Sunday Review: Bestiary
a poetry collection from Donika Kelly
[ Graywolf Press / 2016 / 96 pp ]
While a zoo is a colonial entrapment, a bestiary is mythology curated, is a catalog of the small vital creatures we cage at our interior. “Home is where your dogs are. Home is where your gods are.” Donika Kelly writes, of a small space where the subject is outnumbered by animals. In Bestiary there is sense of the divine, the primal, and singularity’s role as the great equalizer among beings birthed and dreamed.
This singularity is most saturated in Kelly’s series of love poems, which invoke fantastical, queer creatures. The first in the series, ‘Love Poem: Chimera,’ sings in wonder at hybridity.
I thought myself lion and serpent. Thought
myself body enough for two, for we.
What strong neck, what bright eye. What menagerie
we are. What we’ve made ourselves.
Kelly positions the self as plural, while scripting agency onto creation. Imagine something terrifying and strange, and imagine how it chose to become what it is. The chimera resides at the intersections between human and animal, between myth and matter. It builds itself in reference to the wilderness in and outside of itself. The spiritual possibility begged: if the self is multiple and wild, what strange, wonderful, romance can self-love breed?
Some of Kelly’s beasts do not have names, or rather, they go by names that unmake them as beasts. These beasts are queerness, love, and anatomy.
[...] Love, I am made
for calling: bare breast, smooth tail,
the perfect balance of scales.
I have claimed this rock,
which is also your heart,
which is also the shell I hold
to my ear to hear what is right
in front of me. I am a witness
to the sea and the sun, to your body
lashed to the mast.
These beasts are longing, solitude and sleep.
This is spring of shambles.
Of meadows slow to flower,
of fire sooting the underbrush,
and, love, I am lonely as a bear.
These beasts are desire, voyeurism, and gender.
Call it comfort, or truth, how they look,
not at the camera, as women do,
but at one another.
Or to god.
How they know where their faces go.
They open their mouths. They spread
their cheeks. They come on everything.
These beasts are father, memory, and preservation.
The louvered windows. The peach
walls. The buckling ceiling that needs
repair. The gusset of your panties
soaked with your father’s semen. Why
you no longer wear panties. Why he
deserves every arc of your boot. Why
the door is always locked.
Kelly’s rich, devastating, interior landscapes map the reader across a persona’s mutation through emotional stages. We are the pods of singularity, and these are the multitudes that may reside within us. Before reading Bestiary, the concept of memory as it exists housed in the body, always felt fossilized to me. Memory as a tenant in this menagerie is warm, and breathing, and pink on the inside. In Bestiary memory has legs, wings and fins, and cannot be drowned.
Visit Graywolf Press to purchase the book.
Reviewer / Xandria Phillips
Five Things with Christine Kitano
1. The last thing that made you smile.
Spring is just arriving here in Ithaca, so looking out the window and seeing green instead of white makes me smile. The branches are still bare, but buds are emerging. After five months of winter, even the faintest glimmer of sunlight makes me smile.
2. A secret.
This is not so much a secret, but it is something that surprises people: I enjoy weightlifting. I am not an athlete, but weightlifting is the closest I’ve come to enjoying a sport.
3. The last thing you wrote.
Literally? An email to a student. Creatively? Final revisions on a poem in my manuscript.
4. Favourite city.
I have two cities I love. The first is Edinburgh, where I spent a week during college. As a southern California native, Edinburgh was everything I longed for, a place full of history and rain. The other city I love is Honolulu. I’ve been lucky to return to Honolulu for the past few summers to work at the University of Hawaiʻi. Though Honolulu has never been home, as soon as I step out into the open-air terminal, I feel at peace.
5. What you’d place in a time capsule.
My daily necessities: water bottle, tea, and dried strawberries.
Christine Kitano is the author of Sky Country, which will be published by BOA Editions in fall 2017. Her first collection, Birds of Paradise, was published by Lynx House Press in 2011. Recent work appears in Crab Orchard Review, Miramar, and Tar River Poetry. She teaches creative writing and literature at Ithaca College.
an essay from Yoojin Grace Wuertz
There are many articles by writers about the (sometimes seemingly inexhaustible) length of time between starting a novel and getting it published. In her essay, ‘Failure and Patience: Lessons from the Garden for Writers,’ Yoojin Grace Wuertz explores the long and wearying road to her debut novel, Everything Belongs To Us. The garden in this essay is not merely metaphor, but the timeline of her eleven-year journey, of failure, and of success.
“There is no end to the amount you can care about a garden. No limit to the work you can pour into plants and dirt.”
A sentiment so obvious: you can never care too much, yet, at times difficult to follow through with; when every word written seems like a year-long excavation. So to those somewhere along the long path, either stuck in the middle or nearing its end, this essay can be seen as a reminder that a little bit of hard work, or even rest, can help you achieve whatever it is you want; that small budding, that tiny seedling in the dirt.
