07 February 2012

how like foreign objects

A variety of tropes reoccur throughout Alexis Orgera's first collection how like foreign objects (H_NGM_N BKS, 2011), but one of them stands out for it meta-poetic qualities: the voice and, to a certain extent, its attachment to the body via the mouth and throat. Within the collection, readers learn that in Orgera's poems "the office is a voice speaking / inside me about all the things left / to do, the never-ending possibilities / of overcoming" (29), or "Their voices are seagulls" (32), or "Giving up is hearing a voice you've always known / sing a song you've never heard" (41), or "No light except what exudes / from both my bodies, / as if they are riddled with the light / of memory, the millions of tinny voices / the...scream" (56), or "A man with fibrillating voice / sang into my left ear—" (61), or "One afternoon, a strange voice came home / sopping wet and blue-lipped / ... / and this is what the voice told me: / your fingers are electric // when you drown / your lungs explosions" (81), or "all the voices— / I mean all—corpses in the corner / of every living room in America / must have risen together / because the drone was deafening" (93). We encounter the voice as office, seagull, resignation, light, fibrillator, a drowning victim with surreal anatomical knowledge, and American corpses.

And what of the voice's attachment to the body and its effect upon the speaker? The list of attachments and their effects is no less expansive: "If I ever go to hell it's because / of my motherfucking mouth" (13), and " we laugh in the mouth of the fire" (14), and "I get to sit inside your mouth" (20), and "Happenstance has a way of shoving / that little square of paper / into your mouth... / ... / while a mouthful of post- / teens strip and swell in the mud" (33), and "It's a myth that the right hand feeds the mouth / of the world"(44). The mouth (i.e. the conduit for the voice), it would appear, damns the speaker to hell, is a fire starter and a receptacle for paper and naked teenagers.

Such diverse ontologies of the voice and corresponding utility for the mouth are cast within a pejorative light; certainly, this is intimated at when taking such statements as "Nothing works, but what doesn't work / most is the word flesh as in flesh" (86) and "sounds / like failure. We are failing // us. I am failing us" (64) in combination. The flesh of the mouth and the sound of the voice have failed us, producing "a language I still don't quite get" (42) because "we [speak] / gibberish...or didn't speak / at all"(22). In this sense, our consciousness, seeking to escape our minds, cannot; thus, our thoughts become "like foreign objects in [our] own skins" (20). The zenith of this failure can be found in the"On The Exile Of My Throats"; the poem concludes:
But that's so many years ago—
before words stuck
in my thirty throats weaving tender
tendrils from their vowels. Today
is another story altogether.
Today we are sad, me and my throats.
We wake up that way
after certain events we can't name.
I hear my throats cawing
through the window—I locked them out,
one thing leading to another
around midnight. They are meaner
than rooks, uglier than magpies.
My throats are a folktale
always throwing
their eyes into treetops
or spelling my thoughts inside out. (30-31)
In a pre-Lapsarian time when all was well, one could find such diversity of voice "weaving tender / tendrils," but no longer. Today the voices and the throats in which they are contained are sad, mean, ugly, and turning thoughts inside out. The speaker of these poems faces a new reality that does not embrace an egalitarian utopia filled with variety, but fears we have entered a monolithic society that would rather lock difference outside than nurture it. One should be no means infer that the poet or the speaker agrees with this stance; instead, the poet and the speaker call attention to the alarming "events we can't name" because we no longer have the mouths, voice, and words to say them.

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