Amanda [Ngoho] Reavey Engages
"Against Explanation" & Other Works by Melissa Sipin
Poem Published in Twelfth House Journal:
I don’t know why some of us die privately and some don’t. I don’t know why we sometimes mourn together, and sometimes alone. Why do we still have to say any of it? Why does it still happen and why is it our private lives that are claimed by grief? Did you make it up? Did it happen to you?
— Tarfia Faizullah’s “Against Explanation”
My Mama died. She beat the center of her chest. “What kind of home is this?” she asked. I called her Mama, lola, grandma. She threw pots and pans on the floor. Bang. Thud. My sister lost the baby at 16. There was blood on the toilet, rushing water. My Mama died. She didn’t. I forgot everything until I was ten. There were old men who touched me in the backyard. I don’t remember. You’re making it up. The backyard had rats. They were pets, they were mine. Uncle Iyong built us a playhouse in the garage, built the wooden stairs from nothing. His pet rats ate their babies. The mama rat was big and white and ate all her little pink red babies. Mama died. Which one? Your lola, your mother? My father and his brothers stole the upstairs playhouse and their poker friends touched me at night. I don’t remember. I knew what happened. I didn’t. My grandmother beat her chest. “What kind of home is this?” I told her I could do the boogie. I danced with tambourines. I did ballet at church. I danced for worship. I bought pink ballet shoes. At night, the men, the parés, my father’s poker friends, drank and ate the pet rats. We waited on the steps for him. Daddy never came home. Did they steal your playhouse Uncle Iyong made for you? I heard my father having sex with a prostitute in the playhouse. It was built like a closet near the ceiling. The wooden steps didn’t match. I saw my father. I didn’t. The men are loud. The baby rats are dying. I hid in a shoe closet. I told everyone I was running away. I beat my chest. My mama beat her chest. She locked me in my room. There’s a lock on my door from the outside. I’m fetal in a shoe closet. My mother left the year I was born. What year was it? I don’t remember. “What kind of home is this?” I heard my Mama dying in the month of September. There were beeps and peeps and metal machines hooked to her lungs. I threw a nonstick pan at my husband. I broke it. I threw against the wall. I asked him: What kind of home is this? I held her hands and beat my chest. I did the boogie. I danced for God. I beat the tambourine. Did you hear me pray at night? My father ate the pet rats. I must have eaten all the pet rats. Do you remember how pink, how young they were?
I love repetition in stories. How each rebelling of a sentence differs from its previous incarnations, even if every word and every punctuation mark is the same. It reminds me of oral traditions where repetition not only helped the poet memorize, but also remember their personal, ancestral and societal histories. Perhaps this is why I enjoy Melissa Sipin's short stories and poems. They feel like mourning songs. They feel like everything.
"Write what haunts you," Sipin's says in her poetics statement in Glimmer Train. Having followed (traced) her work for some time now, it is easy to see she does just that. Her characters move through grief and transgenerational, matrilineal trauma: "[My Mama] beat the center of her chest" then "My grandmother beat her chest" then "I held her hands and beat my chest." The epigraph of Sipin’s untitled poem comes from Tarfia Faizullah’s Against Explanation:
“I don’t know why some of us die privately and some don’t. I don’t know why we sometimes mourn together, and sometimes alone. Why do we still have to say any of it? Why does it still happen and why is it our private lives that are claimed by grief? Did you make it up? Did it happen to you?”
What is it about personal stories and social history? What is it about the need to articulate grief? What is it about mothers and love and hope and abandonment? What is it to die on the page? Sipin’s characters yearn and dream. Traumatized, they refuse to remember, want to remember and re-member their bodies through a rhythm adeptly built into each sentence and paragraph. Sipin is careful in how she weaves her words and she is honest. I love how, after reading, I need to sit silently. How, after reading, I'm not exactly sure what moved me, or what my body understood. Perhaps it's presence. Or longing. Or simply, the rawness of being human.
Amanda [Ngoho] Reavey is a Reiki Master, Visual Artist, and Poet.