Dismantling the Rabbit Altar by Natasha Kessler
Coconut Books, 2014; 76 pp
Reviewed by Rebecca Ligon


Natasha Kessler’s Dismantling the Rabbit Altar is a pleasurably disquieting read that hums with inventive intensity. Each poem reads like a dream mistaken for a memory, vivid and sharp. The human body is juxtaposed – and sometimes intertwined – with wolves’ heads and birds’ feathers, blurring the lines between man and beast. Kessler’s narrator describes “gray pelts sewn to our spines” and “suits of hair and a wolf mask I wear,” as if they long to disrobe themselves of human sensibilities and embrace the wilderness.

In “Our New Wolf Heads Wander,” Kessler writes:

We don’t have mothers, but we still hide things from them. Tether under our breathing ribs. Paperly in our new skin. Mouths open. Mouths full of moth dust. I would kill you just to remember you.

Kessler’s language is evocative and breathes life into her work. As a collection, Dismantling the Rabbit Altar feels alive and resonant, as if it is looking back at you through the pages, like a wolf in the woods. Topics like motherhood and relationships are examined with haunting precision. Children are described as “bird-like,” and the image of “babies from cribs” placed on window sills with stones is reminiscent of a long forgotten folk tale. Sensuality also plays a role in Kessler’s poems, as the human body appears and unfolds in beautiful imperfection.

In “I Fell from the Tower,” Kessler writes:

I was naked on the bed
and someone else was naked
on the same bed.

I look so unbecoming.
What would my mother think
of my open body?

Kessler expertly marries dark folklore with human truths, examining relationships between people, animals, and the light and dark that exists within every creature. Dismantling the Rabbit Altar is a rumination on what separates man from the animals, and how close the two are to being one.