Poetry Review: Prairie M. Faul’s ‘Burnt Sugarcane’

Burnt Sugarcane
Prairie M. Faul
Glo Worm Press, 2017

Illo for review of Prairie M. Faul's chapbook 'Burnt Sugarcane'.“What’s it like to be a home?” Prairie M. Faul asks. The whole of her second chapbook, Burnt Sugarcane, seems to be an attempt to answer this fundamental question. In Faul’s work the body is a home, but not one that’s going to last. She writes, “we decided arteries / make for great architecture.” As in her previous chap, Root-Heart, the heart becomes a home, though not always a comfortable one.

There is a deep weariness to Faul’s work. This, perhaps, is what it means to be a trans poet: to be tired, always and endlessly, and yet to continue on, if only through the written word. In “I wanna shave my head, I wanna leave this town,” she writes, “One day i woke up / & i’ve felt tired ever since.” Her work is both romantic and not: in these poems, experience is written raw, and yet there’s a terrible beauty in it. Faul writes, “She took me to the field where names are born & fucked me in the flowers(?). They felt like flowers(?)” For Faul, flowers are just flowers, and yet in her work we see them anew. The work beckons to the reader, asking, “what could be better than fucking in the flowers?” And, truthfully, it seems that few things could be.

Burnt Sugarcane has a lot to say, but it also deals in intimate silences. In “You gave me yr smoked sugarcane after the reading,” Faul writes, “what a sweet mouth / that opens / & wont speak.” Here, sweetness is equated with silence, to dizzying effect. How much easier it is to love that which remains silent, and how much sweeter we are before we speak.

Yet Burnt Sugarcane is anything but a placid, silent chap. In it, Faul, like so many of us, seems determined to write herself into existence. In “In which we’re alive in Mid-City,” she writes, “It feels like comfort though / knowing we’re written down.” And this makes a good deal of sense. As a trans poet, I personally feel constantly at odds with the world around me. I fight incessantly to make space for myself within a culture and a canon that denies my very existence. And thus, Faul’s consolation is my consolation, too. When she writes herself into comfort, I myself am comforted.

Indeed, in Burnt Sugarcane, the trans body becomes literally and fittingly transcendent. In “Astral projecting my insecurities onto you,” Faul challenges one of the moon’s many lovers, asking, “did you think / you / could be / enough?” The poem is in direct conversation with J. Jennifer Espinoza’s cosmos-shattering poem “The Moon Is Trans.” And, just as in Espinoza’s work, the moon, hanging high above the world as an eternally luminous trans body, defies the temporal and spatial limitations of human physicality. The moon, as Faul writes her, will outlast all else. She writes, “You / will be / light years / away / fading / & still / She will glow.” It is of no small significance that the moon’s pronoun, “She,” is capitalized throughout.

As Faul’s work struggles with the idea of home, and of coming to feel at home in one’s body and in the bodies of others, violence necessarily comes into play. In “Ma Louisiane” (“My Louisiana” in French), Faul writes, “i tell ma mère / there’s blood / in the bayou.” The poem describes the speaker’s return to her native Louisiana, which the speaker finds saturated with blood. This bloodiness comes to permeate all aspects of domestic life within the poem, appearing “in the black pot / boiled / up inside / rice that grew / in fields / soaked with it.” For Faul, home is not something to be taken for granted, but something fought for at great physical cost. Indeed, the speaker of Faul’s poems seems perennially embattled, ready to fight at a moment’s notice. In “Dog-tooth 73,” she writes, “i wanna bite the hands / that have felt me / fed me / fucked a not-me.” The speaker of these poems, though weary, is ready, always, to defend herself. This, too, rings true to my experience of transness. For trans folks, the few moments in which we can close our eyes or lower our hands come as both blessings and surprises. If there is violence in Faul’s work, it is violence which descends from the hands of the world, with which the speaker, it seems, is all too familiar.

And yet, while Faul seems ready at every turn to defend herself from the relentlessly perpetrated violence of cis-heteronormativity, her work is unceasingly, beautifully vulnerable. This, more than anything else, is what struck me as I made my way through Burnt Sugarcane. Faul’s work is full of love. In “To Alpen Rose, to Strawberry Morning,” Faul writes, “i hope you know / how nice it looks out here / on the floor.” In this moment, Faul reminds us that amidst the struggle to survive, in each mundane moment of our menial existences, there is some small poetic beauty to glean, even (or perhaps especially) from the meanness of life. Faul appears in person at the end of the poem, signing it “Love always, / Prairie.” And though it may have been written for someone else, the reader can’t help but feel that Faul really does love them. Burnt Sugarcane proves itself well worth both your money and your time for the rare and beautiful experience of being loved by Prairie M. Faul.
Jo Gehringer is a mixed-race trans poet from Omaha, Nebraska. They currently live in New Orleans. They are a co-founder of tenderness, yea (tendernessyea.com). Their work has appeared in Paper Darts, Spy Kids Review, OMEGA, and elsewhere. They tweet @unlovablehottie and they love you, like, a lot.

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