In a world dominated with visuals of exteriors — whether in virtual or ‘real’ spaces — Nadia Arioli’s poems choose to travel across interior pathways, through the innards of creatures: the bones of rats, stomachs of horses and perhaps the most esoteric one – the human mind.
What about that skin beneath? Arioli asks in their poem ‘Understand Egg’. And so, I decided to look beneath the tapestry of words in this suite. To find the grout that was holding the ideas in the poems together. I discovered that it was tensity — that peculiar energy of push and pull —that ran through the length of the poems.
For instance, in ‘I’m turning soft and it is all your fault, goddamn it’, Arioli carefully chooses what to withhold, what to reveal, and at what point in the narrative to do so. By gradually parsing out elements of memory, the piece maintains its tone of invitation and mystery.
Arioli also uses a rather disarming voice to deliver unsettling images. An emotionally-charged image is delivered on the page leached of emotion. This inspires a dual reaction; at first, we are startled and pushed out of the poem, but the freshness of the image pulls us inside again – keeping us immersed by its tensity, its poetics.
— Yashasvi Vachhani
The Bombay Literary Magazine
To understand God, first you must understand an egg.
Listen. There is hours of video evidence
that you can place all manner of difficult things
on the small end: a bottle, a brick, a broken bit
of machinery. You can build your way up
with practice. But dropping it means a sudden end,
a lip-tasting world slides out so easily.
The shell of course, the famous porcelain of still-lifes
and slow, poignant cracks,
but what about that skin beneath?
When archaeologists speak of mosaics,
they never mention the grout.
When I was a child, I used to poke
and watch the film and my index finger cleave.
Raw or boiled it’s always the same.
I knew then this was the Godhead
under the surface of things.
I want nothing now but an egg to guide us.
Its glow softer than any lamp or morning light.
I am Turning Soft and It is All Your Fault, Goddamn It
The rodent hangs in my cat’s jaw like
a flaccid penis. He deposits it at
my feet. I squat and examine. No
wounds. I scoop it up—horrified into
ungentle movements. The rat is smooth
and worthless. I learn
later that rats’ bones collapse
like telescopes to fit through holes. I wish
I could do that too.
I am terrified of softness;
it reminds me of death,
the hands of old men like pulled chickens.
But perhaps death is only a temporary softness.
Robots, or whatever comes after us,
could very well use our skins for taxidermies
and adorn the walls
of their hunting lodges and museums.
You are much better at keeping
orchids than I.
I take the plastic necklace off my coke bottle
and splay it open, like a biologist
examining a sea-creature.
I tell my therapist I’m fine.
I push the stingers against my thumb.
They’re not sharp,
they’re not sharp enough.
I don’t know if zero is an exact
or inexact quantity, but I
do know I want the emptiness to feel
big enough to live in.
The past and its traumas occurred linearly.
Shit happened. You overcame.
You got a gold star.
What I meant was, you
are better at keeping orchids alive.
Mine are still on the windowsill. The blooms
look like crumpled nuns.
Absolution I thought was hard.
The ritual of becoming.
Year of right angles in confessionals.
That absolute certainty of when he made the sign of the cross.
Go in peace, you are forgiven.
I looked for sacred spaces after that,
the kind that didn’t wonder if I had sinned or not.
The first was a creek because we went there together,
full of mud and trash. I kissed you.
You would be so much prettier, if
only you lost weight, my father, and then
later, my first lover had told me.
What were they so afraid of?
Once, I wanted see how hard I was.
A red screwdriver dangled off a coffee table like a dare.
I grabbed it by the handle and inserted
the entire shaft
starting with the back of my heel
and out through the base of the pinky toe.
The sole is rock hard now,
twenty years of built-up strata.
It looks like pork belly when it’s wet.
I didn’t bleed. I didn’t even flinch.
I was soft as a kid, pudgy
and curious. I got softer when I slept. I
wet the bed for what we thought was
a curiously long time. I learn in therapy
this is often what children of sexual abuse do
to keep themselves safe when sleeping.
My cat brought me another present, the same week.
He left it on the porch,
a small bird with no wounds.
This, I don’t touch, the feathers look so hard.
I put it in a trash bag.
It’s gone the next morning.
I like to think it flew away.
