In Review: at first & then by Danielle Rose

Danielle Rose’s poetry collection at first & then is a short and sweet exploration of both physical and emotional shift. In only thirty pages, we gain a world’s worth of insight into a beautiful transition from darkness to striking light. The first poem opens with a suicide, the stillness of a fallen woman’s landing and the urgent possession of her body. A woman’s body is not viewed as her own, even in death, and Rose comments on how we always collectively pay so much attention to what happens to a female body – what she looks like, and what the marks of violence on her are. It is time that we also acknowledge a woman’s life, her truth, her being at home in her body instead of imprisoned or empty.

The usual metaphors are taken a step further in Rose’s work, and her unique spin makes so much sense that it’s a wonder her own comparisons are not the norm. She remarks on the body as a temple, which we have probably all heard before, but she adds that it is under renovation. The body is a map, but one that is being redrawn or remolded, and it is a struggle to find the proper boundaries and bits to fit. Her description of her own thoughts, “i am a queer body that was hidden inside a different queer body,” with the outside not quite right, speaks to the depth and complexity of the idea and portrayal of identity.

“there are over 200 bones inside of me & i cannot feel them unless they are broken”

Throughout these poems, we move from death to life, away from grief but not completely out of it. A grandmother’s death is referenced, feeling like both house and heart are different afterwards for those who remain. Life is demanding in general, and we usually have to go through suffering like falling out of love or redefining what love means for us. Are there periods where we are unable to recognize, to feel, to give or receive love? Rose writes, “there are over 200 bones inside of me & i cannot feel them unless they are broken,” and she uses her poems as a place for worries to go.

This collection is precise and impactful, straightforward and expansive for its brief length, and yet we still wade through an entire journey of a changing self. The rich emotional spectrum of Rose’s work is summarized in her final poem, a generous list of things that have changed over time, from names to love to joy. Her poem “gender swap potion” is styled as a recipe calling for ingredients like a boy in pieces and tears, instructions to be both merciless and gentle, transforming an emotion dump into the art form of cooking. Rose gives us not only a start and finish, but an entire process, an evolution or migration.

She discusses bird migration as a disruption, a need, not something that is easy or taken lightly. In a way, humans can have the same drive, a call and response to nature, perhaps even a destiny to chase a different path than we are born on. Danielle Rose’s poems shine on a way to move forward in the end, when the map of life is being rewritten.

Keep up with Rose’s publications and news on her website:

(Black Lawrence Press, 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, prose, reviews, and interviews from marginalized creators.