Arsenic Lobster poetry journal
Rilke tells us that things so cry out to be named that they are not themselves until we have named them. And this thing we call domestic violence is, quite literally, crying out to be renamed.
The word domestic has so long been yoked to bliss, it will always conjure scenes of cookies baked to perfect crispness, freshly ironed shirts, sparkling clean floors. In our shiny, happy culture, the notion of bliss invoked by domestic is so automatic that violence is often heard in diminuendo. To an alien, domestic violence might bespeak an accident as relatively innocuous as a finger burned on that hot oven or hot iron—a sprained wrist from an overly enthusiastic mopping of the floor.
We need something much more visceral. We need to see it. Hear it. Name it. Call it a smashed-in face, a broken nose, the crunch of knuckles shattering bone, a woman dragged, screaming, by her hair across the floor. Family brutality, perhaps, would be a closer approximation to the actual thing: family in the sense of a crime syndicate as much as a relationship formed by blood, love, and/or marriage.
Kim Noriega would, no doubt, agree. Name Me, her debut collection of poems, published by Fortunate Daughter Press, is a lucid gaze into the windows of those who would inflict pain and suffering on the ones they claim to love. Such wreckage runs deep in the DNA:
The story goes
The narrator's father seems to have inherited the disease, too— It's before Pabst Blue Ribbon, / before his tongue became a knife / that made my mother bleed, ("Heaven, 1963")— and so does the current generation, with Noriega's characters commiting feral acts in their chosen, rather than inherited, clans: before Jack Daniels, / Wild Turkey, / nine millimeters, / Speedballs, / Nembutals, // switchblades // to slit your wrists / when you came down too hard. ("What I Remember").
Not every poem in this collection is so brutal. There are also poems that waft vanilla-scented, go down butter-tender: (My father, my apple tree in the spring. / My father, my firefly in a jar ("The Sky, My Father"). But these scenes feature the same cast — the fathers, lovers, uncles, and mothers — who are destructing each other and themselves, so seeing their humanity makes seeing their monstrosity all the more horrific. Cynthia MacDonald—dubbed "the Diane Arbus of American poetry"—a poet who writes in the grotesque and who advocates for making one's monsters as human as possible, would appove.
The title poem is a jolting catalogue of execrable (Name me the woman you love // to get up against the wall / and fuck with your .38.) and barbarous (Name me crushed larynx. / Name me fractured mandible.). The list spills from the throat of a woman who has killed her husband in self-defense, and is imprisoned for his murder. The ending lines unfold with the lurid realization that a prison cell is far preferable to a violent home: Name me not sorry. / Name me the widow. / Name me the woman in cell C 15. / Name me free.
The poems' epigraph is taken from a book titled Convicted Survivor: The Imprisonment of Battered Women Who Kill, and reads: "The power of naming is two-fold: naming defines the quality and value of that which is named — and it also denies reality and value to that which is never named, never uttered. That which has no name is rendered mute and invisible: powerless to claim its own existence...this has been the situation of women in our world."
Noriega begins to correct that situation in her devastating collection. By adding her voice to the larger archive, Name Me serves not just a personal purpose, but a social one, as well. As such, Noriega has succeeded in writing that rarest of objects: poetry that is political but not polemical.
Everyone — men and women alike — needs to read this book. Because as much as Noriega would like to tell you that everything is going to be okay: there is an angel / peering over my shoulder / as I write this, // and she is not singing. ("Viola d'Amore").--
Poetry Editor, Arsenic Lobster Poetry Journal