That Light Feel­ing Un­der Your Feet by Kayla Geit­zler

Room Magazine - - CONTENTS - Anita Dolman

That Light Feel­ing Un­der Your Feet by Kayla Geit­zler, NeW­est Press, 94 pages, $19.95

Kayla Geit­zler’s de­but po­etry col­lec­tion, That Light Feel­ing Un­der Your Feet, will take you on the ocean, but these are not your grand­mother’s travel po­ems—un­less Granny is a so­cial­ist rab­ble-rouser and cross-cul­tural de­fender of the work­ing class (please tell me about her if she is).

Geit­zler’s col­lec­tion starts with the en­try page from her sea­man’s pass­book (called a “mon­ster book­let” in the orig­i­nal Dutch) from her time aboard mega­ships. From port to sea to ex­otic des­ti­na­tion, Geit­zler then doles out an­thro­po­log­i­cal and so­ciopo­lit­i­cal takes, each poem a small sur­vival pack of wry hu­mour and bru­tal in­sights.

Like a Carl Sand­burg of the seas, Geit­zler uses lyric po­etry to hone in on the in­tri­cate de­tails of the work­ing class and the cul­tur­ally ex­ploited, from the taste of sur­vival bis­cuits to the cre­ative his­tor­i­cal lies told to naive but monied tourists.

Geit­zler adeptly sug­gest how to­day’s lux­ury ships not only re­pro­duce but car­i­ca­ture or ex­ac­er­bate the same class, gen­der, and race in­equal­i­ties and dan­gers of home, as in “Food and Bev­er­age Man­ager”:

self-de­fence class doesn’t teach how the weight and pain of him presses the breath out of

No and Stop: in­stead lis­ten—to the en­gine’s steady chug, the In­done­sians singing

the in­tox­i­cated melody of my na­tional an­them;

The book’s first half, “Satur­na­lia of the Seas,” looks closely at the lives of crews and pas­sen­gers aboard this float­ing, per­ma­nently fes­tive city. Geit­zler has a gift for com­bin­ing clear de­scrip­tion with res­onat­ing as­so­nance.

Us­ing a broad range of struc­tured po­et­ics, she of­fers vi­gnettes of the ev­ery­day moral, sex­ual, and class strug­gles she saw as a “shop girl” sell­ing sou­venirs to the wealthy, el­derly, lonely, or far from home, some­times in try­ing cir­cum­stances: “Four days of the guests from hell: vomit in the stair­wells, ri­ots over / sou­venir mara­cas and 3XL T-shirts; ste­wards and bar staff weep­ing.”

The book’s sec­ond half, “The Nether Ships,” takes us fur­ther ashore, on field trips along the Ama­zon, into Vic­to­ria, and through Alaskan his­tory. Alas, Geit­zler’s po­etry be­comes more ar­du­ous as she pro­gres­sively in­cor­po­rates more opaque lan­guage and re­gional ter­mi­nol­ogy. It’s an ef­fec­tive trick to give read­ers the sense of be­ing left out­side of se­cret cul­tural un­der­stand­ings, per­sonal agen­das, or cor­po­rate strate­gies. But if, like me, you have lim­ited pa­tience for ob­scu­rity, it’s a trick you may get bored with well be­fore the book ends.

Over­all, That Light Feel­ing’s po­ems feel sturdy and true, even when the world and lives they de­scribe are far from it. The sto­ries they tell will make you want to rail at class and gen­der norms, and at the cul­tural and eco­nomic ex­pec­ta­tions we place on our­selves and each other, even when given a chance to re­sist.

One thing they won’t make you want to do is take a cruise.

In only 130 re­mark­able pages, Thúy has ex­panded sen­tences into sto­ries and wo­ven po­ems into pas­sages, each with their own be­gin­ning, mid­dle, and end. In one breath­tak­ing pas­sage, Thúy sk­il­fully likens Vi’s blos­som­ing ro­mance to a mys­te­ri­ous flower: “He com­pared me to the rare udum­bara flow­ers, which the

Bud­dhists said ap­peared only once every three thou­sand years, whereas in fact they hid by the hun­dreds be­neath the skin of their fruits. Some­times they es­caped to blos­som a lead, on a wire fence, or in my en­tire body af­ter our first kiss.”

Thúy in­te­grates Vi’s story beau­ti­fully within her fam­ily dy­namic and global his­tory. While her fam­ily wants a set­tled and se­cure life in Que­bec, Vi seeks ad­ven­ture and ro­mance: “My broth­ers and my mother were not happy to re­ceive the pieces of the [Ber­lin] Wall I brought back. In their eyes, they were proof of my es­capade with Tân, which rep­re­sented a lack of re­spect for my an­ces­tors, my cul­ture, and all the strug­gles and sac­ri­fices of my mother.” She is un­will­ing to get mar­ried and live a tra­di­tional life, thus she is a dis­ap­point­ment to her fam­ily—though she doesn’t in­ter­nal­ize this fact.

The novel’s great­est achieve­ment is sub­tlety in state­ment; there is trauma with­out the story be­ing drenched in pain, there is fem­i­nism with­out a po­lit­i­cal lec­ture, and there is im­mi­grant strug­gle with­out the model mi­nor­ity nar­ra­tive. She has dar­ingly writ­ten about the or­deal of com­ing to Canada with­out fram­ing Vi as a vic­tim or a vic­tor.

While Vi’s ed­u­ca­tion in trans­la­tion and law and her ca­reer as a lawyer fol­low a re­spectable path and serve as an arc in the story, she is still a dis­ap­point­ment to her mother who wanted her to be a doc­tor. How­ever, this ten­sion doesn’t dom­i­nate the nar­ra­tive, nor does it con­sume Vi’s con­scious­ness. She is in­ter­ested in nei­ther con­form­ing nor cre­at­ing waves, a break­through in sto­ry­telling about the first-gen­er­a­tion ex­pe­ri­ence. And af­ter read­ing this book twice, I still don’t want to put it down.

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