The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2020

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JUL-AUG 2020 Issue


Corpse Language

Dead mother in
the garage

Dead language in
my body

Dead body in
the car

Dead language trapped
inside me

Dead mother in
my body

Dead language in
my heart

Dead father in
a country

Dead sexuality

Dead French in
the driver

Dead carbon in
her lung

Dead family in a

Adult Claire
evening Zazen


My favorite drug was two of them
I said to him
as he touched the plastic
I sucked

It is an infant’s biological need
to draw the good
by letting it suck
to cause it to suck

At times I feel forlorn because companionship
And the night
goes on, pitifully
sad and unmoored and abandoned

I liked the film
featuring the woman and the dog
and the one about the clinical psychologist
who seeks out her ex-boyfriends

She dresses her
dead boyfriend’s brother
in her dead boyfriend’s sweater
then kisses his mouth

I felt aroused by this
vacuum devoid
of potential
energy acting

as a cosmological
darkness heightened
by the tension of the walls

Any parent will tell you
of their desperation
to soothe
a restless baby

So I left my baby
lying here, lying
here, lying

I left my baby
lying here to
go and gather


Because I no longer believe in partners, I run
13.1 miles with twelve dozen strangers
and experiment with cooking dinner

for myself. At the kitchen table,
I become asexual
and study an astrological wheel

amidst a sea of avatars
whose virulent digital chorus resounds
We should feel a sense of shame / We should

call our senators, a reminder
to 1) text my analyst;
2) evade a mass shooting;

and 3) sign the electronic climate
petition, then
lacerate the contemporary

and project a better
world, which is
where you are.

Cut Flowers

The monastery’s gardener explains that the flowers’ centers possess several states. The first is when their centers are flat and yellow, indicating a new bloom. The next is when the blooms’ centers are bulbous and blackened, as if blistered and bruised by the sun. This latter state is indicative of the flower’s need to be clipped, the gardener says, slicing her forearm with the blade of her hand. Which is why you spent so long trying to cut off your arm.

A Story About a Turtle Who Retreats Into Her Shell and Becomes a Real Girl

Diego Zayas, <em>Aerial View of an Epiphany</em>
Diego Zayas, Aerial View of an Epiphany

There is a consulting room contained inside the turtle’s shell, and the turtle who retreats into it—who becomes a girl inside of it—is neither a psychoanalyst nor a patient. Rather, she is the ghost of shame, beholding herself as one might behold an amethyst. The girl is not drunk, for the consulting room does not hold a liquor license. Rather, it contains a jute rug, an antique lamp, a copy of Serge Leclaire’s Psychoanalyzing: On the Order of the Unconscious and the Practice of the Letter, a poster of Harmony Korine’s 1997 film Gummo, and a couch the color of milk. If you want, the girl says, you can meet me here in person. You can knock on my shell so as to wake me, and whisper hello, and attempt to crack a joke, and comment upon my nice hand, and join me on the couch for a glass of wine. The previous sentence about the liquor license was not a lie; I snuck this bottle in myself. It made my tote bag heavy. But the wine is light and lovely, and imported from the Loire Valley. If you don’t want to drink it, I can brew coffee or make tea instead. It is important for me to let you know that you are safe in my company, and that your boundaries are respected. As I tell you this, you say, Things will be okay. But I don’t know what those things are.

I understand if you need to turtle for a time. Sometimes I turtle too. It’s this thing I do when I feel empty.
   What does that mean?
   I can’t tell.
   Say it in my ear.

Both the turtle and the girl are unprocessed, but I am enrolled in psychoanalysis, and therefore know myself. I know I desire to exist in listlessness until the end of time. I know I seek boredom forever. I know the turtle may live to be 170, whereas the girl may die in 50 years. I know I shall live to be 36. When you think about it, the three of us—the turtle, the girl, and me—are neither old nor young. Rather, we comprise a triptych: three separately framed artworks hanging on a wall, confounding museum goers.
   Love, a wall text says, is always a red herring.
   And that much may be true: the word love is frequently misused. People invoke it when they really mean novelty, or beauty, or sex; or even worse, novel sex: scenes in books featuring characters who grope one another. Authors use this word—love—because they lack instruction in logical fallacies, wherein love is framed as an argument when it is always an epiphany. And I am sick of feeling attached to the wall.
   It is morally wrong to cheat on your spouse; why on earth would you do that?
   But what is morality exactly?
   It’s a code of conduct shared by cultures.
   But who writes this code?

Now I will share a brief anecdote. As I compose it, I shall resist employing the conjunction ‘but’:

  Several years ago, I traveled to the zoo with a friend. We were both animal people—activists, though we did not explicitly refer to ourselves as such. On that day, our shared interest was in observing creatures trapped behind glass. We had both recently read Dale Jamieson’s “Against Zoos,” and had seen him speak at a hybrid science-philosophy conference. Do fish feel pain was a question we regularly asked. Confronted with this inquiry, we looked into each other’s eyes and laughed. We each possessed two eyes an observer might describe as intensely curious.
  Approximately an hour or so into our zoo journey, my friend and I found ourselves gazing into a glass enclosure containing one turtle. This turtle was oversized; its shell resembled painted glass; and its head was smooth and wrinkled, invoking a penis. As we considered the turtle’s point of view—was it aware of its lifespan, we wondered aloud; was it aware of its containment behind glass?—my friend uttered the word abject.
  I felt in love.
  Indeed, I felt my friend. I felt a feeling creeping up on him. And I felt this feeling too. Days later, lying facedown on the floor while stretching my right leg, I was revisited by the feeling, to which I may refer in retrospect as an epiphany. I thought: My friend has a back, and that back has a spine, and if he was assuming my particular shape on the floor at this moment in time, I would run my hand across it—it, the pronoun referring to his spine, smooth while at once containing notches. Then, I fantasized, I would cook him soup, gift him a plant clipping from my plant clipping collection, and take off his shell. Which may not be love—for love is, in fact, the clarifying and sometimes violent process of gazing into strangers’ eyes and discerning whose grief feels like one of your fingers.

Will you touch my hand?
   Which one.

I speculate that the above explanation does no justice to my exploration of love as a contemporary fallacy, or to my excavation of how the misuse of this word causes me to retreat into the turtle, whose consulting room is an extraordinary space, a room with no view where a girl feels wholly contained. Look at her lying on the couch: she is copulating with the ceiling! Notice as she drifts in and out of her body like the ghost I am, and observe her observing me observing myself observing her detached reality from an aerial perspective. Her stomach rises and falls with the fluctuation of her breath. It makes my hair curl.
   Eventually, the real girl will see herself in paper. This material is not reflective, but it is a mirror, for anything you write on it looks you in the face. Because the turtle and I see ourselves in one another, we must be paper too. In this sentence, we are writing one another by addressing you. See how easily we redefine ourselves? Now it’s your turn.


Claire Donato

Claire Donato lives in Brooklyn, NY and is the author of Burial (Tarpaulin Sky Press) and The Second Body. She teaches in the MFA/BFA Writing Program at Pratt Institute.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2020

All Issues