Book Review

Rage Hezekiah’s latest collection, Yearn—a winner of the 2021 Diode Editions Book Contest—is so sensuous in its wanting, so powerful in the lyricism of its sexual and personal agency, so lush in its ecology, that it makes one wonder if another word for yearn might not be poem. To poem, as in to reach across and through language. To poem, as in to unfurl stamen in body and meadow. Hezekiah’s poems “haven’t learned / not to vibrate with want,” as the speaker of “Capricorn Season” says. We as readers are invited to teem, hum, tingle alongside these poems not only with the erotic desire of sex, but also that of being alive bodies in a wet, green world. The speakers of these poems lay claim to their own Black, queer agency, pleasure, and anger among ponds and wood ducks and ribs by dark water. Yearn is a gorgeous collection that explores the poetics of want with startling imagery and beautiful use of form across the field of the page.

So many poems in Hezekiah’s book thrillingly foreground the speaker’s sexual pleasure and appetite. The opening poem, “Consent,” contrasts the speaker’s earlier “unwelcome” sexual experiences with learning consent and personal agency as an adult with a lover:

I learned possession
of my body—
the unexpected

agency of pleasure.
I was oblivious
until she held me

from the inside
while I sobbed,
her mouth soft

on my carpel,
I bellowed deep
& loud, howled

a chasm open
as a peony.

The speaker’s possession of her own body, the ownership of her yearning, enables the blooming that continues throughout the rest of the collection. The language of consent, of yes—and what the speaker is and is not allowed to consent to in the rest of the poems—mediates the speaker’s world through the tongue and the words moving so bodily through and out of the mouth. The tercets of “Consent” enact this pleasure both through their repetitive, trinitarian structure and in the way they enable the syntax to spill from little stanza to little stanza, like the petaled folds of a peony. Too, the juxtaposition of the wide, consumptive chasm and the tiny, delicate peony contain so much erotic energy that the tercets change to the climax and closure of a couplet. The closing two lines suggest not only the paired speaker and lover, but also the speaker and her newfound sense of her own body and agency. So many of the poems in this collection praise, celebrate the speaker’s own pleasure in putting her mouth and hands on a body with a lyricism that evokes the work of Diannely Antigua and Danez Smith but that is distinctly Hezekiah’s own.

Yearn also lyrically examines the speaker’s anger at what she cannot consent to. In the poem “You Watch Me Wishing I Were Twice as Good,” airport security violates and humiliates the speaker’s girlfriend with a racist bodily inspection as the speaker—reprimanded as a child for being “vocal, unafraid”—screams and cries:

. . . I hear my own
detached yelling, anger emerging

from a bodily history of you do not
belong, I am the woman

in a public meltdown, surrounded by
anonymous passengers. This is bullshit.

Nearby, my father stands like a column
with a single index finger pressed

against pursed lips, attempts
to ease a non-existent orchestra

into decrescendo. He folds his hands
at this waist, the same way he behaved

to avoid his father’s belt or his mother’s
backhand. I’m still a scene, tears streak

my cheeks; my father has already left
his body.

Part of the horror of this scene is in the way the father tries to quiet the speaker’s voice while standing “the same way he behaved / to avoid his father’s belt . . . ” in the way he has learned to “decrescendo” by leaving his body. The poems in Yearn root all pleasure and lovely appetite in the body, and thus part of the violence of this scene is in the way the father has learned to leave his body and the way the speaker is forced out of her own with her “detached yelling.” Syntactically in these lines, the anger is no longer her own—so different from her ownership of her body and voice in “Consent”—but rather “emerging / from a bodily history,” separated from her possession and her body. The body becomes a text of “you do not / belong” and “detached yelling” instead of an agentive voice of yes, consent, and bellow. The couplets become a kind of cleaving (in the dividing sense) of the intimate paired relationships of speaker / girlfriend and speaker / father. Throughout Yearn, Hezekiah explores rage and grief to such devastating effect in poems like this one, where part of the violence is the severing of the voice and self from the body.

Yet these poems also insist on a wet, green, bodily world in which the speaker(s) of these poems can exist in vibrant, vibrating kinship. In resistance to violence is bioluminescence. Fireflies and sex and ponds and ducks. Odes to the uterus and the lush vibrations of the body even in the struggle with infertility, to the intimacy and tenderness of married (and scheduled) sex. To abundance. In the poem “Mud Season,” the speaker observes the teem of spring with luscious imagery and sonic delight:

the nearby pond thrumming
with life. Belted kingfishers
plummet into shallow depths
plucking tiny carp from wet.
Wood ducks preen, a helmeted
parade of painted turtles strung
across each beaver-brown log.
. . .



                                                         to     make      it       so

The sensual alliteration in lines like “parade of painted turtles” and the luscious verbs of plummet, preen, pluck mediate the loveliness of the world through the mouth of the speaker. They also set up the ending volta—marked by the words spreading so beautifully with little breaths of caesuras across the field of the page—in which all of that action contrasts with the speaker who has “done nothing” to make the spring happen. The agency is not in what the speaker has done (indeed, she has done nothing). Her agency is in her surrender. Her recognition of the spring unfolding without any action, power, or control on her part is one in which she accepts her own bodily position in this web of ecological kinship. Unlike the violence and very different loss of control in a poem like “You Watch Me Wishing I Were Twice as Good,” this poem grounds the speaker deeply in her own body among the pleasure of many non-human bodies moving in the world. This greening, erotic energy is the beating center of Yearn. The word yearn becomes a central act—noun and verb—of agency, reaching, aliveness against the crisis of violence.

Rage Hezekiah’s poems are stunning meditations on consent, desire, and anger, rich with imagery as they situate the body in kinship with raspberries, snow, and moonlight. In Yearn, Hezekiah invites us as readers into the erotic potency of vibrating with want in relation to other bodies in meadows and bedrooms. These poems “make a life,” as the final words of the collections say, and they are necessary and vital reading to teach us how to do so.

About the Reviewer

Kelly Weber (she/they) is the author of the debut poetry collection We Are Changed to Deer at the Broken Place (Tupelo Press, 2022) and the chapbook The Dodo Heart Museum (dancing girl press, 2021). Her/their work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Laurel Review, Brevity, The Missouri Review, The Journal, Palette Poetry, Southeast Review, Passages North, and elsewhere. She/they hold(s) an MFA from Colorado State University and lives with two rescue cats. More of Weber’s work can be found at