Reviews in Retrospect: “Seasonal Velocities” by Ryka Aoki

‘Tell me the story one last time
of how we ran barefoot in
the just remembered downpour.’

-“Obon”

These lines from Seasonal Velocities, Ryka Aoki’s 2012 collection of poems, stories, and essays, beautifully demonstrate Aoki’s skill for capturing the events that shape a person while refusing to let them fade from memory. Aoki writes unflinchingly of loss, love, and longing for home, while incorporating illuminating commentary on what it means to be a transgender woman of colour in the twenty-first century.

Seasonal Velocities is a book in four sections: Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. On the surface, the collection takes us on a vivid journey through the seasons. But time is not quite so fixed under Aoki’s pen. Rather, within each season, Aoki draws links from childhood to the present, and from the present to an uncertain future. Sometimes, this takes the form of an emotive confession, such as in “A Letter Undelivered” addressed to Aoki’s grandmother: ‘It’s another birthday, another Christmas, but I’ve been feeling less Christmas-y every year since you passed.’ Other times, this takes the form of a direct call for social change, as when Aoki addresses the harmful dismissal of trans women in cases of domestic abuse: ‘You can’t call the police—they would probably take one look at the situation and think you were the attacker, especially if they read you as trans.’

Despite its focuses on grief and injustice, Seasonal Velocities is an undeniably hopeful book. At the end of the essay on domestic abuse, Aoki looks to the future and refuses to let trauma define her, asking her readers ‘Who will be with me at 2031 Pride?’ Above all else, Seasonal Velocities feels like a tool to face the world with. There are few other books I could say balance the worrying with the comforting so delicately. Aoki doesn’t shy away from the violence of everyday life, but ultimately leaves us with the sense that healing is possible. The last lines of the collection’s final poem, “Spaceship Home”, summarise this best. Aoki dreams of a place:

‘Where I shall return, surely
as the thunder despises
what learns to fly faster, then faster
than light.’

This is a striking image for institutional powers (‘the thunder’) rendering it nearly impossible for the oppressed to find happiness and a sense of belonging. This ‘thunder’ takes painstaking, speed-of-light perseverance to overcome. In Seasonal Velocities, though this unjust, exhausting process still needs to be challenged; it is also still worth pushing forward in the hopes of finding a place to call home. In Aoki’s writing, the thunder of injustice cannot be silenced within the space of a page, or through the course of a book. Aoki’s aim is not to silence the thunder, but to nurture the individual self as an ever-burning oppositional flame.

-Sylvie Lewis

Featured Image Source: Writer’s own photo

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