Our Bodies & Other Fine Machines by Natalie Wee

Sharp Corners Want a Kiss

by Chrissy Martin

Natalie Wee asks, “What does it mean to be made a person / instead of a stranger’s dim shadow?” This personhood—this owning of a body—fuels Our Bodies & Other Fine Machines (Words Dance, 2016). In it, the body is saved; it is broken into pieces; it is whole; it is fragmented; it is occupied; it is mispronounced; it is being swallowed; it is full; it is dizzy; the reader is dizzy; the push and pull the bodies experience is dizzying. It is a quick, flitting dart from one poem to another, each one sprawled across the page and drastically different from what came before. This constant momentum of form and sound create an energetic reading experience; it is pure music:

               Someone always loves more. We blame this
                              on fate / facetious coin tosses if moving objects

     controlled their orbit. Like which side of toast
                      kisses carpet, only gravity knows the secret of

endings.

 

Even when “toast kisses carpet,” or “sharp corners want a kiss,” there is carefully crafted urgency behind these delicate assertions. Wee approaches pain with with a tender, mindful hand. Even when the pain is written about with such sweetness you could weep, it is never sugarcoated; rather it works as warning and as defense:

All they know of passing time is avoiding
the crush, wearing

                    the color of happiness into a battle
-field where pretty means

                                            staying un-buried.

Wee’s images of girlhood and womanhood teeter between the soft and the hard; the heart and the “ice pick’s twist,” the “sweet fruit as homespun confections & tender / as teeth. Enough to break a jaw on. / Maybe even a heart,” the

You are kinder than the cruelest thing
that’s ever been done to you.

You are softer than the tender meat
you were bruised into becoming.

You are so good, bad people would
break every hard word over their knees

to keep you from falling on yours.

This collection asks what it means to be a woman, to be queer, to be a person of color—not solely for the internal, but what it means for the way the world reacts to you. “On the Queer Girl Fantasy” begins, “I say I love women & men’s faces crack open / like a jawless throat to swallow me / whole." The legitimacy of female to female love is questioned; if there is no man to view it, does it count? “Question: if a girl kisses another girl with / no witness, does that revelation make a sound?” Even the title of the piece asks this question; is this fantasy between two women, or is this the fantasy projected on women by men? (The entire poem can be read at The Rising Phoenix Review here.)

Wee tries to parse out these identities throughout the collection, to make sense of the strangeness of being viewed and interpreted through and by others: “I practice unraveling / the secret to being queer/brown/woman / separately so maybe I can be happier / with two-thirds of a full life.” As the book works to make sense of the self, an other is almost always present, passing judgment on the body, taking apart the body, or demanding something from the body. "D-Colonize" illusrates colonization by way of languge and the mouth, the speaker’s mother has “English / crowding her tongue like loose change / in ventilation grilles” while we hear an outside voice suggest, “But you speak it so well.” This language, a reminder that

                                                                            Yes, my body is not

my own I am still there with soldiers’
faces cast shadow under a godless sun,

                                                   each viper mouth claiming ownership
                                                                               longer than time.

Our Bodies & Other Fine Machines is a testimony to pain, to the soft, to the angry; it relives trauma through the body, often through the mouth. Sometimes “only a mouth / full of knives,” other times, “sweet wine I held / in my throat for two years without / letting go bad,” or “I love you like a bitten tongue.” What has been felt and lived by the bodies in these pages is given imporance, and by building a multitude of experiences, Wee gives permission for the reader to recognize and speak of their own pain—be it through beauty, through anger, or both:

A hero is
anyone who saves a life

Even if that life is yours

Your
only mission is existing. Little

creature, wait a while & see.

-1/20/17