Andrea Gibson – “You Better Be Lighting”

I am writing this at midnight because someone reminded me I love to write about books and I decided to do it now because there is no better way of loving something than dedicating your present to it. And the book I am writing about is about love, or maybe less about love and more love itself.

I decided to buy You Better be Lightning after I watched Andrea’s amazing performance of Homesick: A Plea for our Planet, having never heard of Andrea Gibson before or even expecting to have my heart shaken in the most brutally beautiful way, it was mostly an impulse buy, but I’ve never regretted an impulse buy in my entire life. It’s mostly books, soft toys and all sorts of frog-shaped objects. What’s there to regret?

After just some poems and just as many crying sessions, I knew this book would be with me forever. And I mean physically, I used to carry my favourite poetry book everywhere, now it’s two of them. And it’s not just a symbolic thing I do or even just a comfort thing. No, it’s pure necessity. Sometimes I might need to remember what love is and how it can make you a bad activist or just a flawed human being. Sometimes I might need to remember what I’m fighting for by reading how queer youth are five times more likely to commit suicide or reminding myself how the earth is holding us with so much kindness and needs us to hold it back with at least a tiny fraction of that kindness. Sometimes a friend might need to sign a contract with themselves to stop being their own worst enemy and sometimes I need to remind myself I signed the same contract. Sometimes I might need to understand that I will never feel anger as long as I can feel love and that love can be so many things. Love can be in so many ways. Love can be the voice I hear when I read out loud the poem about Prince which teaches me once again that love can be so much more than we learn. So much more than romance or even friendship. Love can come from so many places I just stopped questioning love. It’s not love that needs questioning, but the lack of it. I started writing a review about the most beautiful poetry I’ve ever read and I ended up writing a long text about love. And this is perfect – because the most beautiful poetry out there will always speak about love and the most beautiful love in here will always be poetry.

And yes, this is a book about queerness and social justice and feminism and veganism and all the right things and it was great in all the right ways. But I don’t think that’s why I loved it.

Here’s a poem I loved that is short enough for me to type it:

Note to the stranger six feet away:

There was never not a bridge from your chest to mine. My heartbeat was always the sound of your feet walking towards me. I can’t believe how many years I lived without knowing the air you were breathing out was the air I was breathing in. Forgive me for not saying thank you before our lungs had reason to hide. Do you pray mor enow than you used to? I pray all the time. I pray to the Big Bang and the Tini Bang and to the bangs we’ll all have to cut ourselves so we can see what beauty can only be seen from six feet away. A giraffe’s neck is six feet long. A decade from now, will I remember the week I spent wondering if I could hug a giraffe’s torso and not get sick if the giraffe coughed? I don’t want to forget anything about this. Especially not how it feels to worry about everyone I love at the same time – so much of the world had been doing that already.

If every heart-worthy novelist weeps for days before killing off a beloved character, god must have spent centuries sobbing before pressing a pen to the page of this year.

Mia Couto – “Confession of the Lioness”

Despite the fact that I read quite a lot of poetry books in the past month, Confession of the Lioness might be the most poetic (and the most beautiful) text I have read recently.

Once I started reading more literature written in Portuguese, I realised that the most fascinating books are not those written by Portuguese authors, but those that come from the Portuguese (ex-)colonies, in which this language is not just a means of communication, but a continuous reminder of a violent history that has not necessarily stopped. This was very obvious when I read and reviewed A General Theory of Oblivion, and it is just as obvious in Mia Couto’s book.

Mia Couto is a Mozambican writer and Confession of the Lioness is set in Mozambique. We are told that the plot is inspired from real events that happened in 2008 in Cabo Delgado, where 28 people were killed by lions, but further investigations discovered the social and historical issues underlying the events. In particular, the lions came into the village for reasons that were the humans’ fault, after intruding their habitats and making them come closer to the village for food, but the solution decided upon was to kill the lions – are humans even able to take responsibility for their mistakes and give reparations?

The book alternates between Miamar’s perspective, a woman living with her parents in Kulumani, whose sister was a victim of the lions attacks, and Archangel Bullseye’s perspective, who is a hunter called from the city to kill the lions – the officials that make this call are not interested in the welfare of the people of Kulumani, but in the political damage brought by the situation. But the people living in the village are more than mere voters, other societal mechanisms are at play.

Both Miamar and Archangel have to fight their past, present, and are wondering about their future; complex familial patterns are being explored and they have to disobey what is expected of them: Miamar is a woman that does not act like a Kulumani woman should act, Archangel Bullseye is supposed to be the only real hunter left, but is hunting what he wants to do?

One of the characters says:

I don’t know what they’re looking for in the bush, the lion is right here in the village.

It is so easy to blame someone we do not understand or want to understand. Non-human animals end up being blamed and punished so often for effects that are obviously man-made. In this book, the lion becomes a symbol (which I do not particularly like), of disobedience, of freedom. The use of the lioness is linked to Couto’s analysis of the condition of women in the village of Kulumani. Multiple women are given a voice in this book, and all of them are victims of patriarchy, which is a criminal system in general, and Couto does not shy away from denouncing these crimes.