Visit Lit Hub to read the essay.
Journal Editor / Michelle Tudor
Some Things About Home
a poem from Wendy Taylor Carlisle
Recently, I traveled to New York, a towering contrast to the low-profile adobe of my adopted city Tucson. Being in one place makes us think of another place, so of course, while I ate pizza and navigated subway systems, I thought of home. What my city means to me, and how I would speak of it. Wendy Taylor Carlisle’s ‘Some Things About Home’ is not the narrative I would write about home—it’s better. It undercuts sentimentality to give the true grit of a place “where the chicken houses / susurrate with the murmur of debeaked hens / and the stench of pigs raised on concrete / rinses into the Buffalo River, where the big road / is coming to our little mountains.” It’s not specifically Tucson or New York, but in some way it’s any city, any place where many people pass through, and those who stay occupy the disenfranchised fringes. While it has the easy authority of an insider, her poem doesn’t seek to woo you; who knows or cares why the tourists visit. It’s the opposite of a classic pastoral: it is unsentimental and clear-eyed, and in being unflinching, it becomes startlingly tender, about the land, the politics, and experiences that birthed us.
Visit Atticus Review to read the poem.
Contributing Editor / Reneé Bibby
And So a Light
a poem from Luther Hughes
“You are not to blame. You garden
children in your blood. If home were a place, then suffering.”
There is so much to admire in brevity, in moments of pain and loss isolated on the page and made into something greater; an expanded snapshot. Time dilation. The recurring imagery of birds, of tissue and muscle and matter, of things that are concrete, active biology is juxtaposed with the unstated. This poem is concerned not with plain facts, the hard edges of reality, but with peering into the blurred boundaries. Illustrating time obliquely.
“There is a nurse to my left—palm on the knee—
theory at the tongue.”
The imagery of bird bone and marrow evoke lightness, the suggestion of flight. The risk of animal taking off at any moment. The tendency of bone to re-seal itself, shut closed fractures. What’s coarse, what’s sealed off.
Hughes’ language steps lightly, interweaves imagery and unexpected wording to create a sense of stillness and reflection. A letter without an addressee, a photograph without a camera.
Visit Cosmonauts Avenue to read the poem.
Contributing Editor / Joyce Chong
The Impossible Fairytale
an excerpt from Han Yujoo
It might be confirmation bias, but I swear I’m seeing more writers deconstruct fairy tales, myths, and archetypal narratives. It’s not a new practice by any means, but it’s no less vital an avenue for storytelling and exploration. This excerpt from Han Yujoo’s novel, The Impossible Fairytale, reads like a perfectly tied-off short story. The work slowly, methodically (almost painstakingly) follows a dog in a river. We don’t know if the dog is trapped or is simply swimming, but there’s tension nonetheless. By pulling at the ribs of a simple plot, Yujoo creates an enormous amount of space for the reader to fill in their own emotional narrative, their own allegorical or metaphorical arc. There are one or two moments where a lyrical magic breaks the surface
Perhaps the weight of the collar will cause the dog to sink to the bottom of the river. Therefore the cameras standing by across the river will also have to sink. Therefore the dog’s name and the dog’s language will also sink.
which deepen the implications of the piece, and your own journey inside of it. I can’t wait to pick up this book and see where I go with it.
Visit Cosmonauts Avenue to read the excerpt.
Contributing Editor / Andrew Sargus Klein
poetry from Shelley Wong
‘Courtship’ as a title feels slightly ironic because even though it draws us into the idea of a relationship immediately, much of the poem is rumination from the speaker. I’m hesitant to call them confessions because these statements teeter somewhere between honesty and bravado; the difficulty in untangling the two only makes the voice that much more compelling. Consider this line: “I want to enter the Pure Gold / Restoration Clinic by instinct / but I have no treasure.” Each step that we take down the page drives us deeper into the vulnerability of the voice, but once they tell us no treasure is to be found, we flip to another topic. The constant building of images and movement illuminates just how much the speaker gets to choose what they want to reveal. Being left with only slivers of their perspective ties us back to the fan in the beginning because the poem leaves us waiting for the cues just as any lover would, and implies that we should pay close attention in order not to miss any signals. Reflection and delegation towards the lover/us are both delicately managed without ever losing the strength of voice. When they say not to “shake the fire tree / if you shiver at sparks,” they clearly are asking for their time not to be wasted. We’re left to wonder if and/or how that could be achieved when these moments sometimes feel like water held in a cupped hand: our instinct is to sift/process when we should catch.
Visit Sixth Finch to read the poem.
Contributing Editor / Nix Thérèse