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Book Review :: Borealis by Aisha Sabatini Sloan

Borealis by Aisha Sabatini Sloan book cover image

Guest Post by Alexandria Machado

In Borealis, a stunning long form essay published by Coffee House Press, Aisha Sabatini Sloan reckons with the vast expanse of nature, simultaneously negotiating her relationship to queerness, blackness and the Alaskan landscape. Written lyrically with the use of white space as a conduit for understanding solitude as a person of color in an overwhelming white population, Sloan wonders “when there is no Black figure, what am I supposed to like looking at?” She artfully explores interactions as intimate collisions and reconciliations, whether that be a lover or the way color displays in the sky; all experiences are showcased as this prismatic aurora. Sloan paints her images with dazzling natural light, calling us to take a moment to look and listen to the world around us. Borealis is one great luminous moment, a meditation of self-reflection in contrast to the wilderness. What is similar and what is starkly different becomes resigned to the mystery of images, the way they mimic and shift: “The fog has lowered itself like haunches over a toilet across the tops of mountains.” This essay is as concerned with music as it is silence; we hear “The opening strains of Bjork’s ‘Bachelorette’ play as a bald eagle opens its wings above a lamppost on the spit,” or how “Beaches tend to mean your ear hurts a little; the wind is loud.” Lists give way to observations and letters to a nephew in jail expose how captivity is not just the body in a physical place. Sloan creates collages of color and revelations, “Now I think crying is like touching time. A half-hearted attempt to crash into now.” Sloan’s essay encourages readers to spend time with nature in a way that is patient, humorous and imaginative, with the reminder to not look past any moment, as there is magic and horror everywhere.

Borealis: An Essay by Aisha Sabatini Sloan. Coffee House Press, November 2021.

Reviewer Bio: Alexandria Machado is a graduate student studying English at Bridgewater State University and a writer living in Providence, RI. Her poems, essays and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Boshemia, Vagabond City, The Merrimack Review, 86 Logic and other publications.

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