Laura Passin’s Borrowing Your Body is a vibrant collection of poems that dwell on family, existentialism, life and death, and inner struggles. Structured in five different sections, Borrowing Your Body offers its readers a glimpse into Passin’s mind, body, and soul that will leave you feeling revived in an extraordinary way.
Several of Passin’s poems in this collection are about her mother, a woman suffering from brain disease. Her poem, “Hospice,” demonstrates the struggles her mother has faced in a heartbreaking and skillful way:
The first time I was terrified
I would kill her,
that the tube of morphine
would do what a stroke
and the years of dementia could not:
so I waited too long, till
These three stanzas provide information about Passin’s mother in a subtle way while also including her emotions on the situation and what she was going through. Use of enjambment in this poem places emphasis on exciting words, such as ending lines with “morphine,” “terrified,” and “stroke.”
Including that Passin thought she might accidentally kill her mother shows the immense pain her mother has gone through for a long period of time.
Not only does Passin include poems about her mother who has passed away, but also of the struggles her brother has faced having beenbeing born with a chromosomal defect, such as in the poem “Portrait of My Brother in Obsolete Diagnoses,” which highlights all of the cruel names her brother has been called, such as “mongoloid” and “cripple.”. The simplicity of each line in this poem gives it a sense of directness that feel honest and poignant.
The diction utilized in this poem is harsh and therefore hits the reader hard. By placing each word on its own line places a stress on them even more, providing a lasting impact.
Another particularly moving poem about her brother is Passin’s “Letter to My Brother Who Cannot Read,” a blackout poem that speaks through bits and pieces of words and phrases. The words “I, “you,” and “mom” are repeated fourteen times, signifying the strong bond between Passin, her brother, and their mother. By including only these three people in this poem, the reader can infer that Passin’s brother places the importance of his family above all else. Even in Passin’s other poems that include different topics, mention of her brother is often there as well.
Aside from including poetry about her loved ones, Passin takes on a broader and heavier topic: space and the existence of the universe. In one poem, “We Don’t Have Words for What It Is,” Passin notes the inability to accurately describe what the universe truly is. This poem is structured through sporadic line placing and, in the end, one-line stanzas. This is an exceptional way to signify the chaotic thinking of the human race, especially when attempting to make sense of a concept as massive as the existence of the universe. The final line is notably important:
After the speaker discusses all that existence has in common, it is as if she wants the reader to experience a revelation in which they now understand and come to terms with how we will never know the unknown.
Passin also includes poems about her experience as a woman, daughter, friend, and human being. Her poem, “Daughter Means Duty,” acts as a protest poem against everything it means to be under the label “daughter.” In this poem, sound is used brilliantly, specifically with her use of internal/end rhyme, such as in the line, “stray. Stay. / Away is for brothers,” which takes on a musical quality that mimics a chant-like negative affirmation for the speaker.
A series of poems that appear randomly throughout the collection are titled “Migraine Diary.” These poems follow the speaker’s experiences with migraines and are utterly different in each to portray the various sensations and experiences she undergoes during a migraine. For instance, in “Migraine Diary II,” the poem starts with, “The knife in my eye/ belongs to a god:,” a metaphor to show the powerful force of pain the speaker is feeling in her eye, stemming from her headache. In another one, “Migraine Diary IV” Passin includes other words to evoke a different sense of pain:
The pins which hold
the world’s skin
clatter on the floor,
where I once walked.
The earth turns.
The structure of this poem demonstrates the disorientation the speaker is feeling. The imagery posed with the use of words like “pins,” “clatter,” and “turns” emphasizes this dizzy feeling and offers another perspective of experiencing a migraine.
Passin melds all of her seemingly unrelated topics in her poem, “You Are Not God’s Sparrow” to create a beautiful piece that encapsulates the essence of the collection as a whole. Cleverly integrated components of Passin’s family as well as her own fears and thoughts are displayed in this poem, particularly in this part:
Go on, existing.
You are gravity and surface tension
and air pressure, cerebrospinal fluid,
gut microflora, skull sutures.
These two stanzas are written with precision and care due to the distinct vocabulary and medical terminology. The addition of “cerebrospinal fluid” and “skull sutures” is a clear link to Passin’s mother. The final line in this poem, “You get to keep your name” has a great impact because the rest of the poem shows how insignificant we all are, being made up of the same anatomy and having the same forces of nature act upon us. This final line serves as a reminder that the only thing we own, that is truly our own, is our name.
Borrowing Your Body is a poetry collection that will take you on a journey through the eyes of someone else in the most intensely emotional way. Through Passin’s use of varying structures, consistent diction, powerful imagery, and unique metaphors, it will seem—with all your heart and every single sense—that you are borrowing her body and feeling it as your very own.
Review by Bella Ciraco: