Pegs Are Everywhere: A Review of Feng Sun Chen’s The 8th House
The 8th House
Feng Sun Chen
104 p. / $14.95
“Little snouts wake and bite in”
On Mushroom / Ponds
I met Feng Sun Chen when I was still / an undergraduate. I don’t remember what year it was / I know it was / snowing. The lace of all the edges were frozen / in Wisconsin. We / Several of us / used to meet in a place with thick pie and black velvet walls. We used to talk about poetry / the inverted forest. We made zines / we stitched the bindings together. Our first issue was inspired by vomit / expelling. Some of us called ourselves Lettuce Rats.
Trying to recall the first poem I read by Feng Sun Chen at the place with thick pie and black velvet walls makes me think of her yarn mittens / Blue and Red. Were they real? Do I remember / or do I make up / my memory? I didn’t know what an inverted forest was until Feng Sun Chen was near me / in my life. I didn’t know what an inverted forest was until Feng Sun Chen spoke with me / about the unbearable pain of trying to approach love / the way she feels and sees the world / the necessity of burying the kill hole alive. Strugglesauce, some of us called it. “Emptiness must die. / Don’t open your body. It was already open” (“I AM THE MIDAS”). The poem by her, / that first one I read, was about mushrooms and water I think. It was about a girl / a ghost I don’t remember what year it is was / It was snowing / the lace of all the edges were frozen / alive / but moving / convulsing / It was like a fairytale / but one I’ve never quite seen before, some of us said. “BLOOMING BODY OR FLAYED FLOWER” (“I AM THE MIDAS”).
On Intimacy w/ mary
It’s important to begin to suggest how I know Chen / “mary flows through the black moon” (“I AM THE MIDAS”). We did our graduate work in the same program / We lived together in an apartment / Chen has been my friend / for a long time. This is to be open about the love I feel deeply / to be open about what it takes to register / to discuss this writing by her, which is essential and flaming and globular. However, this is also to begin to suggest that my friendship doesn’t make me more or less able to talk about / the Power of the Wound / the Generosity of Chen’s poetry. It is a poetry which is never enamored with the (a human conception of the) earth but is utterly of it. It is abject and tender and refuses the comfort of being fathomed by even those who could be or are closest to it. “The mind of god was mary and gurgling fat” -(“I AM THE MIDAS”).
Poetry is significant to friendship in this way or I understand this more and more as read and read. Reading / considering reading does some work in destroying the myth that friendship = knowledge = intimacy. Should a book written by someone you know and love reflect that back to you / clear of any blood?
“I have true friends the way a body has a soul.
I have meat the way a body has network.
The way a network has psychosis.
The way corpses have no body. The way souls have mechanism.
I love them openly and we hold nothing back and the weight of our
agreement breaks my back.”
-“I AM THE MIDAS”
I write reviews of work and pain / of the people I love or admire or read because I want to learn from registering what is not known to me / what has / what hasn’t been shared. My inability to see a person / my ability to continue to try / to be alert. Imagine if humans felt they were obligated to work through and consider other relationships / unions the way they are supposed to work through and consider coupling / the responsibility a person supposedly has to find a (hetero) soulmate. “Oliver, what you can do for me is a gingery dream, / the sweetest of white boys / can conspire with me and my triangulated support / of their violent home improvement” (Kingdom of Heaven). To move within the knowledge of any body is raw and violent and loving, / a transgression of the lines that appear everywhere.
The on-going use of the name mary in The 8th House / the continuous repetition of the name mary throughout this text reminds me of how little I know about my friend, of how little I know about what it means for Feng Sun Chen to write poetry and for Feng Sun Chen to reveal / examine / shred something via language. “I carry a wake from all corners mary hits me” (Love in the Void). However, I want to assert that this is also a kind of intimacy / this NOT knowing / and a kind of intimacy any reader is familiar with. You feel like you know this person / this writer writing to you, but you don’t, but you are sure you’ve glimpsed something anyway. In this book, you ask what is mary and find that the answers pile up / become a huge texture you can touch / you remain estranged from / you grow closer to anyway. In this book, the name / the I / feigns the sentimentalities of the earnest, epiphytic I while also reinvigorating it. “Broken sentimentality reads like a bar of chocolate / pocky sticks fit into the smallest mouth / I come upfront to no one / to the death in all you” (Sentences). What is mary? I think she is the sky / my oldest friend.
