Review by Robin Hendricks
Linda M. Crate’s poetry chapbook the samurai is an introspective journey from the speaker’s low point of heartbreak and insecurity to a place of confidence through the belief that she is the reincarnation of a samurai.
This collection is strongest when the speaker reflects on the hazy connections between herself and the samurai: a fear of heights stemming from the samurai’s fatal fall off a roof during a swordfight, a devotion to the color red stemming from the samurai’s red kimono she wore in death—details culminating in lines like “the threads we weave follow us from lifetime to lifetime” from the poem “the old souls speak.”
There’s a physicality to these threads, like in “my past self & i,” when the speaker ponders,
now i am anew
with flesh and a body
that is mine but wasn’t then,
maybe that’s why these bones
feel out of place sometimes.
It’s like by making room for the samurai and gaining this double-identity, the speaker loses a bit of herself, the identification of her body as her own. Or perhaps she felt this unfamiliarity with her body all along and only made sense of the reason why after her discovery of the reincarnation.
But instead of feeling any loss of self, it’s abundantly clear the speaker is grateful for the samurai and believes the two complete each other. The speaker is more outwardly emotional than the samurai is, but also more empathetic, seeking to understand this new person—even projecting onto the samurai a mirror of her own heartbreak: “we both know the misery of unrequited love; perhaps it was the / reason she fell—perhaps a broken heart was the reason she slipped / from the ridge that day despite giving it her all,” (“the kindest moonlight”).
At the same time, the samurai’s inherent ferocity stokes new life into the speaker’s faltered confidence. Several poems effusively proclaim the speaker’s sense of self-determination. In the poem “there is no surrender,” she says, “anyone who seeks to destroy me will be slain.” And in “the old souls speak,” she says, “as flawed and imperfect as i am, i am beautiful, i am enchanted, i am powerful; a warrior of love and light.” Essentially, the samurai is a tool the speaker uses to afford herself a rebirth—or rather, an unburying—as in the poem “a grave that was not mine” when she says, “the girl that lay murdered in that coffin broke through / the wood and nails and soil as if they never existed. / i departed a grave that was not mine.”