by Hillary Gravendyk
Omnidawn, $15.95 (paper)

When the speaker of “Botanica,” the first poem in this powerful debut, says, “Creature of occasion, remember where you have been,” she isn’t asking. This is a command—a spell cast for the unearthing of a self that has experienced a trauma so great, so vast (“She left the body / permissionless, dreaming”) that the body and mind are now “sutured to harm.” Like the reliability of the empirical world—invoked at first to create a ground for the speaker to ready herself before digging into the past—memory’s remnants of the previous self are called into question, but they remain the only path for re-engagement, no matter how fallible: “Absent clarity, I waver in the harsh light. But beloved error: a long braid of signs, given.” The poems in Harm repurpose familiar vocabulary to create a new way of navigating through the world, as in “The Big, The Bad,” where we experience the re-conception of “footstep” through a catalogue of similes: “Footstep like a crumpled page”; “Footstep like a mousetrap”; “Footstep like a wind tunnel”; “Footstep like a fire blooming.” Gravendyk takes what she finds at hand and tirelessly reconfigures it, adapts it, altering position as a way to multiply perspectives, seek insight, and expand the sense of the possible. How do we exist in a world that continuously harms us, and will never quite yield to the self? There is no one answer, no “cure,” Harm tells us—“only different kinds of wonder.”