What does mary make us / or you think of? mary reminds us of soft virgins heaped on top of the blue dresses of the earth. “SO FRESH / SO RED / MARY” (“I AM THE MIDAS”). The continuous presence of mary reminds us that Asian Americans are expected to have or to use Anglo-Christian names that generate white recognition / comfort, that suggest a note of smoothness in assimilation. “mary was organic and pure. She wore jeans in the summer. She believed / in love and gave birth to a void” (“I AM THE MIDAS”). mary reminds us that for some [white] readers / it is perhaps difficult to immediately assume what the gender of Feng Sun Chen is / to immediately have expectations as to what her voice and demeanor should present as / perform like. (Do you think Michael Derrick Hudson / white male Peg du jour / knew or cared that Yi-Fen is primarily a girl’s name? I sort of fucking doubt it! Oh, nevermind, it’s so much more horrible than I could have ever imagined.) Though, of course, we have so many expectations as to what an Asian / Othered female’s voice should present as / perform like. “My privilege to be fucked / and sucked into a blizzard of consumption to sustain this fucking / It is stupid to escape the self / The real self wants to be ruptured / Sex never happens between the lines / Where can a heart go?” (To Live). mary is often not capitalized because is it really the word for a body? Is it really affixed to the body / or sometimes / is it not? Does a name grant you immediate access to intimacy with the body? Or does it allow us to recognize how a body can be detached from what it is called / from how it is called? Does a name distinguish us from the animal / does it overcome the distance between us? A name is only the beginning of what intimacy between us / might be. I love you / please teach me / how to call you.
On Mother / Stew
Texture is a dark room / There are textures that sit behind the world / that refuse our delusions. “I’m not a witness but a wet mess” (“I AM THE MIDAS”). Chen turns texture into feeling and feeling into slop / texture. I’m not sure what such transformation produces. A holiness / disgusting-ness that is not beyond the body? “I TOUCHED ABRAHAM / IN THE MOUND CYSTED MUD / WHEN THE DUST OF MARY / COATED YOUR FACE / I WAS THERE” (I AM THE MIDAS). Text is born of force, willingness, curiosity, / the thickness which emerges from both female and male genitals / from our bacteria soaked organs / as they brush against [themselves, others, nothing, something else, here, elsewhere]. The immensity of friction / of coupling. The sincerity of such touching / the lack of sincerity in simply existing together / in so much constant touching.
“I PRECIPITATE TEXT
I WRITHE IN GOLDEN GEOLOGICAL SMEGMA
I TOUCH THE WATERS OF IN OUR BLADDER
I TOUCH THE WATERS OF IN OUR DUCT
THE SLEEP WAX IN OUR EYE
THICK WITH LIFE FILM
EVERYTHING TOUCH IS
-“I AM THE MIDAS”
To Chen, the whole world boils / shifts / is gelatinous and gleaming / It is a small worm / a little peg / crawling / scrawling. The animal bucks in your clean lawn / in your clean page. All throughout the book, small maggot-like creatures appear / little impacts / little wounds / little mouths / close to the text / ready to engulf the words / prepared to adorably reject and chew the page’s smoothness. Which end is their brain and which is their shithole? Are worms really any more grotesque than a Snickers bar / a smear of hydrogenated capitalism, delicious / fatty / and violent? Who devours what?
“I am real and the reality of my reality
is as good as Spam.
And the wine of my waters tastes like menstrual copper
And the bread of my life is refined.
I want to make you happy as a historical being but I have no power.
I am a poet and I do not survive. Let me be filled with your body.”
-“I AM THE MIDAS”
The warmth of poemslop / The warmth of soup / The warmth of creatures crawling all over each other / sexing and caring and ingesting each other / The warmth of the soup or the poison that passes through us / the warmth of creatures / ourselves who pass us down to each other / who pass us over each other / who devour our history and then expel it out a filthy opening or a mouth. “You agree with me, Angel / I expose by being exposed” (“I AM THE MIDAS”). Who is on high? / Who is lowly? We are creatures, too / A flood. The warmth / the bone and marrow provided to us by the dead / or the living / or a vibrating mass / is inverted in Chen’s book / to reveal an (un)touchable alive-ness (an alive nest). It is inverted to reveal an (un)touchable / but intimate terror between us. A texture / always changing / always on the verge.
“Mother stews the blubber cubes for a long time in the ceramic pot. It is a pot that has been in the family for generations, and the pot is the color of human pig skin. Love and murder bubble androgynous thick tar mother stews the blub.
In the stew, cinnamon scrolls curl the anise stars haul the dark brown taste through the meat. The fatty cubes are soft and pink, and over time take on the color of dark anxiety inside the stew scroll. It is the flavor of years and time’s passage and the sun’s work on the black molecules hurling.
