It is Easy to Say Yes to Something That Wants You
In Angela Veronica Wong’s 25 little red poems (Dancing Girl Press, 2013), sparse, thought-bubble-like poems without titles deliver us into a dark thematic forest of growth, desire, and destruction. The wolf—always a symbol of appetite and lone freedom, and sometimes of destruction—pads atop the pages, along with a bone–white moon, and winter branches. Wong is no Little Red Riding Hood, however, and at times, she is the predator, the danger, wanting to rip at her own flesh or someone else’s.
Wong writes destruction beautifully, even if it is against herself. The destruction, or need for it, blends with the desire and the pain. As in poem #3:
…I want someone to bite down and hold on bite down
and chew through to bite down until it breaks until you can
find me a violent surrender endo becoming exo somewhere a
mess of marrow and bone bits.”
Wong suggests that, to feel alive, we endure a tearing up. In turn, this will bring about our rebirth: the heal following the break. Wong’s speaker is comfortable in this role of being bitten; and yet it makes sense, later, when she is the one pursing potential prey.
In Wong’s universe, growth is mysterious and un-pretty, but necessary: filled with tears and blood. The physical body blends effortlessly with the forest body. I envisioned these connections while reading: seed/flower, root/weed, baby/mother. The physical and emotional attachments grow inside of us, literally:childbirth, but outside the body as well. We grasp to understand our place in wildness. Wong goes into the woods: uses roots, flowers, trees. They are gangly, strange and unkind. She touches on pregnancy a few times, the ultimate growing of a belly with child to depict stretching into the eternity of discomfort. In poem #9:
want is the color
of ripe tomatoes engorged
on the vine, glistening skin stretched
over plump body, pregnant juices pulling
The above passage describes the growing tomato—too plump for its own fortitude, robust and yearns to break from its vine. Wong also uses the color red gloriously through this collection: not only the engorged tomato (like a belly,) but a red tongue, blood, the red smudge on the cover of the chapbook could either be the back of retreating red cloak into the forest or a bloody fingerprint. The red is everywhere. Red, such a staid symbol of lust and anger ravages into its next state: desire. And with desire, comes gray areas, a swinging pendulum.
The reader starts to question if growth and desire are separate. Wong entwines these themes of growth and desire, sometimes braiding in images of destruction—as in poems 12 and 12a:
as the unknown
you as the tree trunk
I wrap my legs around
Let’s be truthful,
I have never
never once latched
myself on a trunk
onto my arms,
never balanced on a branch
casually testing it’s strength…”
Wong compares the tree trunk to the torso of a lover, exploring intimacy, testing boundaries, but also getting scratched by the rough bark. The growth of the literal tree is also the growth of the relationship. Wong’s simple language of the girl curling up in tree that protects her but also cuts her to the quick is so evocative of any fairy tale. It is natural and familiar (like the fable of the Scorpion and the Frog, how when the Frog transports the Scorpion across the river the Scorpion still stings the Frog, drowning them both, because, the Scorpion says, it is my nature.) The girl cuddles up to the tree that could forsake her—meanwhile, the wolf lurks in the forest, hunting.
Wong moves into the wolf parts in the middle poems, which begin to discard grammatical convention—some lack punctuation, others are without proper capitalization; these poems are little wildlings. However, through their gestures at discarding artifice, they start to present themselves as facts. Is becomes clear that the reader is Little Red and Wong is the wolf. She seduces us with her short crisp inviting lines, barely covers her sharp teeth so we come in. The wolf does not disappoint. The sparsity of poem #16 reveals we all bring predisposed fear to the wolf. We know what the wolf did, what the wolf does. It eats.
what is a wolf
without a past –
And that’s it! It is true— we are but the choices we have made thus far, the treaded paths, the people we spend time with, or the ones we have left on the ground. It is the spaces between the words of poem #17 that are frightening and beautiful at the same time:
my neck is daintier than I hoped his
hands wrap a
was surprising tasting
salt and ice.
The reader begins the poem thinking hands are wrapping around the speaker’s neck and that she in danger, but instantly the next line reveals the speaker is doing the tasting—almost as though she has used her neck to draw him in.
By the second half of the collection, Wong’s speaker is the pursuer, escaping death. When her speaker pounces on a body, we can’t be certain whether her urge is sexual or murderous, but it doesn’t seem to matter: to this predatory consciousness, they may well be equivalent impulses. The speaker herself acknowledges to her prey that “our roles switched.” In poem #22 she writes:
“…like the gods I spring forth, rising out
from death to trick-or-treat again
or is this the true fuck:
me in you with no help
from animal, vegetable
or mineral, me
Wong rips into these poems with power, irrelevance that shakes the page. She brings us girls in cloaks, snow, fauna, bloody footprints. We do not know who we will meet or how we will get out. But there is no turning back.
Jennifer MacBain-Stephens went to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and now lives in the DC area. Recent chapbooks are out or forthcoming from Grey Book Press, Dancing Girl Press and Shirt Pocket Press. Her first full length collection is forthcoming from Lucky Bastard Press. Recent work can be seen at Jet Fuel Review, Pith, So to Speak, Entropy, Right Hand Pointing, and decomP. Visit: http://jennifermacbainstephens.wordpress.com/.