Laura Passin’s debut poetry collection, Borrowing Your Body, is a heartfelt exploration of known and imagined worlds published by Riot in Your Throat — a publishing company known for its promotion of fierce feminist poetry. Taking ten years to cultivate, Borrowing Your Body centers around Passin’s experience of her mother’s dementia and aphasia, the first part of the collection beginning with reminders of death — what death can be and the sorrow one deals with when facing it—and transforming into a compilation of what comes after death for those left behind.
While this collection is unique, it draws on concepts from Passin’s other work. Her chapbook, All Sex and No Story, focuses on the erotic pressures of gender embodiment through the concepts of love, sex, the body, relationships and desire. Borrowing Your Body focuses on the betrayal of the body in death, illness, and sorrow while still exploring the meaning of relationships and desire: the relationship of a daughter to her dying mother, the desire to find meaning in death and the memories we are left with after death.
Ultimately, this collection is, at its core, an exploration of mortality, how we define ourselves and what it means when the way we define ourselves is taken away from us. In fact, the first poem in the collection, “Aphasia,” starts as a definition poem:
Pathol. Loss of speech, partial or total, or loss of power to understand
written or spoken language, as a result of disorder of the cerebral
Yet quickly, it breaks form and morphs into the start of a powerful narration describing a daughter watching her mother lose both herself and her ability to express who she is.
On the Phone
You are failing
The Turning test.
Bad daughter that I am,
I didn’t think of you
once today. I didn’t think
First, we watch as Passin’s mother becomes trapped in her own body, unable to speak or communicate because of her illness; and once the illness progresses far enough, we continue with the author as she’s forced to face the inevitable death of her mother. This introductory piece sets the tone for the collection, showing us a daughter fighting with parental loss in all its forms.
The next poem, “ARS Poetica: Dementia,” showcases Passin’s ability to write a devastating narrative filled with raw and exacting details:
My mother once tried
to eat the page
Of a magazine, angling
the spoon to excavate
from an illustration
This series of images — which compound, one after the other — are vivid and heartbreaking, exploring what is stolen by dementia and offering a comparison of her mother’s illnesses to a demon in the Ars Goetia. It’s a stark reminder of how time can be taken away.
Throughout the collection, Passin continues to depict the tribulations of caring for an ailing mother, sharing them with great effect. Thematically, the poems slowly transition into a meditation on physical death and what comes after. The poem, “Zone 3,” discusses the connection between the living and dead, and how this connection can continue to shape those of us still living:
In the Twilight Zone,
you can reach the dead
by toy telephone…
Here, wonder and playfulness lie in the absurdity of reaching the dead by telephone — as if searching for a return to childhood and longing for innocence and an easy belief in the closeness between the living and dead. The unknown becomes the focus through a series of conjectures surrounding the concept of life after death, or the continuation of life in a parallel universe. This idea is evolved in “The Learn’d Astronomer on the Radio,” where the mother is “light years away” and “conjured” awake. Most importantly in this after-death scene, she is “unharmed” and can “walk without help.” The daughter, meanwhile, writes it all down.
In the eternity of death, any infinite pattern must repeat. And it is this continued connection to the infinite that allows Passin to dwell on the possibility of a direct relationship with her mother despite the vast distance between them, first by aphasia, and later, by death. The collection’s title, Borrowing Your Body, can be seen as a play on words: the burrowing of illness and the borrowing of self. In this book, Passin offers a sardonic look at disease and loss through raw, detailed narrative — a collection well worth the wait.
By Laura Passin
Riot in Your Throat
Published November 1, 2021