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Fleshy Contact:
Jessi MacEachern's A Number of Stunning Attacks

Jessi MacEachern's A Number of Stunning Attacks
Jessi MacEachern, A Number of Stunning Attacks
Picton: Invisible Publishing, 2020.

Jessi MacEachern’s A Number of Stunning Attacks is an encounter of flesh and its edges where, in “The Moat Around Her Home,” “velvet lipstick lines the demarcation,” and “all is slick with love or mimicry.” There’s so much here about the private space of relation, where subjects are entered, opened wide, probed for sex or violence, “mindful to forget.” (“Orwomen”)

Bodies are ominous here, and there’s a gendered dynamic to the labour of relationships where there’s lots of fleshy contact that can sometimes gleam but never feel comfortable or resplendent. Women get fucked, get tongued, get ignored or misread by men who seem oblivious at best. I keep thinking of self-effacement, as in “A Number of Stunning Attacks,” when the speaker reminds us “It is not important / the fundamental attitude of / All women.” And for all the erasure, bodies get rended—women get killed by men, kill them, maybe kill other women, all in fragmented sequences of noirish cinema: flayed limbs on floral carpet, sirens squalling. At one point, “a number of stunning attacks” have led a woman to fear leaving the house, but even the house in MacEachern’s landscapes “licks its teeth clean,” (“Notes on Moving”), in its own way a predator.

And while women take centre stage as singular and plural subjects, and even become hybrid-plural forms like “Allwomen” (“A Miniature Gender”), I stumble on the idea of a universal subject. Who is the all in all? The experiences of embodiment and interpersonal dynamics feel pointedly flat, but I can’t tell which direction that flatness is pointing in. Though relational love is referenced in the work, it feels like an ominous shell or signifier—love as illegibility, love as being subjected to another’s desires. Gender appears in this text repeatedly as a kind of proper noun—as “good friend” in “A Miniature Gender,” a plural entity that keeps their several eyes watching and capturing everything on video as Andy Warhol swans around, not really listening to our speaker, and the Collected Kafka appears and reappears, once standing in as a “tale told properly” and then becoming a nest for glow-worms. A portrait of Dylan shows up and I keep thinking it’s that Dylan—Bob—just as we’re then told to check our closets for him. All these men, everywhere and nowhere around the subject, and then suddenly “wading in her / healing springs / knowing her,” (“A Miniature Gender”) as she becomes distinctly less known and floats away. The disassociated couplings in this work felt startlingly similar at times to places that I’ve been and are places I’m not sure I want to visit again.

Sarah Pinder is the author of Cutting Room (Coach House Books, 2012) and Common Place (Coach House Books, 2017). Her writing has been shortlisted for the Lambda Literary Awards, and included in magazines like Geist and Poetry is Dead. She lives in Toronto.