Thursday, September 08, 2022

Natalie Wee, Beast at Every Threshold


Despite a new death come to keep us from each other,
a constellation of birds sings outside your window

                    & if you think their music thunderous,
how much more must it be for these creatures—
        but what do you know of why

they bleed noise?

                    & what of the cry you make, soundless,
with each movement, from the soles of your feet
        to your finger thrust towards the sky,

another animal
        reaching for unnameable things

                    it does not yet understand. (“LISTEN I LOVE YOU JOY IS COMING”)

A follow-up to Natalie Wee’s full-length debut, Our Bodies and Other Fine Machines (special edition, San Press, 2021) is Beast at Every Threshold (Vancouver BC: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2022), a collection of narrative poems comprised as journal entries, akin to an assemblage of diaristic reports or essay-poems captured through a densely-packed, descriptive, first-person lyric. “I can name any season,” begins “FREQUENT FLYER PROGRAM,” “but the trees I love will die // where they are. That’s what it means to become a light // year, to become memory: never stay long enough / to speak belonging the way ocean pronounces the sky, […]” These are poems that examine, react and respond, seeking out solutions and articulating problems, carving deeply personal and deeply felt lines across a meditative lyric. “I pray its name,” she writes, mid-way through “SELF-PORTRAIT AS POP CULTURE REFERENCE,” “& so undertake the undertaker, it preys my Mandarin name / so I watch Chinese dramas with bright-eyed bodies // to forestall forgetting my own. I’ve watched my skin / turned fragrant ornament thrown over women // the colour of surrender & they were praised for wearing it.”

Reminiscent of others working essay-poems examining sometimes complicated or even difficult personal and cultural histories, whether Phil Hall [see my review of his latest here] or Susan Nguyen [see my review of her debut here], Wee’s poems are song-sharp, hum with energy and verve, composed of lines that hold the ability to simultaneously carve, cut and caress; so damned sharp and precise, even enviously so, that one could bounce a quarter off them. “My love,” she writes, as part of the poem “ASAMI WRITES TO KORRA FOR THREE YEARS,” “what we make of loss is a sport / that kills.” Composed with a descriptive thickness, she writes of truth and consequence; she writes on cultural and familial lineages and inheritances, seeking both to connect with and determine the precise impact they’ve had upon her. “I was born in 1993,” she writes, to open “SELF-PORTRAIT AS POP CULTURE REFERENCE,” “the year Regie Cabico became the first / Asian American to win the Nuyorican Poets Cafe Grand Slam. // I want these facts to mean something to each other / the way a room is just a room until love or its inverse // tells me what to do with the person standing in it.” She writes on tv tropes, violence and casual racism, connections through family, mass shootings and poetry. “Of all my inheritances       the ancestral appetite // pulls heaviest,” she offers, to open the poem “BIRTHRIGHT.” There is something really compelling in the way Wee draws out and expands her narratives; thickening as much as furthering through her lyric twirls and descriptive undertakings, broadening her articulations; one that furthers the narrative in a way quite different than I’ve seen, and utterly compelling. As she writes as part of the poem “BLOOD TRIPTYCH”: “The consequence of rib // is cage.”

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