimes in studying and sharing sadness. This collection embodies the ways in which, when the structures of scholarship and tradition are not enough, solace can be found in human connection: “even though i know i am too queer to be sacred anymore, i dance that broken circle dance because i am still waiting for hands that want to hold mine too.”

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