Donora Hillard’s Theology of the Body
From its first page, Donora Hillard’s Theology of the Body presents itself a mesmerizing object of equal command and restraint. It defines, in the remove-voice of not a narrator, not a guide, but some black sound, the birthplace of the title, via 3 thin lines which crown a long white blank: “Theology of the Body is defined as the study of how God is revealed through the human body; this is also part of Pope John Paul II’s title for his collected lectures on the subject. It is being promoted throughout Catholic institutions as a sexual counter-revolution.” The remaining white that fills the page floods on, as does, often, the battered brain of the encroached.
Most of the body of the book itself continues on in this thick statement/relief shriek arrangement: as if someone has eaten through the mantle of the paper, leaving selected words and languages as would the aggressor leave the remains. Hillard does not require a lot of language to implant the tone of stroke. Many poems are a few calmly stated lines.
you pinned me up against an oak in a park near where you were young and your hand
sang inside and you were the resurrection you were violent light behind the mountain
Some poems here come constructed from other flesh, the sound ingested and returned: there are derived spaces from AP articles, from Catholic secondary school documents. There is a massive blocksentence that reads in run-on prayer. Between the texts, too, are other worm texts, rendered in italic, licking a little around the holes, from the Pope, Proverbs, St. Paul, Christopher West, others.
What by collage and pausing and what it does not do, this book becomes a shock hole, a terror prayer. Where others might romanticize the body, that trauma, these are offerings, carved out organs where the damage is not fear or remorse, and not even of the sickening remains, but of a larger, thicker silence. A thing not even just around the corner, but long gone. Not even residue, but clean floors. The terror of clean floors. My hyperbole is required. Sometimes the white itself becomes hard to look at, knowing how stolid and then suddenly slicing Hillard’s sentences and contexts build from out of nowhere.
This is, at least in part, the gift of the book. Not an unloading, but a hole space, like notes from somewhere off tucked into walls. This book is a ivory house to walk around in, move a mirror, touch a door. These words have been here a long time, in plodding, and will be here when the book is put down. When the book burns. The book has already burnt.
…those who cannot exercise self-control… should marry…, one page blanks. On the next page a woman “rushing back to the man she lives with but is not married to” avoids hitting a small child with her car. The next line, in the same italic, sees the child hit anyway, “slippery shell sliding between her palms.” The third of the triumvirate of lines completes the lineage of action and fantasy, to bodily, mental fact: “After, she thinks of the boy who can say pussy and thank you in one deadly sentence, a pearl of want in her throat.”
There are many texts that romanticize the body. There are many texts that romanticize God. This is not that text. Often, this book is not text at all, but a slow thrall. Like the slow lights that fill the nightclub in the scene in Fire Walk With Me just before Laura Palmer is destroyed, of such volume that the speaking has to be rendered along the bottom of the screen in titles, there is a lurking here beyond both the sound of it and its delivery in impression. That you can see and shrink inside that doubling, that you can both know you are being eviscerated by an inert object, and feel nothing, is the terror that eats the sleep. Probably I should place Theology of the Body on the concrete outside my house tonight, for protection both as warning, and in keeping a door between us. More likely I will lay it on the blue floor, apart from the other books.