LUCAS DE LIMA'S WET LAND: A REVIEW OF SWEET SPIT
Lucas de Lima, Wet Land, Action Books, 2014
Reviewed by Megan Jeanne Gette
I entered Wet Land as I exited the country so I was prepared to slice open the rind of a foreign fruit
And eat it with a forked tongue
To be disturbed by the cut and conquest of the papaya but upon opening think: is there anything more beautiful?
To be disturbed by this thought, then comb the beads from its interior. A pity that the beads, like tween tiaras, like homemade oatmeal soaps, cannot be eaten
This papaya-essay is sweet, not soapy. Although it teases you with edibility.
Eat your words make your words like honey someday you'll have to eat them
I read and speak a colonizing tongue
I read your book while learning an indigenous language
I read your book while comparing translations of 17th century missionary transcriptions of this indigenous language, combing interiors for intrusions and alternative facts
I read your book feeling my presence violated the air, why am I here etc., who is speaking
I read your book once while I ate a papaya, again while I sat on a rooftop watching a volcano erupt, again alongside Eliot Weinberger's translation of Vincente Huidoboro's Altazor
which reads, on page 43, "I speak because I am an act of protest an insult a grimace of pain...I only know I'm ashamed of this life of cellular loathing...I hear an idiot voice in the seaweed of illusion / A mouth parasitical even of hope...The sailboats that set out to disperse my soul through the world / Will return transformed into birds."
I think the seafaring that brought me here will not make me a bird
Even if a suffix could change me:
Writing is a lamprey sucker
Whose mouth looks like the inside of a papaya that looks like a vagina
But it doesn't matter what it looks like because sweetness is an inside-out maneuver:
Sweetness comes from eating pineapple (duh).
I read your book about an actual alligator devouring an actual human being who was your best friend
And I could not stomach its actual absurdity—you had to devour that grief over and over again—to have to eat to live
To eat the reenactments in wildlife documentaries by National Geographic
To stomach a TV show where gloating dudes murdered a "PREHISTORIC GOD" who, I suppose, did not mean to murder, but was just hungry
But hunger is always the problem
Hemorrhaging hunger with other kinds of pain—of desire—incredulity (for desire) to be otherwise to be (someone else) desire someone (else)—to be a bird—"O, THE BIRD INSIDE ME SAYS, IT HURTS TO KEEP KILLING ANA MARIA
& IT HURTS TO KEEP KILLING THE ALLIGATOR
And then what does it mean to respond to you with them?
Does the word stop the blood from spilling?
As I devour Ana Maria, the alligator, your bird-self and you?
Making sure the wound gapes wide—but what else clots the wound?
I want to call your book an invaginated elegy—what Gregory Bennington, writing of Derrida, says is "a pocket of "exteriority" which means that the limit marked by a title or a frame no longer divides an inside from an outside but inscribes the outside inside..."
In other words, you did not write an elegy for Ana Maria. She bore you out of her elegy.
On page 24 of Wet Land, Ana Maria says in an email about her art, "I WANT TO INCORPORATE THE THEME OF GIVING FOOD, BUT I GUESS I'M NOT SURE OF THE RESULT I WANT TO TALK ABOUT. GIVING TO NOURISH ANOTHER BODY OR GIVING AS SELF-SACRIFICE. AND I'VE BEEN INTERESTED IN THE BODY ITSELF AS FOOD."
This is a book about books giving birth to death and vice versa—the maternal
About animals giving themselves up to be eaten by other animals
About a living landscape beyond the anthropocentric veneration we give to our dearly departed as if eating grief makes us immortal or immune to annihilation
About a living landscape beyond the anthropocentric veneration we give to our dearly departed as if being alive with our grief makes us, too, immortal or immune to annihilation
Where all the words are written in all caps to give the words the weight of incredulity and equivalence
A book that asks what use is an elegy when Ana Maria can speak for herself?
What use is grief but to echo the absurdity of survival?
"AS THE BOOK EATS ME/
AS I BIRTH MY WAY OUT"
There is no outside, I think—origin is erased if thought psychedelically, with subsequent helix-blossoms blooming from the anus of the first
When a word has no equivalent how do you translate
Lucas, you have written that Wet Land is a book of saturations, a "blood-stained ecology" of relationships beyond authorship/authority
Beyond the lamprey sucker of written documents of history / archive of definition, veneration, one-stop shop of powers, terra nullius and beyond that
"What happens when you write prayers to ancient gods and actually take the otherness of a nonwhite...tradition seriously? What happens when the Other possesses you as a spirit or god?"
Back when/in an indigenous future when animism was/is the default metaphysics—where personhood is determined by a relationship to another, e.g., I become human by reading you, I become human through my relationship to others
Others who do not have to be human
Where/when "Queerness," CA Conrad writes, "was holy, was shamanistic, and the pagan cultures they belonged to—as racially various and spiritually divergent as they were—also shared a deep awareness of the intricate and delicate interdependence between all plants, animals, and minerals."
Where, you say, "history [takes] the form of contagion"
& the membrane between in/outside, dead/alive, dream/awake is thin as a soap bubble
Blood happens to mix well with blood
You say later in this interview that by invoking Ana Maria through her emails you were no longer responsible for the book, as she was
"...feminizing and decolonizing the language of Empire, ordaining a shriek that will forever be undocumented."
