"Fish Carcass" by Vi Khi Nao
Reviewed by Hannah Bonner
Vi Khi Nao’s sixteenth book Fish Carcass (2022) is a poetic Petri dish of lived experience. The poems speak to trauma, desire, sexual violence, the body, food, and consumption through the form of lists or a medical chart, as well as a series of poems addressed to various aspects of the author’s physic and corporeal being such as “My Spleen” or “My Existence.” There is an amalgamation of seemingly disparate and divergent material that Nao blends together in flavorful and ludic images.
At times surreal, lyrical, or imbued with popular cultural references, Nao’s work often evokes the physicality of the world in ways that are vivid, vivacious, or violent with a gastronomical bent. She writes in her poem “Coital Exposure,” “Women who don’t date men / Compensate for their lack of / Coital exposure by / Imbibing basil seed drink / + eating spring rolls / Who translucent skins / Divulge bulgy juicy veins.”
Hunger is polyvalent in Nao’s writing: hunger for sex, for food, or for the impossible, the surreal, as in “My Arms” when Nao writes, “I gather the words into my arms / Ask each one to fall asleep / Like senescent babies.” Everything is alive and accrues meaning in Nao’s poems. Physical objects in these poems may morph like the short poem “My Face” which states,
When he rode me on his motorcycle,
The wind shook my face like a glass of water
When I climbed down from the bike
My face spilled all over me
and bodies may shatter or break, like those subjected to unspeakable gendered violence in “Abyss” or “Cavity.” Perhaps the world, and the objects and subjects within it, do not need to make logical sense when there are those capable of such brutality.
To live in the world is to encounter cruelty at both the personal and cultural scale, but as, Nao ends Fish Carcass, the answer is not to turn away from these atrocities. Rather, she writes, “I don’t want to amputate hate. I want to preserve it like how fish factories preserve sardines. Just stack them high. Just stack them.” Fish Carcass is an inventive collection that you will continue to metabolize long after you consume the last page.
VI KHI NAO's work includes poetry, fiction, film, play, and cross-genre collaboration. She is the author of the novels Swimming With Dead Stars (FC2, 2022) and Fish in Exile (Coffee House Press, 2016), the story collections The Vegas Dilemma (11:11 Press, 2021) and A Brief Alphabet of Torture (winner of the 2016 FC2 Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize), and five poetry collections: A Bell Curve Is A Pregnant Straight Line (11:11 Press, 2021), Human Tetris (11:11 Press, 2019), Sheep Machine (Black Sun Lit, 2018), Umbilical Hospital (1913 Press, 2017), and The Old Philosopher (winner of the 2014 Nightboat Books Prize for Poetry). She was the Fall 2019 Shearing Fellow at the Black Mountain Institute.
Published 04/05/2022 || Purchase a copy