Disintegrating bits of lacy protein illustrate star-mom, a dimension measured by salt. The surprising mushroom of bone marrow at an opening of the skin after steaming, colony and cancer shaped, the stars of salt and motherfat stream down my chin and throat.”
-“I AM THE MIDAS”
Where a body and its consciousness come from in this book is domestic and wild / familial and isolated / an anus of star. I feel amazed when I read a poem by Chen because it is maybe the only time I do feel genuinely overcome with an impulse to call a poem lyrical. “The lyric will come back a zombie / When will the crowd wake up” (“To Live”). Lyric / Lyrical is, obviously, is an incredibly loaded word. It’s a word the poetry world says over and over / while failing to acknowledge that there is zero clear consensus as to what the word actually means. Also, there is no rigorous practice in place for discussing its extremely fraught legacy in American poetics. The word / The lyric is often used to enforce and glorify poetic hierarchies. The word is a source of trauma for many writers. “But it is has no music,” is a phrase I’ve heard often used to dismiss contemporary works. Such a phrase is decidedly less about “the music” and more about a desire to insist that rhythm be recognizable / “beautiful” / homogenous. Chen’s work is striking, and at times, the beauty of the way her lines collect and speak / carries with it a glittering air of effortlessness / an outpouring of softness / an incredible floral sound. However, like Kim Hyesoon or Clarice Lispector, the instinctive balance in and spare shapeliness of Chen’s musicality is also filled with refusal / with spit meant for the ideological shit dangling from the lyrical’s sewer pipes / from the garbage of the world. “Ghosts are more powerful than fathers because they are pure surface, / upon hysteric layers of surface” (“Dear Reader”).
Chen’s sense of the poem / the line / its breaking point taps into the unspeakable / unfathomable origins of poetry (Why cry? Why feel? Why impact? Why struggle to acknowledge what you feel / what you don’t? Why hole? Why expanse? Why break? Why rhythm? Why die? Why live?) while acknowledging poetry’s on-going inability to recognize / hold her / help her live. “mary will accept the obliterative” (“Illiteracy”). mary will name the longest poem in the book (“I AM THE MIDAS”) after a king who was engulfed, sterilized by his rich, golden bile / his own feral / gross need for power / sympathy. The musicality of this work, the twisting, grotesque / nurturing lilts of it, doesn’t come from workshop, it comes from a place where the texture of sound is a dark room, / an endlessly simmering mess of broth inside King Mida’s daughter turned eternally still / by her own “value” / by her father’s touch. These poems are the sound that sits behind the world / the sound that refuses our delusions. It is the wound that goes on. It is mystery.
“One eyed needle pumped its art
into cauliflower nerves
waving signs protesting nothing.
Nothing is stronger than a pain-net,
the green grapes shining
high over the rubber fox
All in the business of amnesia,
when I could call myself an element
crushing mary’s hand.
Gazing up at laminated paradise,
white beach palm tree destiny lines
see the gapping red porn of my contact.
See panic flatten out.
See mary run.
See dark lymph flood from purity into purity.”
-“I AM THE MIDAS”
On The Rapist
“Help me, the rapist said,
I’m being hoisted up”
-“I AM THE MIDAS”
The man / the boy addicted to Japanese porn lives forever and ever. The man / the boy feels entitled to you / to the body of mary / to any body / it cums across. The man / the boy must pork and pork against the body of women / of others. The man / the boy / he is the best one there. The man / the boy must say you are selfish as he goes up and up and up and up. The man / the boy cries all the while, so sure he is the one who is hurt when you say you are hurt. The man / the boy has never hurt anyone, he says in the Goodreads review of your book he wrote years and years later / when he still felt entitled to you / when he only wanted to show you / he still cares. The man / the boy only wanted / he only wanted / he only wanted / a little sympathy. The man / the boy, his lastingness is endless / and shallow. He goes up and up and up and up and spreads and spreads and spreads over us / so innocently / he can’t help himself / how much he needs us / little peg.
“The pork tries
It tries very hard
Now she is already dead
This little Peg had fun.
This little Peg had none.”
-“I AM THE MIDAS”
The man / the boy / Will he ever stop? Will he ever stop being / innocent / of it all?
