- Repository of Feminine Memory
Yes Yes Books
Pages; Print, $18.00
In the closing pages of Khadijah Queen’s I’m So Fine: A List of Famous Men & What I Had On, the narrator asks, “& why couldn’t all this only be about name-dropping & brand names.” Or perhaps it is the narrator’s anticipation of the reader’s own question, since the section concludes, “ask me again I’ll tell you the same.” The lines prior to this recount the narrator’s experience with “a famous poet” who, a few months after a seemingly pleasant day spent together in Manhattan, “would push me into a hotel closet at a writing conference & grab my breasts so hard it hurt & saying I liked it.” The narrator, then, has answered her (and our) question before even asking it; to live in a female body means that one can never be “only” doing any one thing—going to the store, riding the bus, discussing the clothes one wore—without the constant threat of violence both psychic and physical.
The cover of I’m So Fine declares it to be “A Narrative,” a collection of breathless prose poems stitched together through stream of consciousness narration (the close biographical overlap invites us to read it as that of Queen herself) which charts the protagonist’s evolving relationship to fame, misogyny, beauty, and self-actualization. The book delivers exactly what its title promises—a catalog of encounters with famous men accompanied by a chronicle of what the narrator was wearing at the time. But it is also a chronicle of the daily harassment and threat that accompanies living in a woman’s body, specifically a black woman’s body coming of age in Los Angeles in the 1990s.
At a textual level, the writing creates an experience on the page that mirrors the sudden switches and turns, the lack of solid footing that accompanies the experience of a female body moving through a hostile world. Each prose poem has little to no punctuation except the ampersand which creates a fluid, quick-moving line that asks the reader to pay attention to the lack of division between moments of joy and moments of pain, moments of safety and moments of threat. For example, take the third poem in the collection, which reads:
The Beverly Center Food Court is also where I met Devante’s brother from Jodeci I forgot his name but we didn’t really meet he was just looking at my eyes then looking at my ass as I kept walking I really liked red lipstick back then I got it that day with my saved allowance at Rexall across the street a blue-red in a gold case & we both had on white jeans I was 17 & I remember it was summer
Here, the casualness of the narrator’s recounting of the objectification of the male gaze puts it on par with her past choice in lipstick and the fact that it was summer, an equivalence that is also created at the sentence level where there is no punctuation to segment, separate, or differentiate between the layers of event. Such incidents are so mundane, so everyday that they shock neither us nor the narrator, and this lack of shock, this false equivalence, is paradoxically jarring.
Even more jarring is the way in which many of the poems reveal the web of constant and sometimes unavoidable threat that surrounds the narrator and her female friends and relatives:
Chris Tucker and Faizon Love came to Musicland where I worked & pretended to buy a polka tape he made me ring it up & everything which got on my nerves because I had to void the ticket he said what the hell would I look like bumping polka & the way he was looking at me like I was a plate of chicken & got too close & asked if I had a boyfriend which I did actually that boyfriend would rape me later that week right behind my apartment in an...