Book Review

“I saw you shadow of / a shadow / maybe I thought / I made you / up.” In this unknowing place begins Leila Chatti’s heartbreaking and breathtaking chapbook, Figment, which explores Chatti’s personal experience with pregnancy loss.

Chatti is not new to writing about the body. Deluge (Copper Canyon Press, 2020), her full-length, debut collection, arose from her experience with uterine tumors, prolonged bleeding, medical treatment, and the space of suffering we call healing. Like Deluge, Figment is formally precise and stunning. Unlike Deluge, Figment is sparse and fragmented. Some pages contain a dozen words or less. Here, miscarriage not only breaks the body, but language.

Losing a pregnancy, speaking personally, is an experience marked by self-doubt, unknowing, and liminality. The previously black-and-white borders between life and death, love and grief, myself and other, something and nothing are all suddenly called into urgent question. Chatti writes, “a mistake / a mistake / to think // you nothing nothing / is nothing.” Resisting echo and line break, it is worth emphasizing, Chatti insists “nothing / is nothing.” And yet, what of the culpability in “mistake?”

Pregnancy loss is surely one of the least-discussed yet most common human experiences. (It’s estimated by Planned Parenthood that 10-20% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage.) When it is discussed, the language we use is broken, uncertain, and sometimes harmful. Lose, miscarry—these words weigh heavy with judgment and shame. In Figment, Chatti works with this broken language just as one who has lost a pregnancy lives in a body broken open by loss. The way the poems appear on the page both carries and resists this very brokenness:

belief be
lie con
ceive con


able error

                                          error ever

Here, pushing through the line breaks, is a kind of embodied hope.

Figment also plays with the abecedarian form. Across the chapbook, the reader does eventually progress through the entire alphabet, but there are reprieves—pages where the form cannot hold. Here the alphabet can symbolize how things are supposed to progress; language in its entirety is unwieldy, but the alphabet orders it. In pregnancy, there are trimesters and milestones to order the essentially unorderable—how life begins. But the order of the alphabet here is fragmented by unordered language, other inquiries in directions like etymology. Early in the chapbook, Chatti explores the various meanings of the titular word, “Figment” (near homonym, it is worth noting, of fragment):

something invented or imagined, a myth or fable;
a feigned, invented, or imagined story, theory, etc.;
a mere product of mental invention;
something merely imagined or made up in the mind;
a fantastic notion;
deceitful practice;
false doctrine;
something that seems real but is not

This chapbook is filled with doubt, though the very acts of writing a chapbook and making a child seem to resist such doubt. But do they? Language, too, is doubtful. The definition of a single word is so varied as to constitute an entire page.

Another vulnerability of language in Figment occurs toward the chapbook’s end. Chatti turns to languages other than English, as if the end of our alphabet is but the beginning of many, many others: “yes you / Zeitlang.

The sparse poems of Figment embody brokenness, yet in their blank space mystery is present, too. When words themselves cannot hold, the space of the page steps in. During an ultrasound, Chatti writes, “gray like            the color / of nothing / light                       unable to be held.” If light cannot be held, how can we expect to hold onto life? Life is just as “nothing” as light, as ineffable and uncontainable. Later, she concludes one poem, “you came . . . // out of nothing / into.” The poem ends—or does it?—in mystery, in unknowing. Through Figment, Chatti shows us that language is just as mysterious as the silences between and around, life as mysterious as loss.

About the Reviewer

Katherine Indermaur is the author of I|I (Seneca Review Books, November 2022), winner of the 2022 Deborah Tall Lyric Essay Book Prize, and two chapbooks. She serves as an editor for Sugar House Review and is the winner of the Black Warrior Review 2019 Poetry Contest and the 2018 Academy of American Poets Prize. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Alpinist, Coast|noCoast, Ecotone, Frontier Poetry, the Journal, New Delta Review, Ninth Letter, the Normal School, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from Colorado State University and lives within sight of the Rocky Mountains.