Review of Joshua Jennifer Espinoza's There Should Be Flowers (CCM, 2016) and Sarah Messer's Dress Made of Mice (Black Lawrence Press, 2015)

A Conversation on Corporeality Mediated by Corporeal Person Rochelle Hurt (RH)

Joshua Jennifer Espinoza’s There Should Be Flowers (TSBF) and Sarah Messer’s Dress Made of Mice (DMOM) in Conversation
     all italics (and only italics) represent quotes from the above texts

RH: TSBF and DMOM, thanks so much for joining me. Lovely weather we’re having on earth today, no?

DMOM: Today it looks like a radiant darkness within the body.

TSBF: It was supposed to rain today / I was supposed to be born a girl.

RH: I see, yes. The two of you are going through different trials, but both are at least partially rooted in the problem of the body. Which brings me to our first topic: fashion. I’m hoping you can discuss for a moment the relationship between skin and clothing, given that some aspects of identity, like gender, have been described as corporeal styles. What’s your favorite corporeal style?

DMOM: Before I say anything else, I’ll just say: Never wear mouse skin. (Once I lost my human clothes.)

TSBF: I wear my clothes, but also I wear my woman body trapped in a dream.

DMOM: That’s so funny because one time I fell asleep wearing a dress made of mice. It hung empty in its thousand skins fluttering ghost-grey / then white when each cloud passed.

TSBF: Such a coincidence! What if my body became a cloud, / I’m always thinking.

RH: Oh, interesting—it seems like you’re both saying that sleep and dreams, in which consciousness is freed from physiological limitations, can be conduits for corporeal transformation.

TSBF: Yes, because the world calls the dream of your body / into question.

DMOM: And I have fallen asleep while reading....not remembering my body.

RH: And it seems that clouds are often involved in this transformation. What is it about the sky?

DMOM: It’s like a snow globe of wanting.

"the world calls the dream of your body / into question"

TSBF: The sunset is so beautiful I want / to be fucked by it.

DMOM: For luminous bodies shine on us through that portion of heavens.

TSBF: And also the moon is trans.

RH: You're both very spontaneous—but TSBF, it seems like you contemplate existential mysteries with a wry sense of humor, whereas DMOM, you approach life with a sizable dose of mysticism. But maybe it’s the act of looking that’s more important here—and reflection, since the sky is sort of like our giant reflecting pool.

DMOM: I always say: Don’t point a mirror at the sun.

TSBF: I’ve heard that, though sometimes I make a prayer…in front of the closet mirror / where the light from inside moves / around the room to see itself reflected.

DMOM: Well a luminous body is one that shines by its own light.

TSBF: I guess so—but when I am holding the camera and / pointing it at myself…I am / trapped in my own gaze.

DMOM: But your body may also become a house to be shined through.


RH: This brings up a chicken-or-egg question: Is self-consciousness a vehicle for production of self-image or is self-image a vehicle for production of self-consciousness?

TSBF: It’s a paradox—sort of like how the woman sees herself in everything and nothing.

DMOM: Well, I do begin inside / the eyeball of a cloud, so yes, both.

RH: That reflective gaze is an important aspect of self-realization. If we conceive of ourselves at least partially outside of our corporeal bodies, then there must be a sense of dissonance when we see our physical selves in the mirror—whether that particular dissonance is rooted in our spiritual philosophies, our gender identities, the shock of mortality and grief, or other experiences. This dissonance is a kind of death, no?

TSBF: Sometimes I think I’m going to die / and then I remember that I definitely am / going to die.

DMOM: But where are you now without the body? How can the world breathe without your body?

TSBF: Well I describe it this way: When you walk, / the ground seems to breathe you out.

DMOM: So you breathe now with your whole body beneath water.

TSBF: My body has healed now / It is a twenty story building / made of rocks and trees and ivy.

DMOM: Ah, but in the end, the body leaves us / its empty building.

RH: So it seems like dissonance and death can also take part in producing self-image and consciousness. A paradox, indeed. Do you think that language works in a similar way?

TSBF: Some bodies become books about themselves.

DMOM: I know exactly what you mean. Over the years, I have creaked out of silence…. And now suddenly script, the spirit medium’s handwriting, / blowing my body back into bluets.

TSBF: Every poem I write / about being a trans woman / gathers around my body / like fire in the night.

DMOM: And yet what I say is different / from what I mean. And what I say // is something unseen.

TSBF: Well there are answers in forgetting / what words mean. I close my eyes / when I read. I tie my hands behind my / back when I write.

"the body leaves us / its empty building"

RH: Language—always inadequate for reconciling the corporeal and the non-corporeal—seems at once productive and destructive. For both of you, the mouth is often a point of exchange between language and body, since, when we speak, the mouth is where thought is filtered through our corporeal selves. It’s where the internal becomes external. It is also then a site of misunderstanding, since we always risk losing the self we know when it is translated into something the outside world must interpret, sometimes wrongly. Do you have any other thoughts on the mouth?

DMOM: Breath // Can be held in the mouth / as long as we wish. A mouth can be half-closed like a lock / that waits.

TSBF: I know for me all that womanhood / caught in the roof / of my mouth / was like honey.

DMOM: An impossible walk under weight of honey.

RH: I think I understand. Thank you for speaking with me and with each other today. Do you feel that conversations like this are useful?

DMOM: Well once philosophers tried to weigh a sunbeam.

TSBF: And truly this complex / trauma responds only to the dialectical.

RH: Trauma and sunbeams—I’ll take that as a maybe. I, for one, learned a little about what it means to be alive in a body.

Rochelle Hurt is the author of In Which I Play the Runaway (Barrow Street, 2016), which won the Barrow Street Book Prize, and The Rusted City (White Pine, 2014), a novella in prose poems. She is the recipient of awards and fellowships from Crab Orchard Review, Arts & Letters, Hunger Mountain, Poetry International, Vermont Studio Center, Jentel, and Yaddo. She is also PhD candidate at the University of Cincinnati.