The Trauma of Living: Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch’s knot body

by Cicely Belle Blain

Cicely Belle Blain is a Black, multi-racial, queer writer, activist, and CEO from London, UK. Cicely Belle is noted for founding Black Lives Matter Vancouver and subsequently being listed as one of Vancouver’s 50 most powerful people by Vancouver Magazine twice, BC Business’s 30 under 30, and one of Refinery29’s Powerhouses of 2020. They are now the CEO of Bakau Consulting, an anti-racism consulting company with over 1000 clients worldwide.

Cicely Belle is also an instructor in Executive Leadership at Simon Fraser University and the Editorial Director of Ripple of Change Magazine. They are the author of Burning Sugar (Arsenal Pulp Press and VS Books) which has been featured on CBC Books, Autostraddle, Indigo and Essence Mag. Their debut book also garnered them spots at some of Canada’s top literary festivals including Vancouver Writer’s Festival, Word of the Street Toronto, FOLD, and more. Burning Sugar is longlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and shortlisted the Pat Lowther Memorial Award. They also published an e-book, What We’ve Learned: A Year Fighting White Supremacy in a Pandemic as well as contributed to two racial justice anthologies in 2021—Afrikan Wisdom: New Voices Talk Black Liberation, Buddhism, and Beyond (North Atlantic Books)  and Coloniality and Racial (In)Justice in the University (UofT Press).

knot body
Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch
Metatron Press
2020, 108 pp., $17.00

 

When I receive a book of poetry, I know I can break the rules. I could open the book in the middle, or start from the back, or read the same lines over and over and leave some parts entirely unread. And I did this with Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch’s knot body. And it allowed me to. It allowed me to dive in and out of pain and love and sex and the trauma of living. El Bechelany-Lynch’s blunt, sensual, weaving way with words provided a soft—but not easy—avenue back into their poetry and prose.

I open on page 55 to the poem entitled “The Fatigue”universe, is this a cruel pandemic joke? I think of the viral meme that asks, “Is it Zoom fatigue or is it the crushing weight of existing within capitalism?” knot body reiterates what I already know: it’s the latter. “The fatigue is just fatigue until it’s not,” El Bechelany-Lynch writes. I feel that. You’re tired, you’re tired, you’re tired, and then you’re exhausted, and burnt out, and there is no way to boss-babe-manifest-self-care your way out of that.

I got my first computer at ten years old; I grew up online. When the pandemic hit and I retreated to my gamer chair, hunched over my keyboard and settled in for what would be more than a year, it felt natural. I often think about how much easier life would be if I could upload my consciousness to the cloud and divorce myself from my physical form. “I can’t imagine my body being worth anything other than waste,” El Bechelany-Lynch remarks, reminding me of this secret desire I have. A corporeal form is a prison when it’s deemed ugly and useless by society, the way internalized oppression shows up for so many marginalized people. The expectation to carry on, to produce, to perform, to create is constant, and when coupled with the inherent comparison culture of our digital age, it manifests as a feeling of worthlessness. As marginalized writers, we often live with constant epistemic exploitation and it becomes almost metawe write knowing our trauma performance sells books. We ask ourselves, as El Bechelany-Lynch does, “am I looking for belief, or for you to see me in pain, up on the stage, twirling as you twist me and turn me in ways that make me ache?”

El Bechelany-Lynch’s book is a treasure trove of you’re-not-alones.

El Bechelany-Lynch dreams of good, accessible, inclusive healthcare. An unusual fantasy, they remark, but one that so many fat, queer, trans, ill, neurodivergent, disabled people have. (As I write this, I am trying Lisdexamfetamine for the first time and feeling shocked at how easily I am able to actually complete this review months after I was asked. I cried lamenting all the years I spent feeling broken, pre-diagnosis). “So few queers I’ve met are truly abled,” they remark, perhaps a reference to the ongoing assault waged on our bodies. To fellow marginalized human beings—those living at the intersections of necropolitics—El Bechelany-Lynch’s book is a treasure trove of you’re-not-alones.

For all its darkness, knot body does not dismiss the power of humour necessary to confront the pervasive body terrorism that assaults us daily. “Aren’t they just stomach rolls that hurt more when you punch them?” they inquire of six packs; they describe Plato as “a bit unreliable.” These quips provide levity when you feel yourself being pulled under by the poetry’s intensity.

