*Given a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*
Surviving Home by Katerina Canyon is a collection of poems examining the author’s South Los Angeles upbringing in the 1980s and looking for comfort in the harsh memories from then.
Each poem tells a story about realizing the beauty in a situation although it’s difficult to find the beauty amid the obstacles of growing up in the area formerly known as South Central.
In the poem “I Say You Can’t Go Home Again,” for example, she shares her experience of being unhoused as a child and her family living in a dispossessed home of a convicted drug dealer. A bright spot is witnessing the collection of roses by a female who may be her mother. She steals varieties of roses from their unknowing neighbors as a “rose petal shoplifter.” But they as a family look for the hidden drugs on the five-acre property; stealing is a source of comfort, whether it’s stealing roses or drugs.
“Life Map” describes the geography of where events take place from home to school, but also include where her father bought crack cocaine and where her mother was treated for cancer. Traveling off familiar highway ramps and on avenues like Slauson and Vermont touches on nostalgia, yet her parents are dealing with hard truths as they make their daily trips around the area.
The origin of the term “assault weapon” is explored with the term being born the same year as the author along with “Band-Aid” in a poem called “I Left Out ‘Bells and Whistles’ Written with a Little Help from Websters Dictionary.”
Assault weapons could
have easily served
as pacifiers in my
South Central Los Angeles home.
I was seven the first time
I remember holding one.
With making lemonade out of the lemons that fell into her hands, there is still mental trauma happening within the pages. A poem called “NYP Psychiatry” describes the fear of keeping everything inside or spirits will take advantage of those emotions. The last line: “I arrived a martyr and exited a shadow.” Poems such as “All Day Long” and “I Felt My Brother’s Wrists” shows how she is with her brothers seeing them be abused and tormented by their father. She tries to be their savior and watches over them. Thinking she has the power to help her brothers overwhelms her as she realizes her actions can’t stop the pain.
I hold my brother’s hand.
I clench my breath.
His scream lowers to a bleat.
The closed door becomes an ocean,
Our prison an oasis.
Just he, me, and the sea
Playing hand-clap games,
And we cannot be bound.
We are free, I tell him.
We are infinite
Because I declare it
As sister and deity.
Being a Black woman is also an underlying theme. “Sojourner” narrates the hardships of living in a society constructed and maintained by White men today and during slavery when abolitionist and activist Sojourner Truth walked the planet.
You never forgot to say who a woman
Could be, what a Black woman could do
When we eschewed weakness and misogyny.
No one helped you. You just carved the trail.
No one helps me either. That’s what I learned
It means to be a Black woman.
To be strong, to plough, to plant, to raise barns.
That’s what you did. I do that metaphorically.
Now, I raise children, plough through journals
With my pen. I always remember to never
Pin my tongue for fear of other’s thoughts
This is the way you walked.
Overall, the poetry follows a path of Black girlhood to Black womanhood amid traumatic settings when one needs to fixate on what’s beautiful or what’s calm in a situation to survive the moment. Random thoughts as a way to deal with the obstacles turn into a poem like the one about words that were added to the Webster’s Dictionary the year the author is born. It’s a way to examine life, the time of birth, the hometown, and all the elements that make up the cosmic journey.