Happy Black Speculative Fiction Month. This month I will post reviews and lists of black speculative works that I’ve read recently. By the way, please support my Go Fund Me as I raise money to get a new laptop and continue building my writing career. Here is my review of Yabo:
A few months ago, I read Jacqueline Johnson’s poetry collection, A Woman’s Season, and one of my favorite poems from the book was “Revival at the Black Erotic Church” and two of the lines I cherish is “We welcome our imaginations/back into our souls.” Those lines are how I felt reading Alexis De Veaux’s book, Yabo. If the Black Erotic Church existed as an institution, this should be one of its religious texts.
De Veaux’s Yabo is a narrative poetic work that crosses the borders of all possibilities from time to story structure to identity to sexuality, weaving everything together to show how all is interconnected and flowing together in all directions in a larger universe of existence. De Veaux, who wrote an autobiography on Audre Lorde (who did write an essay on “The Uses of the Erotic“) wrote this book for readers to think outside of Western constructs of linear time, the body and romance and instead to think in an African-based epistemology of time, of the spirit and body, and love between all things. The erotic and ecstatic, as she calls it in the book, “technologies of knowledge.” The now is made up of multiple now, “other heres” as De Veaux describes, and is made of all the pasts and futures as well; who we are are multiple selves existing at various times at once.
Yabo is described in the book as the unbreakable thread (interesting fact: one of the characters is named Eyabo; I looked up Eyabo/Iyabo and its meaning in Yoruba is “mother has returned” or “has come”). Following the lives of the main characters Zen, a queer woman, and Jules, a queer intersex person, we are taken through of web of stories of people Zen and Jules meet, of people they love, of their family and of parallel past lives. We see how all of these stories whether they are from the pasts or another space and time in the present are interconnected in a continuous metapresent (metapresence as well) that keeps bringing Jules and Zen’s story keeps bringing Zen and Jules stories back to each other and creating their future together even if they don’t know fully how it does.Think of it as synchronicities or the concept of kairos; De Veaux conjures a spiritual space of supreme time outside of the constriction of linear time. This treatment of time outside of a linear sense we see in her inclusion of mythic and fabulist storytelling throughout the book including the description of Jules’ gang as werewolf-like dogs; Leopard and Eagle, who seemed to be
mythologized forms of human characters in the story; and two slave rebels Mary 3 and Trickster flying through the air to another time and space and Jules and Zen, their corresponding characters, flying back in time to become them. Jules and Zen’s bodies becomes a kind of physical manifestation and meeting space for all these stories, bodies and stories that don’t fit into neat narratives and categories.
De Veaux’s presentation of black love extends beyond Jules and Zen, but as a historical and spiritual longing and a desire of knowing, especially knowing of things that have been buried or hidden. The book is filled with the ideas of remembering, of rediscovery, of excavating buried artifacts of history, of conjuring and the haunting of the pasts, of alternative presents, of possible futures. The inclusion of the discoveries of the Henrietta Marie slave shipwreck and the African Burial Ground in Yabo speak to those ideas. It is the haunting of something else that we try to find, grasp and define, the “astrology of haunting.” Sometimes we like to think that parts of the pasts are lost forever or buried but they often times have a tricky way of coming back. As Ralph Ellison wrote, history is a spiraling boomerang; make sure you have a helmet. Once a part of the past is rediscovered, the future is forever changed. “History is a black hole/Black holes have membrane to prevent escape unaltered,” as De Veaux writes in Yabo. We are forever changed once we come in contact with other times, other spaces, other stories, other bodies.
De Veaux spoke at her the Brooklyn Book Festival panel of black pleasure as a tool of survival, that black bodies are often seen as victims of violence and not as loving humans who can experience love and pleasure. Yabo shows the evolution of how we can express that love, beyond the stereotypical heteronormative romance, but in all of its various combinations and expressions. Love in this book in not only a commitment to a shared future, but a recognition of a shared past and present all in one. It is that love that keeps us here and keeps us moving.