The use of humour alongside the no-bullshit sharpness of their storytelling humanizes their experience—and therefore the experiences of many other marginalized people. In a society where mainstream literature and film not-so-subtly code villains as queer, fat, brown, and/or ill, El Bechelany-Lynch provides the nuance and complexity necessary to remind the world of our humanity.

We are invited—encouraged—to critique the effects of capitalism, racism, ableism and fatphobia on marginalized bodies, to viscerally feel the pain caused by the trauma of having a physical form in a world that stops at nothing to break it.

knot body was written with the grieving white supremacy/capitalist/pandemic survivor in mind—if we can even call it surviving. El Bechelany-Lynch’s work called me out in the painfully truthful way only a Millennial can bear. Their epistolary verses to “friends, lovers, and in-betweens” felt like akin to a night in the mid-noughties: the dark, silent hours before sunrise with Tumblr as my only companion. The desperate questions to everyone and no-one in particular; the self-diagnoses in lieu of adequate healthcare; sexual fantasies; the gender confusion; the “trying to fabricate meaning from nothing.”

El Bechelany-Lynch powerfully illustrates the chaos of life in a body. In a time of political reckoning and rageful questioning of the-way-things-have-always-been-done, this book makes so much sense. We are invited—encouraged—to critique the effects of capitalism, racism, ableism, and fatphobia on marginalized bodies, to viscerally feel the pain caused by the trauma of having a physical form in a world that stops at nothing to break it. Most importantly, we are welcomed both hard and gently to think again, to question, and as bell hooks would say, to choose “the margins as a space of radical openness.”[1]

I hope it lands softly on the bedside table of many outcasts, like myself, searching for a reminder of their inherent magic.

El Bechelany-Lynch’s knot body opened up old wounds for me—then briskly sewed them up again. This powerful anthology became a resting place, spiritual text, and a therapist all at once. They describe their own journey into the world of other writers as “a salvation, a departure from [their] body.” As I sit in the same chair I have sat in for a year—bound more by my own anxiety of the outside than the public health guidelines—I am heartened by the reminder that escape does not have to be physical. I am reminded of the duality of my intersectional oppression and my privilege—of having a body that is both terrorized (fat, Black, femme, AFAB, neurodivergent) yet also afforded freedom (non-disabled, light skinned).

In this work, Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch’s solidarity is truly felt from their bed to the reader’s. It’s a book allies can learn from—if they’re ready for the gut-punching realism, vivid portrayals of pain, and the empathy required to understand an experience purposefully silenced. But more importantly, it’s a book for the queers and weirdos society deems ‘other’—I hope it lands softly on the bedside table of many outcasts, like myself, searching for a reminder of their inherent magic.


ENDNOTES

[1] Hooks, Bell. “CHOOSING THE MARGIN AS A SPACE OF RADICAL OPENNESS.” Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media, no. 36 (1989): 15-23. Accessed May 1, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/44111660.



Cicely Belle Blain is a Black, multi-racial, queer writer, activist, and CEO from London, UK. Cicely Belle is noted for founding Black Lives Matter Vancouver and subsequently being listed as one of Vancouver’s 50 most powerful people by Vancouver Magazine twice, BC Business’s 30 under 30, and one of Refinery29’s Powerhouses of 2020. They are now the CEO of Bakau Consulting, an anti-racism consulting company with over 1000 clients worldwide.

Cicely Belle is also an instructor in Executive Leadership at Simon Fraser University and the Editorial Director of Ripple of Change Magazine. They are the author of Burning Sugar (Arsenal Pulp Press and VS Books) which has been featured on CBC Books, Autostraddle, Indigo and Essence Mag. Their debut book also garnered them spots at some of Canada’s top literary festivals including Vancouver Writer’s Festival, Word of the Street Toronto, FOLD, and more. Burning Sugar is longlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and shortlisted the Pat Lowther Memorial Award. They also published an e-book, What We’ve Learned: A Year Fighting White Supremacy in a Pandemic as well as contributed to two racial justice anthologies in 2021—Afrikan Wisdom: New Voices Talk Black Liberation, Buddhism, and Beyond (North Atlantic Books)  and Coloniality and Racial (In)Justice in the University (UofT Press).

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