Saturday, 17 August 2019

Review: Sink by Desireé Dallagiacomo

(TW: abuse, mental illness, self harm)
A lyrical, searing family portrait of grief, motherhood, love, abuse and mental illness, Sink is simultaneously addictive and hard to read. The poems weave in and out of moments of a deeply troubled childhood- of an abusive and later absent father, a beaten down mother, growing up in a neglectful home, of an aunt found floating in the river, dead- and later goes on to chart ancestry and descent. Sink is a lesson in inheritance highlighting the violence handed down by men over to men and wounds handed down by women to women; the violence mirroring itself over generations forward.
"My grandfather broke
my father’s arm
with a baseball bat"- Reno, Nevada
"What I mean is months later my father broke her arm & she stayed. Broke a closed window with her head & she stayed. I mean broke nose no fuss." - Strength
"violence is masculinity’s
garter belt. All my uncles hold fast." - Pleasant Valley State Prison with Inmate Number F-49837
 Dallagiacomo writes of sadness, of despair carried out by a long line of women before the poet, inescapable like a history carved on the body:
"I open my mouth, hope my mother’s sad heart does not stumble drunk out of me. I am a body/I am a scrapbook of survivor’s guilt—turn each page, watch women make ugly shrine of their/my bones.",
"Why can’t the women I look like open without a blade?" -Sink.

But despite it being harsh and gut-wrenching in the way it strips down Dallagiacomo's life, revealing some of its most personal and grief-stricken moments, Sink is above all a story of survival and resilience and strength. We see it in poems like My First Altar:
"My first altar was the night sky—wide and mine and still it belonged to no one at all.",
"Can you believe that you, too, are someone’s altar? You are someone’s biggest dream, you, medicine baby, you, sprouted from an altar of ancestors into this great existence. And here you are, here you stand, here you stand. Pulsing."
, Strength:
"What I mean is she can tell how much pressure a neck can take before it snaps. I mean 5 kids, no sedatives. I mean she has dug her grave & filled it again, again, again.",
"What I mean is she is where strength goes to enjoy a view."
, I Break Like a Fever:
"I come from a heart made from sturdy
hands. A heart made to set sail. Ride the waves. Keep swimming.
The storm is always thick. It is always loud".

Another thing I really liked about Sink is how a lot of the poems centers the women in Dallagiacomo's life, how these women are where her strength comes from, how they made her up into who she is. The way she talks about these women is breathtaking but also devastating,
"My first altar was a story I made for myself. Where I call myself girl from many. I call myself daughter of the hunt, here only because a woman before me survived. A woman was never unmade and so she grew me." - My First Altar
"Each year I get older,
a quiet ceremony for the girl
that was born in a bed
because a woman woke
every morning, building me
inside of her, and found
me a home before I had a name.
I do not know what you believe
love to be, but in our house it is that" -  Medford, Oregon


It's in these poems and others when I am reading of her mother, her aunt Diana and her sisters that I feel this tenderness towards them- for these women who have endured and fought and survived and protected and lost. And though she talks about lineage and the scars it brought her, on not having a choice or say in the suffering thrust upon her, there's this conscious effort of straying from that path, of choosing something better even beneath the burden of trauma she cannot seem to escape.
"I mean each child hollowed from her a small death, I am the soul pulled from her, let me be her other life. Let me say fuck or forget strength, fuck or forget staying for sake of saving face, let me leave all that does not carry me.
Let me come from that & never be that." - Strength

There are several poems like Reno Nevada, Pine Street Taser, Knots, that read rather flat, more like a simple prose piece instead of poetry but then there are the ones like One Side of an Ongoing Dialogue with Sharon, My Therapist and Thighs Say that are so powerful in their intensity that I find myself reading them in a single breath. Just the first sentence of One Side hits you like a sucker-punch ("My father dropped out of high school I was the high school"). Thighs Say, mirroring big, wide thighs in its form, is a celebration of huge, unconventional bodies, unapologetic in its pride
"My thighs say leave the lights on. We spent
a lifetime hiding. Shake out of this shame.
We are the ruthless twins. Too strong to
not run toward everything light."

An exploration of broken families, girlhood, feminism, growing into a woman, being a woman, of the body, of what it holds, of its several insecurities, erasing the hate for it and learning to love it for what it is, Sink provokes and moves and empowers, leaving behind the feel of coming up for air after sinking.

(This book was provided to me by netgalley in exchange for an honest review)
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