…I am not supposed to know that sometimes people get killed because they [we] all look alike & retaliation does not always require accuracy I am an American civilian I am absolutely not supposed to know how often a child holding a gun or a child holding a cell phone or a child holding a long string attached to a paper kite rocking in the sky is shot & killed in my name…
– from “Fortune,” by Seema Reza
A Constellation of Half-Lives, Seema Reza’s second full-length collection, is best characterized by the essay “Afterword: Notes on Waking the Sleeping,” included at the end of the collection. The essay, an abbreviated version of a commencement address delivered by Reza at Goddard Graduate Institute, invokes the reader to partake in the work of educating others, of actively resisting, of waking from comfortable slumber and disrupting the oppressive systems around us. This sentiment echoes throughout the collection as Reza addresses motherhood, immigration, military occupation, racism, and patriarchy with startling vulnerability.
There are whispers of Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic, Fatimah Asghar’s If They Come for Us, and even Sylvia Plath’s poems on motherhood in Reza’s words. She grapples with intersectional identity and the nuances of being the daughter of immigrants. She tackles the whole beautiful, helpless mess of motherhood. She addresses a character named Khadija in a series of poems that perfectly concretize what it is to live in the midst of war. In short, this book is a microcosm of identity politics, giving faces and names to those who must learn how to exist in various spaces simultaneously.
Equal parts vulnerable and intelligent, A Constellation of Half-Lives is a necessary addition to the conversation on art as activism, an awakening for those of us who have grown far too comfortable in the comfort of our respective beds.