Girl Without Arms by Brandon Shimoda

Girl Without Arms
by Brandon Shimoda
Black Ocean, 2011
96 pages / $14.95  Buy from Black Ocean or SPD






The title may be referencing a Grimm’s Fairytale called The Girl Without Hands. It could also just be about a girl without arms. I don’t know. It doesn’t seem integral to enjoying the work or attempting to understand it. The work is a trip, an experience more than a message, a system that works by itself. I’m going to quote a lot and talk a little.


Shimoda interrupts himself. The syntax is complicated in GWA. It’s like the syntax itself is surreal.

“Boats stick to our elbows
The Cabin goes up
In rhubarb. Rhubarb
Washes over-”

The many voices sometimes sound mid-sentence, mid-conversation, perhaps overheard. The words are mashed up and mixed together with impossible situations and small haiku moments.

“Mute water and moss and tight water and rocks”

Sometimes The Girl Without Arms feels like a poetry devoid of people. Like it sprung from the earth elementally, without being crafted by anyone or like it’s what’s left after all the people are gone. Sometimes it feels austere and lonely. There is a kind of transcendence in the small, the slightly off diction, the twisted cadences and syntax.

“The boats
Do not move.
There are no people
Like it.”

In some sections it’s as if the people that might exist are so minimal as to be hard to notice. The little ecologies of Shimoda’s short unpredictable stanzas are aesthetically charged and abstract; they are essential tiny interrelated linguistic artifacts that seem to stand independent of time or context. Shimoda’s words tend to connote more than denote.

On the back of the book Tomaz Salamun calls Shimoda an Ur-being. That’s insane and hilarious. I will give him credit for being a poet but I’ve never met him so I don’t know about an Ur-Being. One point in the text that I keep turning to is this section of “Occasion Of The Massive”:

“To eat your partner to the brain
And be suffocated by the impossibility that the terrifyingly inert mass of
        Wet coral is what loves you
Is to fear
What makes you continue pulling the rest of your partner’s organs
With your teeth
In spit of the original desire to barter breath”

“Occasion Of The Massive” does at least two separate things. The haggard beatification of cannibalism is both beautiful and terrifying and probably one because of the other. The horrific desire for consummation of union through consumption literally or figuratively is paired actually with the horror of materialism. The narrator confronts the fact that brain, a physical blob of “terrifyingly inert mass” is what consciousness is; that “is what loves you.”

Later in that poem he says

Anything touched
May well reserve its original stance. Becoming bigger

Which I think is about an object’s ability to persist beyond the ability of anything to effect or affect it. The touch only makes possible the incomprehensible. The touched becomes the monster by being untouched or by being touched and simply remaining.

              of a wet attempt
I like to think of
The squid in your arms
Every time you ask me a question
I do not know how to answer
        which is always

These surreal moments are unsettling in Shimoda’s. They aim for a particularly uncomfortable region of the sublime: the awkward, the horrific, the unsatisfying. It is a poetry of things that are difficult to look at or impossible to see. A sublime that obscures the self of I as in WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU BACK THERE:

“I as lost I in the elevations
Slipped when red grapes and the blue grapes not sure
If she looks onto the marigold ascension of street’s look for another one not palace
Go to Missoula I suggested.
Find things metering the bright valley love it I imagine guessing
Touching yourself the seeing fires at once
I will not be there You have to get out”

Yourself and the seeing fires become conflated. The world obscures the concept of the self throughout the strangeness of the book. The You and the I are confused placeholders signifying a situation in an equation that’s always more complicated.


“The being of a reject is
        the remnants not of love
But essence
                By omission
Courage of reckless confession
        There is
No tradition beginning
Contrary to deliberating
        Guns never miss the target
        By love. Thinking love returns”



Leif Havens most recent work, a collection of Craigslist erasures called Japanese Red Leaf Maple, is available free online from Love Symbol Press.

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