On The 8th House
I flew to over the Labor Day holiday / to see a marriage of bees. While I was there, I saw Feng Sun Chen on a couch / with pastries. She reminded me that Pluto is in my fourth house / that this is what we talked about a great deal when I lived with her. The difference in how we feel things. “I am not every woman but I am every hurtle from a high place / merrily merrily merrily merrily merrily merrily” (“Love in the Void”). My body is a barrage of emotion. Overwhelming and raw and constant. Sometimes, for seemingly no reason at all / except every reason, my fingers peel or my left eye swells. When a friend once described me as calm, I almost laughed / thinking about the sea that rages inside me. I’m continually experiencing how difficult it is to realize how differently we all think / process. It’s a simple observation, I suppose, but doesn’t it also constantly feel violent / exacting to really face it?
“After so long, I believe in demons because I saw one.
It was weak from pain, a universe of pain
lying next to me.
I felt for it
and stroked its face.”
I don’t think poetry is the thing or needs to be the thing that heals that. I do think it is the thing that shows us how much work it is / how vivid it is / these small fractures / these little pegs / these small attempts. “Soft bodies wield knives. / No organism is ashamed under the knife” (“I AM THE MIDAS”). Is it odd to use astrology / to use astrology to consider those differences / in how we feel / in how we experience and try to enact complex variances of feeling? What’s the difference between considering a chart and considering a word? Both involve mapping out positions in the sentence / in the sky. Both involve re-reading / interpretation / patience. Both are often expected to explain and often don’t. A chart or a word tells me so much about my friend / the sky / Feng Sun Chen / her 8th house is in the south node / is in Scorpio. Is that right? I text her / I don’t totally understand the answer. “no ledge without power / no I won’t go to your exhibition / no I will not forget / no I cannot remember / no I will never learn / but I know things / I don’t know any thing / I am learning the force of my stupidity / guides me / interstitial forces” (“Made in China”). A chart or a word tells me so little about my friend / the red inside her. I think astrology, like poetry, can be important in that it helps us accept that we can know so little about each other while rejecting the more familiar systems in place (racism, sexism, religion, academic aesthetic football fields, etc.) that tend to hurt us more than they help us by simultaneously using and romanticizing difference / estrangement.
“I kill the layer that touches what is without me
my touch of the air is now pure
my tongue of maim
aims no awl
you touch my kant
touch it with my hand
I am killing the wholesome to know without knowing so that
my dumbabyness can grow
huge grow wings arms pieces
so it can hold your hauntedness
so that I may survive hauntedness”
Some of the current systems in place we have for understanding each other force us to secret our pain away / to call it crazy / dismiss it / watch it die again and again / so that it won’t create too much discomfort / shame for others. “I know I will fail as I do / in all that I do. / Communication is an ugly word. / It is not pretty like Peggy. / A Peg is more sincere than I could ever be. / A Peg squeals without self-consciousness or self-esteem” (“I AM THE MIDAS”). Talking to my friend, A, we wonder if all this hiding / ghosting / layering is what transforms something as abstract as a feeling into something so physical as a welt / a wound / a rash. Something so physical it can’t be pushed aside / a body / a poetry. “how does anything actually / reconfigure kinship / is kin the skin without plurality / is blood the commons / am I a pig / for my vague trauma / my fear” (“Made in China”). A body / a poetry so sad it convulses. A grief that melts endlessly towards you. An impulse to live despite. An impulse / an excretion. “Our bodies belong to evil, cruelty, the Sun. / Only the ways our bodies are broken belong to us. / In this way my diseases make me real. / A river of pus is my love of the world” (“Faith”).
I want to look to the space in the sky / its known / unknown arrangement. I don’t know how to read it / but I do / but I try. Having an 8th house in the south node / in Scorpio / Having The 8th House means a body / or a creature / or a god / or a peg / or a book / or a poetry struggles to survive. It means a body / or a creature / or a god / or a peg / or a book / or a poetry can have a psychic talent / speaks the language outside of reality / can have trouble engaging with / feeling attached to the tangible world. It means a body / or a creature / or a god / or a peg / or a book / or a poetry is often fluent in the emotional unseen / mysticism / the occult / witchcraft / spiritual development. It means a body / or a creature / or a god / or a peg / or a book / or a poetry has experienced emergency / termination / deep loss / troubling water. It means a body / or a creature / or a god / or a peg / or a book / or a poetry is capable of unspeakable growth.
Carrie Lorig is the author of The Pulp vs. The Throne (Artifice Books), which is her first full-length work. Her chapbooks include nods. (Magic Helicopter), Reading as a Wildflower Activist (H_NGM_N), stonepoems (with Sara Woods, Solar Luxuriance), and Labor Day (with Nick Sturm, Forklift Ohio).