le animal & other creatures by Metta Sáma
MIEL Books, 2015; 48 pp
Reviewed by Wesley Rothman
Le Animal & Other Creatures blurs and crystallizes language, genre, concept, livingness; it is about how language gets used, how it is received, how beings act and interact, and what does or doesn’t go on in brains and bodies. “The artist who is more conventional in their stylings and tones and subject matters may see risk-taking in my poems,” subtly directs our attention to our situatedness, our own taste, impulses, and ultimately the matrix of forces that mold us; Sáma reminds us that the largest unwieldy taste-making, political-shaping matrix does not entail risk as a matter of fact; the life of the word “risk” ever-suggests something not safe, familiar, within the comfortable; what if risk became a shared ideal, where could that take us?—“Risk I’m starting to (temporarily) suspect, is not about startling an audience, or grabbing a reader by the groin, but about deeply, disturbingly startling the self” (10).
The section, “Pieces & Piercings,” elucidates being punctured, penetrated, smashing [“palmetto bugs”], empathizing with palmetto bugs, hating palmetto bugs, loving the cat (dubbed “le animal”) that hunts palmetto bugs, hating the cat for bringing you a palmetto bug, love and hate in relation to fear, and a step into fear’s origins and effects. Though the explicit terror(s) here is a spider, and, on occasion, palmetto bugs, the reflection on “terrors” seems to drift away from an insect toward a more universal psychological and emotional experience of terror, fear, being terrorized and feeling a fear, an urge to terrorize:
You understand the terrors will always find a way to enter—through an unaligned door a swollen window frame a mail slot a yawn You can not hide The terror hides You are exposed and close the windows and lock the doors Lock the terror inside Le animal turns her nose to the the air You turn your alarm to shiver (22),
shifting from resignation as the terrorized to questioning how one arrives to fear and terrorizing,
What is it about the many-legged terror that makes it terrible: Its excess of legs Its ability to seemingly hover midair, held by invisible lines of its own making Its panopticonesque perch Its brazen break-in Its stealthy in/visibility: Yes & No & Yes & No & Yes (23).
Another segment, “The NonObjective Gaze,” impressions how language, its wielders, float perspective into the world, whether there are readers or not, the possibility of floating foreign perspectives into the eyes and ears of humans, as in “Realism: a poetics,”
Where in this world can I have safe
babies Not me not my love we can not have babies safe
in this world The woman’s fingers are sometimes
praying and prayer is a fight a flight Sometimes
I resent this blond child and her blondish mother
and I hate this resentment but god this mother
imagines a safe world for her daughter
and she will be granted it (32).
Reading, the text has me speaking its reflection and perspective:
I’ve lost my interior eye
when the world outside discovered my
world inside looked horribly unlike theirs
blurry when my hands stopped drafting the
interior blurry when my exterior smile is seen
& re-seen & re-seen by blurry then gone (35),
poems, language, chatting, all of it conducts relation—how we interact, interpret, interrupt, intervene, how we “inter-”—and *le animal* & other creatures conflates “we,” not simply a human we, but a living we, contemplative of interacting with and preserving the lives of other creatures, which only magnifies what it takes to interact with and preserve human lives. Lest we forget our animalhood:
fear of the dog’s bite did not push our feet to flight we worshipped the bite we fed our bodies to feed the animal it is us bloodhungry we wanted its hot slick sharp teeth breaking our flesh we wanted it to ache for our bones we ran from our human self from our parents we feared our open palms would turn violent would recoil into fist would turn again the beast that it our brain would snarl &break that animal (43).
This collection of language will enter your self-making how it will, will strike and pass what it will; for my part, its final word thrummed a wave backward through itself and forward into me: “break.” How am I broken, by myself and by others, and what does that breaking mean for how I break others, the world, and how might that outward breaking come back to me, what happens when I think before I somehow break, what happens when I break without noticing or without reason or without cause, how do I get to a point of breaking something or someone intentionally, how and what am I meant to break, how broken can a person become, where can one go, what can one do with brokenness, and how much of all this is beyond intervention, how much is chaos? I’m less willing to chalk it up to chaos, though there is much; *le animal* & other creatures tugs us, by the hand, through a reminder that there is a human mode of adaptation or evolution or effort that swims through and in brokenness, a mode of being that recognizes, embraces, risks being more human.