“I thought I forgave you,” Eugenia Leigh tells the specter of her father in Bianca. “Then I took root and became / someone’s mother.” Leigh’s gripping second collection introduces us to a woman managing marriage, motherhood, and mental illness as her childhood abuse resurfaces in the light of “this honeyed life.” Leigh strives to reconcile the disconnect between her past and her present as she confronts the inherited violence mired in the body’s history. As she “choose[s] to be tender to [her] child—a choice / [her] mangled brain makes each day,” memories arise, asking the mother in her to tend, also, to the girl she once was. Thus, we meet her manic alter ego, whose history becomes the gospel of Bianca: “We all called her Bianca. My fever, my havoc, my tilt.” These poems recover and reconsider Leigh’s girlhood and young adulthood with the added context of PTSD and Bipolar Disorder. They document the labyrinth of a woman breaking free from the cycle of abuse, moving from anger to grief, from self-doubt to self-acceptance. Bianca is ultimately the testimony of one woman’s daily recommitment to this life. To living. “I expected to die much younger than I am now,” Leigh writes, in awe of the strangeness of now, of “every quiet and colossal joy.”
“Children of Lions”
The rest of us,
trembling among our mothers’
bargain trench coats, waited
for Narnia. There, we dreamed
we were the children
of lions. Heirs to our own beds. Safe
in a closet rapturous with centaurs
in symphony with naiads and fauns. And I,
pink and young, swelled like a sinless sun. And I
pretended my father—
who had struck me then shoved me in—
would find my tomb empty
and repent. No, that is the adult talking.
I was a child then. It didn’t matter
what he’d done.
I still wanted to be found.
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