It wasn’t me you saw
among the pale shipwrecked vowels.
I have never breathed that sunset,
I have never been found.
Excerpt from the Preface:
After the first print run of Nomad sold out, I was offered the opportunity to do a second printing with Thread Makes Blanket press. Inspired by Audre Lorde, who revised her poems until the end of her life, I wanted to see what would happen if I re-approached the poems in Nomad. I had just finished writing my second collection and my personal life was beginning to settle after a few years of major transitions. Revisiting Nomad was an opportunity to reflect on my vision and poetics at a time when my understanding of what it meant to be a woman of color, a migrant, a survivor, a mother, a laborer, a witness – and other identities that I relied on to inhabit the world – had been deeply shaken.
And lest there be any suggestion that such a challenge was presented by a “post-racial” society or any other analogous “improvement” in our state of affairs, let me clarify that exactly the opposite happened. It was, in fact, confronting the powerlessness of these identities in the face of relentless state, corporate, white and male brutality that made me realize how insufficient they were as incubators of freedom, no matter how solid or how much of my hope for communion depended on their existence within the soul-starving landscape of neoliberalism. As James Baldwin so aptly wrote, “People are trapped in history, and history is trapped in them.”
Examining the foundational moments that motivated the writing of Nomad became a radical search for cracks in the walls. And if I was once tempted to beautify them, I have, through this project, tried to understand how the poems themselves could become acts of slipping through.
…By extension, I hope this experiment might help readers question the idea of fixed points in poetry, that is, the “canon,” through which the West manifests its paradigm of civilization as a linear, cumulative archive of self-enclosed categories. Coming from a line of displaced people, people who have not been wanted by their home- or host lands, who are constantly erasing and reinventing past lives, I feel particularly conscious of being made up of fragments of dominant (or relatively dominant) histories to which I neither belong nor lay claim. Disappearance is a part of us – the line that connects my generation to even the one before is fraught with lost memory. Thus, interrupting the ideal of a singular body of work that endures for all eternity is also a way for me to affirm this mode of existence, one which lays bare the pretensions; the lie of the archive and the empire it sustains.
Oka has revisited her body (of work) with an intentional force that reclaims our losses and a skin-shedding so necessary that it redefines poetry. The lyricism in Oka’s poetry is enough to split a canonical rock open.
Oka’s mythmaking creates a landscape that calls on nature, the power of women, and the idea of writing and rewriting on the palimpsest of the destroyed and those reclaiming their power.
These poems are dazzling perceptive dream-songs strung out on a bridge crossing countries of land and ocean. They are built to hold loneliness, heartache, and the promise of happiness.
The bravery of crossing out and rewriting not only history but one’s own story, understanding the mutability of a tale, establishes this poetry as an inquiry into the wildness of interiority.
The official map’s mandates no longer apply. Just when you think the legends make sense, a nomad like Oka comes along to re-inscribe the lines.
This compelling and revised edition speaks to women of color, migrants, survivors, mothers, laborers–all of us–to say: “you are stronger than / the ruins you carry, that salvage is not your / body.”