To be a corporeal creature is an incredibly lonely thing. Every bit of muscle and bone represents a distance that keeps us from each other, every aspect of our physical form is a kind of barrier. What prevents this from being utterly tragic is that we are also creatures of thought, with ideas and emotions and inventions darting around our heads. We’ve learned to use our prisons as conduits for language and touch, art and architecture, trying in ever-increasing ways to surmount the barriers, close the distance between us, get as close to each other as the boundaries of flesh allow.
The distance between you and I, between the self and the other, forms the central preoccupation of Aisha Sasha John’s second book, a collection that springs naturally from her debut, 2011’s The Shining Material. Both books engage with the specific, sometimes grotesque nature of physical reality, but THOU is even more detailed. The bodies in John’s latest collection eat, stretch, move, barf, shit, and shake, exploring corporeal mechanics and, always, the way human bodies act as impediments between one another, “as if it is the natural physical constant circumstance of your life.”
The book is divided into two sections, which roughly correspond to the I/you binary each poem sets out to examine. But though the text may be cleft neatly in two, the location of “I” and “you” throughout is always in flux, blurred, complicated. The shifting narrative voice subsumes, digests, and transforms identities within the self, the protean speaker attempting to bridge the gap between self and other by striving to become that other, always falling short of an imagined perfect resolution. The resulting loneliness has the speaker finally bemoaning, “i want to cut / somebody, anything, my / hand.” In that terrible inadequacy, this collection finds an awkward, abject beauty.