Kassandra Lee’s debut chap,Zombia, begins in the late 90’s in Lee’s native San Diego, where the classroom maps have not yet been updated from the Soviet era. In the flux from the Cold War to the post-9/11 "war on terror," Lee’s world, as the title implies, is constantly on the verge of entering new seasons of danger; a girl in a cul-de-sac experiences “a sense of belonging like how a landmine belongs to the future," and an evening of watching Netflix is seasoned by “the slow drone” of the blood circulating, “an old/ and serious battlefield.” In tight, driving poems, Lee’s speakers consider the “enemy,” real and imagined, with the humor and awe.
Lee’s poems are perhaps most accurately summed up in her own phrase: “arrows don’t accurately/ convey the phenomenon of cause/ and effect.” Lee positions herself in a generation with every reason to question causality—one whose earliest memories on a national political scale are suspect. This troubled relationship upends even the knowledge of one’s own body—“I’m not the same person I was then…” she writes:
The other body fluids wanted
an easy way out
But no black-hatted surgeon came for them
9/11 and the 43rd president take a central role as Lee meditates on the concept of “terror” for a young generation. In “Self-Portrait from the First Inauguration,” the speaker shifts from televised imagery into a jarringly personal reflection:
He made you into a grey shed
on a dirt-skinned molehill. You began
to see the future would be filled
with the enemy, so I filled
your plastic water bottles with cement
to smash in the faces of men who prove
to be all tongues and no taste.
Once the potential for combustion is recognized, it has the potential to be realized; the simple reminder of a bird’s own bone structure presents the complication “that my veins/ are also a wine-stained corkscrew.”
I’m especially taken by Lee’s ability to push back against the potential for hopelessness in a country whose rhetoric is driven by fear and which, at times, dismisses its youngest generation as distracted. Lee’s metaphors and playful interaction with the language of celebrity crushes and social media places them into the conversation—not as spaces outside the dialogue, but as places where the harrowing reality has the potential for a candy-sweet kiss, anyway. For instance, Lee responds to responds to the mandate of the “men in the university” to consider post-capitalist language by hedging the poem “THE REAL KASSY LEE” with hashtag sarcasm:
Roasted Chicken Breast: that’s a great feeling of control
inside an #indifferent universe! Honestly, the bowed bones
encaging my chest are a disco ball of lonely Red Bull cans.
And yet, the speakers’ bizarre sincerity creeps through in poems that reveal an earnest and urgent desire to love with similar abandon as we fear: “I want to pitch/ camp under your dried out/ thorax in a desert// when you die and spit chaw at/ approaching tarantulas.” In this world, brothers are still “glue-eared” and girls take on the nickname “Brass Tacks” with pointed sonic determination: “intact, weathered/ be corner bread and bone broth.”
These indications of hardened possibility are what ground the book. In love poems and memories, we encounter the repeated affirmation that something sharp has been within us all along, and that, perhaps, acknowledging it is the only way forward. In Zombia, Kassandra Lee artfully reveals the hazards we have grown accustomed to in the light that they deserve—one that opens a conversation about their danger while affirming the resilience of those who survive them.
Since 2004, dancing girl press has been publishing chapbooks by emerging women poets (to date, more than 200). Their 2014 series includes another round of beautiful, handmade chaps, including titles by AM Ringwalt, Shira Richman, Sarah Chavez, Irène Mathieu, and GGP contest semi-finalist Jeanine Deibel. You can purchase Kassandra Lee’s Zombia and other books here.
Kate Partridge received her MFA in poetry from George Mason University, and her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the Colorado Review, Carolina Quarterly, Rhino, Better, and Verse Daily. She lives in Anchorage, where she teaches at the University of Alaska Anchorage and serves as a Count Coordinator for VIDA.