by Keana Aguila Labra
Vanessa Maki sharpens her literary knife with her sixth chapbook, the trials & tribulations of complex situations. She takes a universal experience, loss accompanying heartbreak, and makes it unequivocally her own. Her ache is expressed with an excellent point, it is as though this excruciating pain is yours. With the skill to support experience, Maki unleashes the full emotional force of her writing to create a poignant, reverberating collection.
Unfortunately, my attempts are useless sets the tone. It emanates a myriad of emotions that coincide with heartbreak, such as bitterness, regret, and defeat. Despite the events leading up to the dissipation of the relationship, Maki laments that she was doomed to drown, to choke, to fade away; however, she is still whirling back to how much she cares for this individual. This is a constant throughout the chapbook: Maki hones into the root of her pain and excavates it for readers to witness and empathize.
She further elaborates on the nature of this break-up; and unfortunately, remnants of past memories linger as she engages in a dance with ghosts. This ‘death’ of the relationship is supposedly one-sided as Maki whispers I love you & ghost you whisper back and I know. The stage is set, and we are introduced to an epigraph from Frank Ocean’s Self Control (from his album, Blonde) for we lost self-control. Ocean sings as though he is hosting a slow dance for these ill-fated couples, and he directs his dripping vocals toward Maki. All too personally, he croons, now and then you miss it, sounds make you cry, some nights you dance with tears in your eyes. Maki supplements the imagery established in Self Control and uses repetition to express how she longs to remain on this person’s mind. Both she and Ocean request keep a place for me; yet, they both know that their former significant other has to leave, leave, leave.
Despite her departure, Maki’s significant other keeps her trapped. We can be consumed by our negative perception of the overall nature of a relationship, especially if we feel that we have been wronged; and Maki is devoured and breathless. She is this individual’s sustenance. Logically, she should know the danger of being caught up in you; however, she falls into her emotions & how it kills [her] every damn time. But, the journey of accepting and overcoming emotions is not without its highs and lows. Key points are marked with the poem’s format, in this case, the beginning, middle, and end of the chapbook is in prose form, and the chapbook is stronger thematically keeping to this narrative structure. Peaches reveal Maki’s fantasy; this is what could have been if it were meant to be if the two could have made it work. However, now it’s simmering down, slowly slipping away, you’ve slowly slipped away.
While Maki’s former flame escaped her, she does not absolve herself completely, as they can’t claim innocent on either end. Hers was a ruining of inaction, lighting the match and letting it drop. Fire can symbolize a number of themes, and Maki’s heart is that of a phoenix, constantly regenerating without fault. Her heart may have been fed ideas & desires both previously shared, but now she relives the euphoria felt in the moment before the relationship burst. Nostalgia paints a prettier picture, and Maki questions this veneer as she looks back on their relationship and accepts its transience. She acquiesces how easy it was for her to succumb to this brief pleasure; forlornly, she tells us, there ain’t much like it, not in my eyes.
The tone of the chapbook continues to parallel her emotions, and we are back in the throes of rage and anguish, wishing to feel anything but the turmoil of lost love. Maki pleads, put my heart in a blender I need blood in the cut. After the high that accompanies anger, we are back down to the throes of desperation and longing with the title fuck it I…. befitting this state perfectly. Amidst her distress and wish to relieve herself of these feelings, at the end of it all, she still wants and loves this individual.
After the dust settles, we contemplate and compare our ‘selves’: who we were before and after the relationship. Sting is a final reflection of what’s leftover and what remains of the relationship. After the journey of loss, Maki pleads for the ghost of her past love to let go. In bold, as if in declaration, Maki emphasizes, I love you in a place where there’s no space and time as if to insist that despite the status of their relationship, Maki’s love for her is eternal.
Even though Maki retains feelings for her former significant other, she is not without her small victories. The trials & tribulations of complex situations are not about the destination, but more so an examination of the journey we all embark when a close, respected relationship with a loved one is ended. This is truly the documentation of the trials and tribulations of a complex situation and how Maki reacts to this event. With an effortless combination of universal and personal, she encourages us to embark on our own journey to seek peace, and ultimately, self-love. Because in grappling with and understanding one’s feelings, one can begin the next step toward healing themselves.
Keana Águila Labra (she/her) is the Editor-in-Chief of Marías at Sampaguitas. She is the co-editor of Chopsticks Alley Pinoy, a regular contributor for Royal Rose Magazine, a Poetry Reader for Homology Lit, a Magazine Contributor for Ayaskala, and the anime and manga columnist behind Closed Captioning for Headcanon Magazine. Knowing the importance of representation, her work is evidence that Filipino Americans are present in the literary world. Medium & Twitter: @keanalabra