Paula Mendoza-Hanna is a weirdo writing weirdo poems, which—if you think about it—may be the best kind of poet (and poem) these days. The theme they spelunk most frequently is ambivalence; a most apt entryway for work discussing love, sex, self-image, and self-worth. Despite being non-narrative, the first two pieces manage to find their stories in one of two ways:
1) The images are so damn moody and visceral that one can’t help but feel exactly what this conniving little writer wants us to. For example, “Chamber” gives us braids over a mouth, but fairy-tale-style: an “unknitting,” unravelling gag. We can’t know whether this eventual unbraided freedom is good or bad, but the simplest guess is clearly both.
2) Her word play enchants, befuddles, and grips, but ultimately evokes that same push/pull feeling she covets: “Weather dements / until heart is in effect
pre- / positioned.”
The heart here, “prepositioned,” as in, must be considered in relation to something else. Because of that pesky line break, the heart is also “pre positioned.” As in: before the correct position. Not quite ready. But almost. Similar, then, to “Waist Down, All Animal,” where the speaker is “neverminding sting.” Does she never
mind it? Or does she mind
it, but never mind
Probably both. See? Ambivalence.
Those odd, lyric poems aside, I’m thrilled to also present the “Self Deceit” piece, where terza rima serves as a nice foil to her more abstract work. (And hey now, don’t get your poetic panties in a bunch because it’s not iambic. Some of the lines do fall true to fantastic effect [“and strokes of ciphers skittering across” – oh, the alliteration!], but the loose syllabics still work to maintain the poem’s necessary abruptness. When Mendoza-Hanna writes “its blur only startles to stall,” that’s true of the entire piece.) The fact that it’s ekphrastic—written after Francesca Woodman’s photograph of a nude, crawling woman confronting herself in a mirror—just deepens the poet’s incessant insistence that the body, heart, and mind wrench each other apart until one prevails, the others surrender, or they all, ultimately, break.
Ague, or room. In either the seized
Winter and worn, sky purls
a frieze, braids wool over my
mouth unknitting loudest soon.
Your closed door
valves a kind
until heart is in effect pre-
positioned. When all and after I
am left: With. Out. Through.
For after was all I came
Waist Down, All Animal
Mood like lava. Interrupt
—cool it, girl, settle.
Feldspar, christ! Stole in.
Voleur stages heist, beast from cavea.
Snakes her tendrilling. Tore
fillet bind, wrecked diadem.
Neverminding sting, metal taste
when teeth, or split. Alkaline tip.
Her liquorice irises, his pupils astral.
Lover, must I. She said going.
Do this unto. For sun’s sake, down.
She wants to go
faster. At his sound, frots.
His sound, fraught.
Below, satyr. Bed centaur, her head led
down, his hand bearing.
Pulp muscled onto pitstone.
Some drippy. O, woe! A welter, high sea.
Self Deceit Series, Rome 1978
A room lit grey with the paper peeling.
No one inside the cold space, but you feel
a body there, it’s your mind seeing
beneath. The paper thin as onion peel
and strokes of ciphers skittering across
its face. Any word will tell, any word will.
But this isn’t a stanza, it’s a room mossed
black, rot and dust matting the floor.
Where a body isn’t, quickens with loss.
Body’s the trouble you came here for.
A photograph denies death, in spite
of that well-turned lie, an open door.
Body bang up against glass, coiled tight
inside a mortar nave, down on all
fours, crawling away from the bladed light.
A face isn’t hid, its blur only startles to stall
a ruin so slow it’s static. Hour abrades
without telling, not the way we know to tell
in a cheek’s pale or reddening shade
or by the itchy insect flutter at our wrists.
The picture sees time unmade
by tint, by tincture, by drams of corrosives
fixing still what the eye annihilates.
A falling willed to last, the body insists
on holding together even as it breaks.