Kaleidoscope of the Uncanny: Dereliction by Gabrielle Octavia Rucker

Layla Benitez-James
| Reviews


Dereliction by Gabrielle Octavia Rucker (The Song Cave, 2023).


a couple other versions of me sharing cognac,
shooting dark brown out crystalline pteropods.

Gabrielle Octavia Rucker’s Dereliction is an electric, image-driven debut exploring split selves in otherworldly poems. The collection opens in a long poem, “Murmurs,” composed of spare fragments with a generous use of white space. Longer, almost essayistic poems open up the next body of the collection, “Dereliction,” and the two sections are married in their use of vibrant imagery and enigmatic language.
Humming underneath the mysterious text is climate anxiety and frustration with online facades, pointing to both personal and global derelictions. In “Whoops, We Spent All the Jenny,” we learn “orbital pollution kaleidoscoped the scene six figure specter circling / taxable climate inclement,” while in the following poem, “Post No Bill,” a speaker claims:

I have suffered in this terrarium of plastics long enough.
To say anymore about it would be giving into obsession.

While this speaker stops just short of giving into obsession, their frustration reemerges in “Quietly Waiting for My Angel to Emerge, Moth- Like, from Her Box” where they lament:

—it’s laughable
the compassion some lack and its absolute relation to the endangered
state of our environment.


Throughout Dereliction, our modern world is sketched within a shadowy remove of eccentric phrasing, and we gather these quiet claims from the margins.
From a meditative refuge, Rucker unleashes a truly dazzling array of colors, and a couple mentions of “kaleidoscope” do well to orient us within a notion of witnessing a whirl of hues from a passive vantage point: “Three turns at the helm of my kaleidoscope & the body pivots to the weather it rides.” Time and again, we are seduced with descriptions that flit along the color spectrum, through “[t]ricky blue light—amber eyes under neon gray green gleam of / reptilian vehicle” and “again, dreams / of peeling pink shallot skin.” These flashes of color began to build into spell-like incantations when alliteration pulls a deeper resonance through the images:

I’ll hand you the gemstones too, the goulash,
the sea glass, the garnish goldenrod.

After our ears have grown accustomed to alliterative flair, more overt mentions of sound and singing spring forth; “marigolds sing over the dahlias” and a speaker begins a kind of invocation:

I sing for horizon’s laughter, sing over all calendar, sing for the shadow
ethered to my feet. Together we ride the ceremony knowing the line,
that the naming will end here with me.


Layla Benitez-James is the author of God Suspected My Heart Was a Geode, but He Had to Make Sure, winner of Cave Canem’s 2017 Toi Derricotte & Cornelius Eady Chapbook Prize. Her writing and translations have been published in Poetry Magazine, Black Femme Collective, World Literature Today, Virginia Quarterly Review, and Copper Nickel. Layla served as the Director of Literary Outreach for the Unamuno Authors Series in Madrid and is now an editor at Apartamento Magazine in Barcelona.

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