What I’m trying to say is it’s like
having your house burned down on Christmas. The shiny
paper the first to go, tinder made of surprises. The worst
has already happened—everything you ever
cared about, gone. The question is,
what’re you going to do when something good
actually comes along? Will you burn
What I did, at any rate, was drive around
your neighborhood cursing you,
saying you’re going to leave me for someone
with more Euclidean geometry,
who shaves her legs, doesn’t swear,
and is wonderful at teaching kindergarten.
Snow in Texas is liminal. It happened
my Junior year. A world turned soft and quiet.
I was so scared they would notice I wasn’t
supposed to be there like someone who
snuck on a speeding train without a ticket. Please
don’t kick me out. I will fall such a long, long way.
I don’t tell my therapist I’m thinking about
attaching razors to paint rollers,
and painting myself red a,
because I didn’t think it was that important.
I thought that a camera was an eyemouth. But with
you, it is an act of love. You take
pictures of only what you find delicate and beautiful
but do not wish to consume. The small purple
flowers we saw when we hiked. A spider the size of your thumb. I
don’t think I ever smiled so big as when you turned the camera on
me with eyes and arms apart.
I encounter the word “forgiveness” most often
when shopping for clothes.
This fabric is forgiving, etc.
Like, I understand that all of this
probably needs its own zip code,
but how is that a sin? Excuse me?
I am turning your soft, and
it is all your fault, goddamnit.
Being in a relationship might be making
me a better person, and some part of me
is screaming No.
What I’m getting at is, before, I was like a geode or nugget
of dried snot. You tugged at something like the end of a thread
on a ball of crusty yarn. I thought that meant
I had to kill myself, but the suicide victims I have known
aren’t soft or hard, just blurry. So I am choosing
not to. I will be soft and I will be kind, like the blankets
my grandmother used to make, and they aren’t of the dead.
Everything is going to be fine. I am choosing. I will.
I feel myself grow still. My body moves on the outside, though. My hair goes places, mostly down the bathtub drain and on the bathroom tile when I brush. It is thinning. My skin, certainly, travels the most. The bag of it gets me to my car and work, and then back. Some flakes are independent and come flying off, onto various carpets. Who knows where they go after that. What I mean is the stillness is on the inside, and I cannot tell you why. The stillness makes me frail, I think.
I dream my skin falls off. Not all of it, just some of it. My elbow is a sort of latch, or, more properly, a hinge. I open a door. My skin makes a corridor. I pull. It looks like a deflated balloon, or a condom because it’s yellowish and has ribbing. There are little whirls on your skin, if you pull it off, and not just on your fingerprints. In my dream, I wait days and days for it to harden into a sort of shiv. A knife made of skin. I lunge at you, you protest. I finally slice you, there, between your index and middle fingers. Now it looks like your hand can give birth. I did not want to hurt you, only move through you and make you move as well.
A woman at a party tells me that horses have organs that can move a whole six inches. Can you imagine? I do not know how much our internal organs move, and it is strange to think of them as moving, although everyone knows our hearts beat. Do horses feel their insides? Because their organs move around so much, the woman tells me, horses are susceptible to colic. Colic is when the guts get tangled. Symptoms includes anxiety, depression, and rolling on the great belly. shooting the horse in the head is often the most humane thing to do. She tells me of a horse, a favorite horse, she had to put down at the stable she works at. The other horses smelled the blood, after, and wouldn’t return to the barn. Thirty years of trust, gone. The other horses screamed. She is upset, so I don’t ask any questions, but I want to know what the horse looked like, the one that got sick, after the mercy killing was done. How much blood got on its skin? What color was the hair against the red? Did it look like it was sleeping, except for the hole in its head?
Image credits: David Nitsche “Cradle“.
Nadia Arioli is the co-founder and editor in chief of Thimble Literary Magazine and a multi-disciplinary artist. Arioli’s poetry has been nominated for Best of the Net three times and can be found in Cider Press Review, San Pedro Review, MacNeese Review, Whale Road Review, West Trestle Review, As It Ought To Be, Voicemail Poems, and other publications. Essays have been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart and can be found in Hunger Mountain, Heavy Feather Review, Angel Rust, and elsewhere. Collages and scribblings have been featured as the cover of Permafrost, as artist of month for Kissing Dynamite, and in Poetry Northwest.