Muse Found in a Colonized Body, by Yesenia Montilla
Desire. Each of us longs for something, someone, sometime, some ___, some ___, some ___. Yesenia Montilla’s book Muse Found in a Colonized Body understands desire—the fruit, the phloem, the cambium, even the heartwood and pith, but most importantly, the roots. What does it mean to desire the muse inside the self, inside this messy home, rather than separate from us?
Here is where I fall for this book, in the profoundness of desire in collision with revelation: we are our own muse.
And the muse inside us soaks up our environment; we grow reaching both skyward and digging in dense soil. For Black, Brown and marginalized folx that muse comes with a hard, jagged history in this country—forced demons. “I want to be/ the caretaker of lovely things—// but trauma is inherited & talking is all I know—” (“Muse Found in a Colonized Body” VII). The emphasis here on the desire to be—a theme in the narrative that intoxicates this book.
My favorite movie is The Usual Suspects and one scene I love is where the character, Roger “Verbal” Kint (AKA…[spoiler alert, but not really ’cause it’s a 1995 film ya’ll] Keyser Söze), tells Special Agent Dave Kujan, “The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world that he did not exist.” Charles Baudelaire wrote something similar in 1864. I think of this quote in reading Montilla’s book because, like the devil, colonization and whiteness try to convince Black and Brown folx that the damages to us are over, or never existed at all. Montilla’s book ruptures these lies. This rupture is what makes this book so damn thirsty, so full of fire, so heavy with truths that Montilla holds in front of us, boldly, unabashedly as if to say, Don’t you dare look away. This is the type of poetry that makes my arm hairs stand on end. This is a blessing.
The tendons of this book are the echoing eleven poems—all labeled the same as the book title, and sequentially marked with roman numerals—that serve as both individual poems and section dividers. “Muse Found in a Colonized Body” I, II, III, and so forth. To pay an homage to the book’s muscular structure, I give you a limited compendium of eleven things I love about this book to entice you, dear reader.
I. These poems undo colonization’s snare and lay bare the body/muse unity that are made from, but not bound to, any superimposed inherited grief. Here the voices don’t pretend. The not pretending exposes both ache and liberation. In “Some Notes on Being Human,” the voice confesses, “It’s the dead people I can’t handle/ So many and I fear we all have our hands/ in it.” These speak to the viscous murders of Black and Brown people in America. The implication of the self exists here, but more importantly the possibility for change resounds in the end where the voice gives up the “humanist prize” as Zakiyyah Iman Jackson would say, “because I imagine the only way to save humanity/ is to be a little less human.” To decolonize the self, a giving up of the label “human” is necessary, as whiteness never allowed Black and Brown people to be “human.”
II. Holy obsession that sees my obsession. Em dash. Em dash. Em dash. I have an infatuation with both the em dash and the colons (semi and regular) in my own writing. This book floods with the em dash in delicious ways. Montilla’s use of space after the em dash at the end of forty-three poems (yes, forty-three…wow oh wow) marks the ghosts of continuation where these cliff-drop moments are bound to the em dash in how the space and silence live on after the language ceases. In “Muse Found in a Colonized Body” V. the poem ends, “The honeybees are dying/ & the grains are all GMO/ We ruin everything. &/ we still beg for beauty—” with the simultaneity of a gut punch and reclamation.
III. Because these em dashes with space also remind me of “Declaration” by Tracy K. Smith and all that erasure does to a body.
IV. Montilla even uses the em dash at the end of the title “When Malcom Wins the Lottery He Buys Me—”! Swoon.
V. Any poem that works in Idris Elba. Sexual emphasis a bonus.
VI. Reclaiming the vastness of the internal (muse’s home) while also acknowledging the burning one feels to have been a servant out of oppressed unknowing, but now a servant no longer. “Today I am a city, with a hospital/ & a police force, a fire department too/ so I can put myself out—” (“Muse Found in a Colonized Body” XI).
VII. A poem that declares, “I am so fucking gorgeous” while ruminating over Tinder and echoes Marilyn Nelson’s poem “Pigeon and Hawk” but through imaginative scenarios.
VIII. “I shackle my intentions & feast with my eyes…the snake that eats itself from the tail, eventually it/ chokes on everything, its rough scales, its heart all/ colonized & tender, the whole world becomes its/ body half-eaten & dragging in the dirt—” (“Muse Found in a Colonized Body” I). Enough said.
IX. Tensions between burning the world down and loving it harder by letting it in.
X. Eartha Kitt in a threesome. Eartha Kitt in a threesome with James Dean and Paul Newman. A poem with Eartha Kitt in a threesome that really meditates on safety.
XI. The last. Damn. Poem. “Having lost everything she touched/ her own body & became cattle/ she ate the world ate it all—” (“Muse Found in Magical Realism”). Again with how we ingest the world—the importance of roots. Not only where we sprout from, what we imbibe, but how we self-actualize.
Felicia Zamora is the author of six poetry collections including I Always Carry My Bones, winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize and the 2022 Ohioana Book Award in Poetry. She is the recipient of the 2022 Loraine Williams Poetry Prize from The Georgia Review, a 2022 Tin House Next Book Residency, and a 2022 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award. Her poems appear in Boston Review, The Georgia Review, Guernica, Orion, The Nation, and others. She is an assistant professor of poetry at the University of Cincinnati and associate poetry editor for Colorado Review.