Stephanie Heit’s “The Color She Gave Gravity”

The Color She Gave Gravity by Stephanie Heit. The Operating System, 2017. 122pp, poetry.

Stephanie Heit’s The Color She Gave Gravity is a nonfiction poetry book that depicts many of Heit’s experiences as a dancer, poet, queer woman, and someone living with bipolar disorder. She uses somatics, otherwise known as internal physical perception, to make connections between people and experiences as a means of understanding when memory doesn’t always suffice.

Disabilities and treatments leave gaps in memory, as many have experienced. “Enter Amnesiac” was written inside Richard Serra’s sculpture, The Matter of Time, and it reads like a series of memories that have had sections carved away, only for the pieces to be filled in after the fact. The lines convey more of what isn’t there, emphasized with the use of spacing and white space. Later, these same lines are reused, the same phrases in-context but after the fact, information filled into gaps in memory by others.

“Z-Cycle” specifically follows Heit’s experiences during treatment and therapy. Written in second person, sensations and thoughts are pinned to the audience, an evocative reliving. Much of this section focuses on lack of sleep. Both poignant and scathing: “At home watch sleep from a / distance, that whore you’d like to bed who lies with everyone / but you.” There’s no relief, no matter how tired one gets, and any sleep gained remains restless, a feeling that Heit successfully drives in throughout the poem.

Heit doesn’t simply write about surviving with a disability. “Penumbra” reads from the standpoint of the dance partner of a woman who experiences psychosis. This poem also mimics Heit’s states of mind. It’s rich with physical details of movement and touch through which the two characters experience the fictitious city, all while the perspective character expresses concern for her companion as they navigate their world together.

The Color She Gave Gravity brims with a darker sensation that’s both subtle and striking. Bleakness comes through strongly even as the reader is teased with half-revealed details to the very end of the collection. After all, there is no cure. This book carries a sense of surviving, coping, and pushing forward.

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