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Review: S. Yarberry’s A Boy in the City

Book Cover of A Boy in the City by S. Yarberry

“In the dream there is abundance.
Not of stars. Not of lions. The self,
overpoured….”

When A Boy in the City by S. Yarberry arrives, the first thing I notice is the cover: an anthropomorphic bird made of muscle overlooking a cityscape, eerie and reflective in their thinking on a rooftop left imagined. I’m so struck by this sense of mythology, by this imaginary self both taking over & watching over the city’s lines, that it isn’t until much later I realize: this creature has no wings. They cannot fly, and yet they’re perched pondering atop a building, overlooking the assumed population of humans and livelihoods below. It’s impossible this creature flew to the top, and yet they sit on the story above us, the whole world beating beneath their reflective and omnipotent reach. I open A Boy in the City to the epigraph which begins: “But of course, there is a movement — ” & think to myself about the nature of our experience. I am reminded that human flight occurs regardless of our wish for wings.

At times reflective, at times painful, and at times verging on mythological, Yarberry writes a speaker that moves through meanings, through landscapes, through emotions, and pens transness “as in: over there, beyond.” This beyondness is reflected in Blakean imagery, powerful descriptions of creatures, and gut-punching one-liners like “the world around me/didn’t crash — it jammed.” There is a constant sense of movement throughout the collection, from place to place and feeling to feeling. While some poems hold us in a space of grief, others remind the reader of our shared humans desires.

As Yarberry writes “I pose. I compose./In a trans way. Of course…It is nothing special/to not want to be hurt.” Through the collection’s deep interiority, we find ourselves moving closer and closer into the speaker’s core.

Simultaneously, by evoking place and cityscapes that seem either strange or eskew, the reader is reminded of the distance that the self endures in the world. Trans experience is a journey, beyond and through, into a mythical realm that cis-counterparts cannot touch, cannot see, cannot comprehend. This experience is skillfully captured in S. Yarberry’s collection, from the pressure of navigating platonic and romantic relationships, to the notions of the self as both a multitude and something the world yearns to consume.

With closeness comes risk, loneliness, and longing. Yarberry brings us to the center of their city, shoulder to shoulder with what’s missing or remains misunderstood. It is through the careful craft of language and world building that we meet the speaker’s interiority with ease and some discomfort, intertwining our own emotional landscape with their relationship to the world.

Throughout A Boy in the City, Yarberry also writes of the danger in distance. It is the distance that is used to justify violence, that shows us “there was nothing/safe about the harbor, though you were/told it was so.” That tells us “Get used/to using each other…” as if it were a promise of our being. That simultaneously reminds us “All possibility is heavy on the ground.” We feel the speaker’s longing for closeness as our own, and get lost in the self they’ve crafted as a multitude of “invention.”

When Yarberry writes, “Each creature is led by that which it most longs for…” they speak to necessity of desire, reminding us that movement is not linear or easy, but comes with an exchange of stakes. We move with this necessity, with this desire for comfort outweighed by need of change, of the uncomfortable.

Throughout A Boy in the City, the speaker is marked by their own movement. Subtle line shifts such as “What am I if not a broken boy?” to “Your hands have found a boy in the city” mark the speaker’s journey into feeling seen and understood. The distance wanes. These subtle changes in language strike deep in the reader, hitting the desire for belonging at the self’s core. By tracking the speaker’s journey through relationships, we craft our own relationship with the speaker, and find our desires intwined so that we also feel “…those words…like skin.”

A Boy In the City by S. Yarberry is a powerful collection of mythos, eros, and the relational self. As S. Yarberry proclaims, their book reminds: “Language can hold us together even when we cannot hold ourselves.” This line expands beyond and across into A Boy in the City’s most crucial truth.

A Boy in the City, by S. Yarberry. Deep Vellum, 2022.

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