Claire Donato’s Someone Else’s Body: Reviewed by Gina Myers

Someone Else's BodySomeone Else’s Body

By Claire Donato

Cannibal Books, 2009

Reviewed by Gina Myers

“The night you leave, I write tourist across my stomach with regard to everything I’ve ever done,” begins the poem “There are apologies I am too.”  The speaker later concludes, “You have to pass the time.”  There are a number of ways to do this: you can try to sleep, you can remember the past, or you can write poems about passing the time.  Claire Donato’s Someone Else’s Body is a collection of ten poems varying in style and length, but all seemingly haunted by the past and centered on absence and loss.

Despite its use of direct language, there is a strangeness to the worlds Donato captures in her poems.  Something familiar turns into something unfamiliar, detaches itself from the usual relationships and associations.  In the opening poem, “The Night, What It Allows,” the speaker is in a house where “the walls are tearing / out of their paint” and “the window next / to the television is turning away.”  The house seems uncomfortable in its frame, just as the speaker lying on top of the television is uncomfortable and charting her fear.

Discomfort abounds and is perhaps most present in the title poem, which is about pregnancy and detachment (“Still, it continues to grow…”), and in “Dermatographism,” a longer poem about relationships, “cutting,” and self-mutilation,  There is a claustrophobic feeling to these poems.  Donato writes in “Dermatographism”:

When the mind furies, it may or may not be recollecting.

It may or may not be attempting to unweave

remembrance, which has become a rich part of life, but when

does remembrance become constriction?  We are always

inside of the walls: we want to know others—we want to

be lost outside of ourselves…

The voice here desires to break out of the house, to break out of itself, to know others. This desire to reach out and connect with others is revealed in the collection’s many addresses and pleas to an unidentified “you.”  In “I have some things to tell you,” the speaker claims: “I want to look at you & see myself: I want to look at you & see / you in a sheet.”  However, these attempts to connect often seem frustrated: despite the desire, no connection is made.  A kind of connection is achieved in the poem “bed” where two people turn to each other for warmth, but this connection quickly turns disturbing:

frozen he

turns over, warms his fingers on her—lids, she says: pulp, plum, fire-

wood & nestle             hot on the skin

jolts her tightly—tightly she un-

weaves thread from the lining,

the blanket of the bed—braiding it into a rope

she ties around like a noose

on his neck

This poem, minimalistic and effectively using the white space of the page, is the most stripped- down in the collection.  It ends with a mysterious list of details:

bruise, bruised, bruising                      —sheet of chrysanthemums in the basement

the pocket knife, folded—                                             the radiator, the empty corridor,

The final punctuation is a comma that hangs on the page, waits for the list to continue, to break the silence of that heavy pause.

Someone Else’s Body is a strong collection. In “Address to California,” Donato writes: “It is possible I am inventing a history in which words are interchangeable and based solely on your neck and lips and shoulders.”  Some of the mystery in these poems may come from this private history, shielded from the reader by the interchangeability of the words, but the ache of longing created by distance, whether geographical or historical, is palpable in these terse lyrics, lyrics that are exact and mysterious at once.


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