by Amina Cain
Dorothy, a publishing project, 2013
144 pages / $12.20 buy from Dorothy, a publishing project
1. I am ashamed of what I think about book reviews.
2. “I’m [...] ashamed of what I think about literature—I can only open up to a few people in this way.” So says the narrator of “The Beak of a Bird,” the fourth short story in Amina Cain’s Creature (Dorothy, 2013). For now, I am hovering 40,000 feet above the Earth.
3. My thoughts about texts exist as emotional impressions, and what interests me most as a reader is ambience and affect—words as molecules of emotion, states of agitation, decorative illuminations, background noise. Readerly impressions in my bones are intimate like pages; they are, as in Creature, “the place where [my] life unfolds.” I want to recite my Creature to you, but instead draw inward toward the place where my body’s median axis, its midline, is askew.
4. Preoccupied with atmosphere and feeling as I am, I am ashamed of what I think (or don’t think) about literature, and so I choose not to write about books. But Amina Cain’s Creature is different: Amina Cain’s Creature resides out of harm’s way, although it exists in savage and erotic twilight. “I expressed myself through the violent putting away of a pan.” “Myself, alone, in my bed, is a story.” “Write about the arm when the whole body is being abused.” “We watch something violent on my laptop. It will help me wear this dress.” In this darkness, I read and write and think-along, and feel involved in every sentence. This involvement is key to my wanting to recite my Creature. Involved in it, I am pleased to feel ashamed of what I think.
5. Creature begs to be watched. Passing over one’s horizon of attention, the book is a meditative practice, which is not to say Creature is necessarily a meditation, for a person does not read Creature so much as she suspends it in space. 40,000 feet above the Earth, she observes its sentences, lines of thought that move across the mind, and breathes them in and out. There are momentary pauses of deep calm. It is likely the mind wanders. And as Creature unravels, the body sheds itself.
6. I am ashamed of my physiological responses to literature. See Exhibit A, which I am sorry to describe. In this disgraceful scene, I am hovering 40,000 feet above the Earth reading Creature’s “Attached to a Self.” I am attempting momentary pauses of deep calm. In the midst of this exercise, I cross a passage wherein Cain refers to a Benedictine monk: “The word is supposed to send a person into great silence,” she writes. “Just a little bit of reading is enough.” I suspend the statement in space, let it resonate. My eyes trace the sentence and tear.
7. Am I crying because of the story, someone asks, or because of the space?
8. Am I crying because of the space, I wonder, because this is the space where my life unfolds?
9. And is it really me if I’m not there?
10. To answer these questions for you, let me describe where Creature rests in my body—deep within my thoracic spine, in the middle of my vertebrae alongside photo booth-sized images of unrequited knives. I am conscious of it as I watch my body read. Its language moves and settles. This process of watching—as opposed to thinking—may seem enigmatic. It is.
11. The morning I begin reciting my Creature, I have a conversation with my friend Michael. Most people do not listen to the body’s unrequited knives, he says but does not say. We are drinking lukewarm lemon water. We are practicing long pauses between words.
12. I have to write about Michael’s calves. When I show him Creature, I ask where the book rests in his body. I feel it in my calves, he says. Jeff says he feels it in his lumbar section.
13. The thoracic spine’s vertebrae possess several general characteristics. For example, the vertebrae’s largest parts—its bodies—are heart-shaped. Pain in the leg may be linked to pain in the spine. Something has brought me to this numbered list.
14. Creature’s language whinnies in the body’s deep embankments. There is no other way to describe this than to call to mind the image of an unrequited knife that is withheld.
15. Tonally inappropriate musical interlude: “i wanna be your thurston moore / wrestle on the bedroom floor / always leave you wanting more”
16. Now it is three o’clock in the morning, and I am awakened by the sound of a creature’s rolling cry. It cannot be my creature, I think. She is with me.
17. My creature always has a double. This one is literal. My creature dervishes and screams and claws. Draws blood.
18. The second creature was loved.
19. List of abrasions: his right calf, his left calf; his right shin, his hand.
20. “Something inside me is doubling over.” My creature, it is summer, as reflected by the skin’s outer layer, and the beach is evolving. We are sitting on an airplane in the company of ghosts. My eyes are shedding text, and our creature is at home alone in the apartment in the company of friends. You are on your knees; the bag of purple-spotted flowers is torn open; our creature emits a low growl, begs, and eviscerates your hand. I am locked in the bathroom, naked underneath a stolen towel. I am writing this. Creature speaks: “I want someone to love me.” My creature waits in my room. Please, someone.
21. My creature waits in my room, calling me.
22. I cannot write anything else.
* Note: Several sentences have been gleaned from Amina Cain’s Creature.
Claire Donato lives in Brooklyn, NY and is the author of Burial (Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2013). Her recent writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Aufgabe, Encyclopedia L-Z, Octopus, Boston Review, LIT, and 1913: A Journal of Forms. She holds an MFA in Literary Arts (Poetry) from Brown University, where she won the John Hawkes Prize in Fiction, and has been a finalist for the National Poetry Series.