BY JOANNA C. VALENTE
I have a huge crush on Natalie Eilbert. It's hard not to have a crush on Natalie Eilbert when she writes such raw yet tightly-knit poems that push my heart into oblivion, because it was demolished by an ocean of words. Her chapbook, AND I SHALL AGAIN BE VIRTUOUS (Big Lucks Books, 2015), was recently published, and rightly so: the world needs to hear the outrage of women, and they need to hear it right now.
Eilbert begins the collection with two epigraphs--one from Frankenstein & one from Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness. Both epigraphs perfectly set the reader up to anticipate a world of bodily longing, desire, hatred, & punishment. We live everyday in our bodies, and yet, often abuse them and despise them for not fitting into a certain mold. The first poem "Golem," illuminates a speaker who feels disconnected from her body as a result of a sexual assault: "My animated clay would travel winters to fully learn its dysmorphia. / It would return skinny and hateful for I only wish to be skinny and hateful.../ What he did to me was a crime," (Eilbert, 1).
Bodies are everywhere in this poetic landscape, like a land-mine of half-dead corpses who wish to be reanimated yet don't understand how to connect. The trauma runs deeper than bone, it runs into spirit. The speaker imagines her sex as a means to gain domination over herself, and over men. The trauma of rape is not an undercurrent in this vast ocean, but a giant whale you can't escape. Can we, the reader, ever escape it?
The speaker desperately seeks to build a connection bigger than the body, so the hatred of it no longer matters: "That a body can disappear and become / subsumed by a space suggests that a body is nothing but an act.../ My cunt is a star with its darkness pressed to the floor / to temporarily light me, to lighten me," (Eilbert, 13).
Being a survivor of sexual assault myself, it is only too easy for me to understand Eilbert's speaker completely, to feel validated by my experiences of body dysmorphia, of feeling incomplete bodily and emotionally; this is an unfortunate but all too real narrative that is swept under the rug, because it is a woman's narrative. Women are not an other, and Eilbert forces us to see just how fucked up our world is, to swallow the ugliness & hatred. She forces us to want to change our ways, or else, we will waste our lives.
Natalie Eilbert is the author of Swan Feast (Bloof Books, 2015). She is the founding editor of The Atlas Review and lives in Brooklyn, New York.