Katie Richards on Natasha Sajé’s The Future Will Call You Something Else

The Future Will Call You Something Else is situated in place as much as it is in displacement. Poems in the collection move between being grounded in the physical exploration of landscape focusing on native and invasive plants and specific areas (such as Baltimore County, Utah, the speaker’s various physical homes) to exploring more abstractly what it means to be without home, without place, without agency when that is stolen. The grounding in place gives the collection the ability to further explore the acts of destabilization that occur in this country both on landscape and bodies.

Much of this collection revolves around boundaries and how those boundaries are reduced or transgressed upon by outside forces. The space of the land, the space of the self is constantly assaulted by the unabating encroachment of outside forces. Much of the collection frames the transgression of boundary-breaking in the context of the natural world. In “To the Fatherweed,” Sajé writes 

trillions upon trillions of tiny seeds
remain dormant for years

are spread by wind
by animals cars water (7)

This poem begins with the seeming celebration of the Fatherweed and the speaker is in a meditative mode reflecting on the power of it and what it does through the seasons and how it proliferates. The entrance of cars into the natural world is a startling interruption and we see this interruption throughout the collection. This interruption comes in different forms, sometimes violent, sometimes more subtle. Much of the political violence is on the body’s identity especially in terms of queerness and agency stolen from the body through political rulings. The collection starts with this violence with the first poem “Is Homosexuality Contagious?” and continues on through poems such as “Dear Roe v. Wade.” Throughout the collection, we witness the ablation of the rights of self and body by outside political forces mirrored in the abscission of the earth’s natural processes due to human intervention. When the car enters in “To the Fatherweed,” the poem turns to emphasize the destruction that the Fatherweed, cheatgrass, is causing as an invasive species. It is 

crowding out sagebrush
and without
rabbits have nowhere to hide
and without
eagles have no reason to nest (8)

The repetition of “and without” further emphasizes the absence and disruption human insertion has had on the natural world, both by introduction of the invasive species as well as assistance in spreading it.

This invasion is paralleled in the poem “Gradual” in which the speaker meditates on a plastic film. Like the Fatherweed seeds, 

This stuff gets smaller and smaller...
Micro to nano to who knows what.
Every way you look at this you lose

It is in this poem that we begin to see the invasion as it becomes part of the self, as the speaker states “1% of me is probably it/ Already, seeding cells with particles” (22). The desperation in this poem shows us that the future looks pretty bleak. No matter what one does, there is no escape on the constant violence to climate and human rights caused by humanity. This invasion cannot be escaped, and yet, the speaker holds onto a desperate sort of hope. This desperation and hope is introduced in “To the Fatherweed” in the penultimate line, when the speaker says “pray for us” (8). Often this hope is found in the consumption of words as the speaker is “bundled in another mind” where the world for them is “thick and quiet” (35). This meditation on language and its abilities is a direct reaction to the violence of outside forces and works as a way of reclamation throughout the collection. In “Self Portrait as a Tree” the speaker says, “My life swings on a hammock as I sleep and read, read and sleep, making paper out of hardwood, consuming myself at the same time that I inscribe myself” (36). The consumption in this poem is self-initiated rather than an outside force acting upon the speaker. Like the earth, “When every body is a field of claim/differences aren’t small” (38). 

The collection works to recapitulate the stories told and this recapitulation is also an act of defiance and redemption. The speaker states that “I don’t mind hearing a certain story again and again” (42). It is through this retelling and rehearing, that the speaker begins to shape what the future will have to give back as a story. This collection uses story-telling and language as a way to re-boundary an overtaken landscape, an overtaken body. The work of this collection is to strive towards offering an avenue of restoration. The speaker asks us in the poem “Repair “Could mending be gold to glue the crack? I give my gold and ask who might do the work” (64). This question is a difficult one, because “We think as human/ beings we deserve every last thing” (80).

In answer to the question posed to who will do the mending, the speaker calls the reader to action, stating “It’s me, I know, along with you” (64). This collection puts responsibility of the future in the hands of the collective. As a body together, we can work to change what the future will call us.

Katie Richards’ (she/her) poetry has previously appeared in Valparaiso Poetry Review, South Dakota Review, DIALOGIST, Softblow, Harbor Review, and Sweet Tree Review among other places. Her manuscript Apple Mind was a semi-finalist for the 2021 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry.