Read This: Inheritance, Poems by Steven Reigns
The cycle of abuse recalled in Reigns' new collection, Inheritance ($13, Lethe Press), is nightmarish in its scope: from being sexually abused by a neighbor to the constant verbal and physical abuse from both parents who don't understand their gay son. These memories are journalistic in their concise, factual reporting, but also resonate with understated lyricism. There are no wasted words or sentiment.
Like Kim Noriega's chapbook Name Me (which I reviewed last week), Inheritance is a journey one must undertake, but the road is often filled with landmines sure to make readers wince more than once. And, yet, Inheritance is not only a necessary journey, but a must – for survivors and those untouched by abuse. There is a deeper understanding being told in these poems.
In "Playing With The Doll," a nine-year neighbor gradually turns from molesting a plastic doll to a young Reigns. When his mother finds the semen-coated doll and Reigns tells her of the abuse, her response is. "You're such a liar, don't blame it on anyone else. / You're sick Steven." The neighbor eventually moves on to molesting Reigns' sister.
The mother figure, beaten and demoralized by the father, takes out her anger and frustrations on her son, looking for any way to embarrass him or call his burgeoning sexuality into question. In "After the Ballgame," the mother taunts Reigns as he sits on the toilet, needling him about his poor performance as a baseball player – a sport he was forced into by his father.
I cannot think of ways to leave this situation.
My pants and underwear rest on my cleats.
My ass dirty,
my torso naked,
"You seem to want to be a girl.
Maybe we could go to the doctor and he could make you a girl."
Reigns turns to poetry to replace his missing parental figures. In "Mother," he details his attraction to female poets:
Reviewing my bookshelf I appear
more like a lost boy than a bibliophile.
Seeking out a mother figure
from women who mother words.
Along the way, Reigns finds familial bonds again from his sister and his elderly grandfather, who loves him unconditionally. From "100%":
who pats my head,
rubs my back,
kisses my cheek,
tells me he loves me,
isn't ashamed that other men do the same.
Inheritance ends with Reigns still struggling to learn to love himself, but there is also a spark of hope – from the friendships and relationships he's made since he left his abusive childhood home. Reigns' poems have a cinematic quality about them, so it's fitting this collection ends on a cliffhanger. I'm eagerly awaiting the next installment.
The best keeper of secrets
is the victim.
Seven years of journal writing,
no names of abusers given.
Does namelessness equate to blamelessness?
Keeping secrets inside my body
a bleeding stomach,
disabling head pains,
and a learning disability
that keeps me behind and apart from my class.
Ganesh kept obstacles intact.
God's ears went deaf
and Atlas played paper, rock, scissors.
Society, deities, gods, and monsters sat still
while my ass bled,
hands moved around where they shouldn't
and embraces lingered too long.