Miah Jeffra’s book of essays provides a journey as split—and splitting—as the human experience. The person snaps off the page. And there is unbelievable freedom in that.
Jeffra’s first essay, “If the Day Ever Comes (after David Wojnarowicz’s Untitled (One Day This Kid)),” opens the book with a collision of art, the body, truth, reality, future, past, vulnerability, and mystery that threads throughout the rest of the collection. If it sounds like a lot, it’s only because the essays are compressed in form but expansive in content.
One day this kid will hug close that fear is the opposite of love. One day this kid will be accused of a hug-load of fear. One day this kid will have to admit this to be true. One day this kid will not be afraid to hurt. One day this kid won’t remember one home. One day this kid will understand why their mother made a new one. One day this kid will learn to make a home out of one material. One day this kid will look at themselves and hate it, until they love it.
That refrain, “One day this kid,” might quickly begin echoing through our own lives. The act of looking forward and backward at once opens us. We self-reflect. We consider the people around us. Even reading one of Jeffra’s essays is transformative.
After the poetic rhythm of that first essay, the collection continues in a vibrant mix of style and genre.
Jeffra writes with both immediacy and contemplation. The concrete parts are often balanced with more abstract thinking and larger themes. People in Jeffra’s life rise to the surface and bubble over.
Pictures of a young Jeffra and their mother and brother add in more ties to the visual undercurrent of ekphrastic work. Unlike some memoirs, Jeffra’s essays are not only about family, past, and how recollections can illuminate readers’ lives. They have many layers. The paintings, movies, and music they reference provide an additional layer for interested readers.
While such a wide range of topics and styles can suggest a lack of a center to Jeffra’s collection, the writer’s great yearning energy—more than subject matter or characters—compels the audience forward. The book is a quick read, but for audiences who love complexity, there is plenty of depth.
It’s easy to find a few of Jeffra’s lines that carry more weight than their mere sentences, wrap up everything neatly, and provide supposed answers.
“This one tells me I’m allowed to feel exactly one thing. What would I choose? Is that a choice any of us can make?”
Or, “When you see a lie over and over again, you begin to believe it is true… Perhaps it is time for us all to tell new lies.”
But Jeffra’s goal is not to give answers or consolation. The power of the book is the question that often emerges after supposed certainty.
Jeffra’s writing choices themselves are a kind of living answer. In “Line and Loop (after Meredith Monk’s Turtle Dreams),” Jeffra situates the reader in concrete details, but switches locales in each new paragraph. There’s a brilliant thread of continuing action connecting each paragraph to the other, of using a car to go to the store. The “you” Jeffra addresses is first in Maryland with a red truck. In the second paragraph, “you” is in North Carolina in a yellow Chevy Malibu. In the next paragraph, it’s Atlanta, and “you” make it into the store.
Each paragraph both carries the reader forward and leaves the reader between spaces. Suspension of disbelief turns into a reader suspended, contemplating what connects them in the journey.
Jeffra also ends each paragraph with the sounds of each locale (cicadas in Maryland, rain in North Carolina, the collected sounds of an Atlanta grocery store). Living in that auditory experience is a little like listening to Meredith Monk, but it’s also a helpful device for Jeffra to aid audience navigation.
The theme of confrontation provides readers more stepping stones through the collection. Not necessarily direct confrontation or social conflict, but the confrontation of the body (in language, ideas, reality, genders, ins and outs). When Jeffra was sixteen, for example, they saw an alien (truth and perception discussed later). Jeffra describes the body’s visceral and immediate reaction: “I could feel the velocity of that single turd shoot against the lining of my poly-cotton Voltron pajama bottoms, the betrayal of years of self-control.”
While the audience may not want to see these images or be in that place, Jeffra’s vivid, unflinching description draws them in. We know that body shame. Seeing it, hearing it, we start to question the shaming instead of the bodily experience.
Later essays confront birth, love in physical manifestations, sex, and masturbation. Both Jeffra and the reader collect courage to confront a core selves’ strengths and weaknesses. The audience may leave the work being more aware of their animal body—its directness and implications in American culture: its beauty; its celebrations; its truths that may be hard to look at or think about.
The book is alive in this time, but it also feels like a work people will rediscover later in Jeffra’s career. The importance and connection between wild themes and Jeffra’s questioning nature feel like these essays will illuminate further, and be illuminated further, in later works. One day this book will give all it can. One day this book will have more to give.
The person snapping off the page of these essays—if they leave us with only one thing—leaves us with a cohesive feeling that Jeffra, themselves, cannot be contained.
Heidi Kasa writes fiction and poetry. Her work has been a finalist for a Black Lawrence Press award, shortlisted for a Fractured Lit award, and sold at City Lights bookstore in San Francisco. Kasa's writing has appeared in The Racket, Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, The Raw Art Review, and Ab Terra, among others. Her fiction chapbook, "Split," is due out from Monday Night Press in June 2022. She works as an editor and lives in Austin.
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