Blood-suffixes to turn into hummingbirds: xqapo' qi' tz'unun
"you are what you eat" etc.,
How do you translate into this language
And how much context do you give? Like, a review is supposed to stir the appetites of readers
Is supposed to introduce them to the world of the book as if the book cannot introduce itself
Cannot announce itself into a world
A review is supposed to abstract from the world as an authority or seasoned tourist
A review has to pretend there is an outside
Without a stomach
But as Artaud told us about Van Gogh, the Man Suicided by Society (1947), "reality itself / the myth of reality itself, mythic reality itself, is in the process of becoming flesh."
Alright? Who's hungry? Who is decimated by grief and the disaster of living aloud in a world run by human centipedes? Who among us has found a way to process death that does not include its reenactment? Who here is willing to take a risk on semi-sweetness?
Who here has not wanted to escape the jaws of a predator by taking the shape of a bird?
Who hasn't cried big fat crocodile tears while they eat?
I reproduce the poem NO HUMANS ALLOWED in its entirety:
Homemade soap tastes like soap but does not clean filthy mouths, despite ritual
When I write anything it comes out like gum-diseased and stress-ridden spit
When I read anything I feel like a dirty pervert
& I suppose this is why everyone bites their tongue when asked intimate questions. Ana Maria says,
"...AND I'VE FELT YOU HOLD BACK WITH ME BEFORE...YOU DON'T FEEL THE NEED TO TELL ME EVERYTHING, RIGHT?"
I wonder if it hurts to reproduce her words in a review for public consumption, or what it means
To invoke the words of the dead to be performed like the Catholic Stations of the Cross
(Or is it worse, if we don't?)
Risk another telling the story as if it is theirs to tell
To avoid theft I shut my mouth I stop the words from spilling out onto the page
To avoid thieving I fill the mouth with papaya and shame strudel
Eat to avoid speaking as if the shape my body takes will announce itself for me
Lucas, I read your book while watching Jesus Christ Superstar for the thousandth time
Eating a papaya to sweeten the flesh wound
The opening where the Fruit of Thy Womb spills out
I could not keep shut my mouthful (mouthfeel) of vinegary words (wine) blood how do you stop the blood from spilling (this is my body)
Could not risk reproduction
Could not risk becoming a copy of a copy of a copy
Could not risk the Pope parroting my bitter mouthfeel
There is a scene in JCSuperstar when Ted Neely leaves the garden of Gesthemane to talk to god-silence up on the Mount of Olives
Jesus-Ted falsettos his way into the Cup
"Take this cup away from me / for I don't want to taste its poison"
God-silence shows him a montage of centuries of painted replicas of JC's crucifixary death
The perils of celebrity in a culture of reproduction
& Western desire for legacy / afterlife
Fruit of Thy Womb must perform its death infinitely ~~ to get past god-silence-breath I had to commit virtual-murder-self & here i am I Am i i i i i
Words affixed to a page
The engendered poem
CA Conrad wrote about the conditions that preceded your book, "Before Christianity colonized Europe and the Americas, queer people were esteemed for their informed orientation between the gaping maw of gender and sexuality."
This informed orientation allows for cellular reformations
And a transformation into a killer as you lead the killer to be killed:
"MY BULLET CRACKS THE GATOR'S SKULL LIKE AN EGG.
MY BULLET SHATTERS THE GATOR THE WAY A WORD BREAKS OPEN THE LORD...
From 1992-1997, Ted Neely played Jesus 1,700 times
He played the role for 40 years; allegedly the real Jesus wandered the Judean desert for 40 days, fasting
The number 40 is a number for "testing, trial, temptation" in the Bible
Could you risk performing the same death 1,700 times?
No I could not I refused to eat
How does a misread lead to this
Say you turn something inside-out: what is swallowed is exposed to its origin
& made to kiss it~~
Open the book
Ana Maria says "THIS IS A TIME WHEN I AM MOST VULNERABLE TO ANYTHING. I CAN EASILY MAKE PARALLELS TO THE TEXT WITH MY OWN PERSONAL EXPERIENCE."
she says "I REFER TO THE PRIMORDIAL HISTORY OF HUMAN DEVOTION TO THIS EXPERIENCE. HUMAN SACRIFICES, FOOT BINDING, AND POTLATCH CEREMONIES ARE ALL EXAMPLES."
How else to respond but in the fraught mimetic gesture of writing in this language—alongside her/you/the alligator man?
Spitting back up the soap—the Word—shoved down my/yr throat—as food?
Quotes in all caps come from Wet Land
Other quotations come from CA Conrad's review of Wet Land, and an interview with Lucas de Lima at The Conversant
One quote on invagination by Gregory Bennington and Jacques Derrida in Circumfessions
Artaud, Antonin, trans. Jack Hirschman, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Kenneth Rexroth. "Van Gogh, the Man Suicided by Society." Artaud Anthology. San Francisco: City Lights.1967.
Kaqchikel grammar screenshot:
Maxwell, Ixq'anil Judith M. Tijonik Kaqchikel Oxlajuj Aj. Antigua Guatemala: Ed. Junapu, 2006.
Huidobro, Vincente, trans. Eliot Weinberger. Altazor. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan UP, 2004.
Footnote to "About animals giving themselves up to be eaten by other animals"
: *see Descola, Philipe, trans. Janet Lloyd, Beyond Nature and Culture. University of Chicago Press: Chicago. 2013.
Footnote to "you are what you eat" etc.,
: *see Viverios de Castro, Eduardo, trans. Peter Skafish. Cannibal Metaphysics. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota: 2015.
Footnote to "How else to respond but in the fraught mimetic gesture of writing in this language—alongside her/you/the alligator man?"
: for poetry that indicates the simultaneous relationship between self/other/environment see Okpik, Dg Nanouk. Corpse Whale. Tucson: U of Arizona, 2012.