"A Bell Curve is a Pregnant Straight Line" by Vi Khi Nao
Reviewed by Hannah Bonner
Vi Khi Nao’s sapphic, sartorial poetry collection A Bell Curve is a Pregnant Straight Line organizes itself in four sections, Shorts, Shirts, Skorts, and Skirts, where the body becomes cloth or flame, a tender being or a violent one. As Nao writes in the introduction to the collection, “Flipping like Morse signals, the poems in this collection gather under the pregnant arc of the bell curve in four quadrants that gestate desire.”
Desire is a central theme in this book and manifests in multiple ways. In “Algorithm Forever” Nao ends “I am opening two pomegranates / Near my breasts for you,” illustrating an active desire for consummation and physical communion. In “Crocheting,” the desire belongs to another, an unnamed male figure whose “penis is a yarn // crocheting the sweater of my flesh / once in a while / the sweater dreams of floating / on the balcony getting dried from the heat // when the rain comes pouring down, heaving / stitching the eye of rain / through my carnal blanket my breasts would pretend to be / two balls of short stories.” In this poem, the woman’s body morphs and alters according to the man’s modifications, not luscious and red like the pomegranate seeds from earlier, but dried, “pretend[ing] to be / two balls of short stories.”
In all of Nao’s written work, she possesses a ludic dexterity to render the familiar strange and the strange familiar. The laws of gravity shift in the titular poem when she writes, “When I held you in / My arms I felt the levity of lead & the density / Of your tears” and in “The Phone Booth” the narrator is physical or psychically tied to a man’s body, causing her to question “How do I unknot / this tie / & have his heart / ride through my spine // like / a phone book // chained to a phone booth?” The unexpectedness of this simile underscores both the quotidian nature of this physical or metaphysical chain, as well as the weight and calcification of this connection: brittle, hard, and wired. Yet, despite moments of deep discomfort, Nao’s A Bell Curve is a Pregnant Straight Line always returns to the beauty and tenderness, the hunger and magnitude, the surrealism and lyricism of sapphic love. When Nao writes, “I pull her into my arms and she sobs into them as if / I were a cave” I feel the gestation of desire which she describes in the book’s opening and find myself ready and willing to follow the poems “scatter and sprawl across the page” wherever Nao will take me.
VI KHI NAO is the author of four poetry collections: Human Tetris (11:11 Press, 2019) Sheep Machine (Black Sun Lit, 2018), Umbilical Hospital (Press 1913, 2017), The Old Philosopher (winner of the Nightboat Prize for 2014), & of the short stories collection, A Brief Alphabet of Torture (winner of the 2016 FC2's Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize), the novel, Fish in Exile (Coffee House Press, 2016). Her work includes poetry, fiction, film and cross-genre collaboration. She was the Fall 2019 fellow at the Black Mountain Institute: https://www.vikhinao.com
Published 07/19/2021 || Purchase a copy