The 8th House by Feng Sun Chen
Black Ocean 2014 2014; 66 pp
Reviewed by Annie Won
What is the eighth house? Considering its place in Vedic astrology, the eighth house is marked by the obstruction of well-being, the path into the serpent’s hole. It is vitally tied to the other eleven houses of one’s birth chart, which generally chart one’s innate nature and motivations. As one of the latter six houses, this house is a place of transformation, of breaking down and letting go.
In other words, a lot of death. What does Feng Sun Chen’s The 8th House look like? Feathers? Pupae? There are many of them crawling about the pages. Their little bodies in numbers have oversized voices. Writes Chen, “I AM THE MIDAS / OF SLOP / I AM THE MOTHER / THAT RUNS ON NOTHING / I AM THE MIDAS / OF THE BRAIN /… OF ROT HOT WHAT I TOUCH / ROTS.” The narrative voice is a child trying on an oversized wizard’s robe for size, now superlative and mythic, profound and yet also a bored child with a megaphone. The “I” so big that it demands caps. Enormous shoes for little feet.
There are many children. Sometimes there is just one. The next piece is diminutive, in title caps. Pictured is an errant fly. Just you wait.
There are many incarnations of “I.” One is Mary, who keeps losing her virginity, no emotion allowed, lowercase sometimes, having sex having sex. “MARY / I REMEMBER WHEN WE SLAPPED EACH OTHER WITH / OUR RUMPS INSIDE THE MIRROR INSIDE THE BATH / THE ROOM WAS SO SQUARE.” The Bible never looked this good. “AND YOU RIP THE TAG FROM ME / LIKE FACE FROM FLESH / ... BLOOMING BODY OR FLAYED FLOWER.” Is sex supposed to be violent? Maybe this little pupae (also known as “Peg,” a sidelong reference to the pig) was raped. No matter. "The spirit does not survive / Now she is already dead / Born for the crate."
Whether Chen’s personal heritage bleeds through, one of the pupae is definitely Chinese, reverent to the pig, of pork and its adulation in food. A dead thing. "Mother stews the blubber cubes for a long time in the ceramic pot.../ Love and murder bubble androgynous thick tar mother / stews the blub." This is a historical stew, a generational deadness, we eat, are eaten out, and eat of the eaten. And we’re still dead, emotionless, having sex, having sex. Chen writes, "She loves all animals. She loves the wee openings of animals." There is a base automaton to an otherwise universal primal urge, obviated in its repetition. We witness the world as a post-modern crate in which we are trapped, the post-pastoral post-trash country in which we find ourselves. This is not a unique universe. Chen borrows from Kim Hyesoon in her thrash-mash-squish inclinations (as acknowledged), just as Cody-Rose Clevidence invokes the same in Beast Feast. I wonder what this universe says about the world we live in now. Are we at its far end?
A desperation prevails. "I will die for my family / not because of shame / Only shame will propel me / to the depths of the ends of cavities," writes Chen. Something about the nature of violence begs a witness, but the many voices resist, persist, fervently circular in their obsessions. "The bug has eyes is filled / with eyes it is a blurry world that licks these eyes. / Gathers salt on these eyes. / I fetishize eyes..../ I am not a witness but a wet mess." There is a yearning for larger extrapolation, to escape the crate. "Time is not a straight line, / but just a flat hell, like a desert. I am a tomb / robber who is robbing my own tomb."
And as if an appeal to a higher being brings any merit, Chen writes, "I put a tissue on the face of mary." All is done, if not well. No, well-executed, shot, half-killed, left, picked up, shot. So many of us. So much. "I put the disease of this world and my sick body together.” Either way, dead. Dying again.
Notes Chen, "No organism is ashamed under the knife."
Get up again and move.