In Review: No Knowledge is Complete Until It Passes Through My Body by Asiya Wadud

A dance and meditation in book form, No Knowledge is Complete Until It Passes Through My Body by Asiya Wadud shines light on the shadows between harsh borders. She navigates not only the rush of the physical world, but also the more subtle flow of time and memory. Her collection is wistfully historical,  rife with urgent social criticisms that readers cannot help but absorb, as if her knowledge passes through our bodies as well as her own.

Wadud’s poems set clear demarcation of certain material limits and passages, as in “my lonesome three fifths / the precise mathematics of partition.” She references diaspora as a boomerang, and name drops the Middle Passage and Mason-Dixon Line, alluding to racial boundaries that have existed for ages. Sometimes the injustices and separations in our country’s history are portrayed as being resolved, only having been an issue in the very distant past; however, Wadud takes us back to the drawing board, and points out where the unfair lines still are today.

“we took shelter where we could / really just inside each other”

The dispersal of grief is wide, and we must be gentle with broken things, including ourselves. We should not put up barriers to our own healing. These poems seem to promote both self-reflection and self-care, and one section highlights the key modern component of self-care through caring for plants. The act of watering and growing over time can be tedious but rewarding, and it is often comforting to maneuver through a repetitive cycle like this. Wadud does not miss a moment to emphasize each small movement involved in an action, discussing cell boundaries and chlorophyll and the soft touches of sunlight.

There are so many journeys occurring simultaneously, within one organism and around the globe. From birds and gulls in flight, to a soundless ocean ferry ride, the wind and tides provide a background of direction to the myriad of paths we all may take. Sometimes no map governs the way; some birds make transatlantic migrations, others can sleep while flying. It is astounding how they always know where to go. Who taught us humans to read maps? Who decided what was north and what was south? Is there some sort of godlike, all-seeing eye, that can gaze upon all possible routes at once?

Perhaps most importantly, what are the ways in which love moves, and does this have limits too? Wadud at one point suggests that love moves through simple gestures like passing fruit hand to hand. There are certain things that seem more magical when we’re younger, but some things never seem to lose their significance. “I placidly await the light that will change me,” Wadud writes, the words glowing with hope for a brighter future.

Our bodies all travel great distances, as if we are bodies of water. We have amazing muscle memory, and an ability to keep moving despite many challenging obstacles. Even if “we took shelter where we could / really just inside each other,” we perservere, take breaks and continue when we are able to. We do not give up, only rest, through all the pinpricks, knots and turns we face. We can adjust to many migratory patterns.

In this collection of poems, Wadud juxtaposes erasure and substance, on both carnal and mental levels that inspire us to closely examine the supposedly solid ground we stand on. She encourages us to consider the questions of where memory resides, what does it transcend, how long does it take things to really change? One step in the right direction can be an extensive shift, and we must all keep moving forward. We must gather all the knowledge we can, and let it pass through us into the world and into others.

Follow Asiya Wadud and keep an eye out for frequent events on her website https://www.asiyawadud.com and on Twitter @asiyawadud.

(Nightboat Books, February 2021)


Bethany Mary has studied both health science and creative writing, and currently works as a medical scribe in Alabama. She was once the poetry editor of Green Blotter Literary Magazine and read submissions for Spark: A Creative Anthology and Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry. She rants and shares photos of her ragdoll cats on Twitter @bethanylmary.

Vagabond City Literary Journal

Founded in 2013, we are a literary journal dedicated to publishing outsider literature. We publish art, poetry, and creative nonfiction from marginalized creators.